Monday December 3, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week in Advent
Reading (Isaiah 4:2-6) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:5-11)
As we begin this holy season of Advent, the Church gives to us these readings reminding us, first of all, of our own unworthiness to have Our Lord in our midst [and also] to be able to hear the words of a pagan centurion who says, "Lord, I am not worthy to have You under my roof." Yet the Lord reminds us, too, that there are going to be many (not just the Jewish people) who will come from the east and the west – the Gentile nations – and that they too will be part of the kingdom of God, that they will enter into eternal life with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But what needs to happen before any of that is that we need to be purified. The Church tells us all about that in the first reading. When we see our own unworthiness, it is not a matter of simply standing back and saying: "Because I am unworthy, I will not approach the Lord at all," but rather, because [we are] unworthy we need to pray and ask the Lord to purify us to make us worthy, just as we do right before Holy Communion when we say: "Only say the word and my soul shall be healed." And so too, we need to say the same thing, not only about the reception of Our Lord in Holy Communion, but about anything within our lives and particularly [about] the point of being able to get to Heaven, even [about] being able to come before the Lord to pray. We are not worthy to be in His midst. We are not worthy to be called His followers, His brothers and sisters. We are not worthy to be counted among those who are members of Jesus Christ. And yet, it is His mercy alone that makes us worthy. So as we come before Him recognizing our own sinfulness, recognizing our unworthiness, we ask Him to make us worthy.
That is exactly what we hear about in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah this morning. He talks about what is going to happen in general: that there is going to be a purification and there are going to be certain survivors - survivors in Israel and survivors in Jerusalem - but they will be called holy, everyone who is marked down for life in Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem, of course, is the Church, and it needs to be purified; not only the Church, but the world itself must be purified. There is a time when that is going to occur and everyone who is left, we are told, will be called holy. At that point, God will make all worthy. That is the purification that is to be. As we are told, it will come through a searing blast: it says that the Lord will "wash away the filth of the daughters of Jerusalem" and He will "purge Jerusalem’s blood from her midst with a blast of searing judgment" and then He will create over Mount Zion this refuge.
And so that is what we are all called to be, even now. There will be a time when that will happen in the world and what remains will all be purified. Everyone who remains through that judgment will be Catholic and will be holy. There will be one flock and one shepherd at that time. In the meantime, while we wait for the Lord to do that universally, each one of us needs to pray for that to happen individually: that God will purify us, that He will make us worthy of Himself, that He will count us worthy to be among His members and His brothers and sisters and His followers. That is what each one of us needs to be about in this holy season. As we prepare ourselves for Christmas, as we prepare ourselves for the Second Coming, and individually, of course, as we prepare ourselves for death - for the Judgment Day, for the face-to-face vision of God, and to be able to stand before Our Lord - we recognize that we are unworthy. But we must be like the centurion: We must have faith that the word of Christ can purify us and can make us worthy to stand in His midst.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.