Thursday July 12, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Genesis 44:18-21, 23b-29; 45:1-5)
Gospel (St. Matthew 10:7-15)
In the first reading, we hear about the story of Joseph: his reunion with his brothers and how he shows himself to his brothers. At the end of this reading, we hear the statement of Joseph: "I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you." This kind of statement is the fruit of suffering. It is the fruit of a prayer life. This is a man who obviously prayed. He was deep into the prayer life and the suffering he endured in being sold into slavery, being thrown into prison, and all the different things that happened to him.
On the natural level, one would look at this and ask, "Why would God allow something so awful to happen?" Now, Joseph can look back and say, "It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here." But it was only through the suffering that Joseph was stripped of any kind of selfishness, any kind of pride that would stand in the way; then, God could use him as an instrument.
The same is true for each one of us. As we go through the struggles in our lives, at the time we are going through them, we do not like them at all. We fight, kick, scream and complain. We go to prayer and say, "Why are You doing this to me? What did I ever do to You?" - as if we really need to ask that question, anyway. But then, when it all comes back around, after years of suffering and years of prayer, we see the fruit. We see a life that is humble; we see a person who is detached; we see a person who is seeking God; we see one who is at peace, one who is truly compassionate. That only happens through suffering. That is the importance of suffering. That is the value of it. We cannot get to that point in any other way.
And we would never ever do it ourselves. There is no way that any of us would ever suggest that is what we want to do; so, we would not. But God, knowing truly what is best for us, allows us to endure those things knowing what the end result is going to be. Now, if we do not pray and if we fight against it completely, we will be bitter, we will be hateful, spiteful kind of people. We see people like that. Their suffering has not made them better; but rather, it has made them bitter. But if one prays and one seeks the Will of God, the suffering is going to bring about all those fruits that I have already mentioned. Then we will be able to see it as a gift, as the greatest gift that God has given us.
This is why the saints prayed for suffering. They have been through it, they have endured it and they have seen the fruit that comes from it. As they achieve the higher states of prayer, they actually pray for suffering. They go to prayer when everything is going well and (unlike most of us) they ask God, "Have You abandoned me? Do You hate me so much that You are not allowing me to suffer today?" Which of us would do such a thing? We would not because we are not at that point. When things go really well, we go to prayer and say, "Oh, thank You. Finally, everything is falling right into place!" The saints have just the opposite attitude.
We have to be able to see that no matter what is going on in our lives, it is God's Providence. We can see it in Joseph because we know what the end of the story is. When he is sold into slavery and put into prison, we know already in our minds why that is happening: because God is preparing him for what he has to do. Why do you think it would be any different in your life? All the suffering, struggles, and difficulties are preparing you for what God wants you to do. We do not know what the end of the story is yet, so we do not see it at the time. But that is precisely what He is doing.
Then the Lord looks at us and says to us, in the words of the Gospel, "What you have received as a gift, give as a gift." In other words, God gave you this suffering as a gift. The fruit of that suffering, which you did not work for (because that only comes from the suffering), you now need to turn around and give to others. Grant to them the compassion, joy, and peace that is the fruit of the suffering; that is God's Will. When we have suffered and prayed enough, then, like Joseph, we will be able to look at the very people who caused the suffering (the ones about whom we would go to prayer today and say, "Lord, get this person out of my life! Take them away! Look at what they are doing to me, they are making my life miserable!") and be able to say: "This is the person who helped me the most. This one is a gift to me." We will say, like Joseph, "Do not be distressed at what you have done to me, because it was all God's Providence. It was for the sake of bringing about a greater good that God allowed all of these things to happen." That may, in fact, be the conversion of that individual. And it will be our salvation, as well. So, accept what God has given to you as a gift. When the fruit finally arrives, give as a gift what you have received as a gift.
Note: Father Altier does not write his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.