Tuesday December 11, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week in Advent
Reading (Isaiah 40:1-11) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:12-14)
The prophet Isaiah, this morning, cries out to give comfort to the people of God and to speak to Jerusalem this message that the Lord wants the people to understand. When we look at the historical Jerusalem, we can see all the difficulties, all the trials that the holy city went through: being destroyed, being burned, the people being killed, all these awful things that occurred in the holy city. Then we recall, of course, that the Church is the New Jerusalem. And so, we see, too, that there are trials and tribulations for the Church on earth and difficulties for the people who are within the walls of the holy city, that is, within the Church.
As we look at our own lives and we struggle through the different things, we begin to understand that the Lord is allowing these things for our purification. In fact, he says with regard to Jerusalem that "her service is at an end and her guilt has been expiated. Indeed, she has received double from the hand of the Lord for all her sins." When we look at what the Church has to do in the midst of this world, part of that is to expiate for the sins of the people. And, of course, because the individuals even within the Church are sinners, we have to expiate for our own sins as well. It would be one thing if we could say, "Here we are, pristine and wonderful and perfect - and then you have the rest of the world," but we cannot say that. All that we can do is look and say, "The Church, first of all, has to expiate for the sins of her own members, and then she has to expiate for the sins of the world." And so there is going to be suffering and there is going to be struggle.
Yet, the day will come when the Lord is going to cry out to Jerusalem that her service has come to an end - that is, her labor, her slavery, in that sense - and that now she will have peace because she has expiated for the sins of the people. It is not something, which on a human level, we are going to be able to do. While we share in that expiation, in the suffering, it is the Sacrifice of the Mass that is the means of expiation. It is also, then, in the Sacrifice of the Mass that we see the fulfillment of what Isaiah told us when he said, "Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by His strong arm; here is His reward with Him, His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd, He feeds His flock."
He is that Good Shepherd, and He is constantly among us calling to His sheep. We see, over and over, the people coming to the Church. While certainly there are some who walk away from the Church, there are many, many people who are coming to the Church. And so we can see the Lord very much at work: The Good Shepherd calling back to Himself those who have strayed, leaving those who are within the Church and seeking those who are without. He is bringing His flock together. He is the Good Shepherd and He is calling them to Himself, calling them to Himself not only in faith, but calling them to Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, calling us all to unity in Christ, the one Shepherd. That is the fulfillment of this: that the Lord is here offering Himself, the Shepherd, for the good of the sheep and asking us, as His sheep, to offer ourselves in union with Him, to offer up our sufferings and struggles as that means of expiation for sin in union with Him, who is the only One who can ever expiate the sin of the world. But yet, because the Church is Jesus Christ, because the church is the New Jerusalem and that holy city, each one of us has a share in that work. That is the dignity that the Lord is giving to us.
As the 99 sheep that are out on that hillside, each one of us, then, needs to rejoice when the one sheep is brought back. And each one of us needs to be concerned, in prayer and in sacrifice, for the good of others. It is not enough to be able to say, "Thank goodness Iím part of the fold! Itís good that Iím not the one who is out there wandering around," because most of us probably have been that one out there wandering around at one time or another. But, because we have been out there and because our Shepherd has come to find us, we, then, need to have that same kind of compassion for others, knowing (as Isaiah says) that "all mankind is grass"; it is going to wither; it is going to fade - but the Lord remains.
It is not about this world so much, but it is about the next. It is not about the body, but about the soul. We are to call and to pray - to bring people back to Christ - so that they will be able to be with the Good Shepherd forever. That is the part we play: to be faithful to Christ and to seek out the lost, to work with Him in that manner, to be able to help others come to the Truth, to know the Truth, and to pray and to expiate with the Lord, awaiting the day that the Lord will come with all His recompense to give comfort to His people.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.