Tuesday March 5, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Lent
Reading (Daniel 3:25, 34-43) Gospel (St. Matthew 18:21-35)
In the first reading today, we hear this prayer from Azariah. Azariah is one of the three young men who were thrown into the white-hot fire by Nebuchadnezzar because they refused to worship the king - particularly, to bow down before the golden statue of the king that had been erected. And so he throws them into the fire, but God saves them through the fire. While they were in the furnace, Azariah prayed this prayer, and part of that prayer is the recognition of their own humility and of God's sovereignty. He says, "With contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received, as though it were holocausts of rams and bullocks…" Then he goes on to say, "Let our sacrifice be in Your presence today as we follow You unreservedly; for those who trust in You cannot be put to shame."
We see the pattern that needs to be there for all of us: that when we come before the Lord it needs to be with a humble spirit, with a contrite heart; we need to be willing to follow Him unreservedly. We need to put our trust in Him, knowing that if we do so we will not be put to shame. That is the way that it needs to be. We need to look at that very seriously within ourselves and ask ourselves: How is it that we come before the Lord?
Saint Teresa of Avila tells us that we need to be very careful in prayer to make sure that we always keep before us Who it is that we are speaking to and who it is that is speaking - that we are asking Almighty God for a favor or we are addressing the Lord in prayer, but that it is us, a lowly creature, who is coming before His Majesty to be able to make this request. Many of us, unfortunately, come before the Lord in a rather nonchalant manner, in a way that is not necessarily reverent, in a way that certainly does not recognize that this is God to Whom we are speaking. We need to keep that firmly in mind: that we must be humble in our demeanor before the Lord and that the way we pray before Him has to be with a contrite spirit and with a humble heart.
When we are willing to follow the Lord unreservedly - to do exactly what He tells us to do and to be willing to be obedient to the way that He wants us to be - then we will be received with favor, then the Lord is going to hear our prayer because there will be nothing in the way. It is not going to be about the self; it is going to be about God. That is when we will listen to the words of Our Lord, whether it is to forgive those who sin against us, whether it is to make changes in our lives, whether it is to be detached, whatever it would be. Then we will do what He asks us to do, but only when we follow Him unreservedly. Otherwise, we listen to the words of God but we keep them at an arm's distance; we follow Him, but with reservations. The Lord does not want any reservations.
He is God. He is trustworthy. He has demonstrated Himself in a way that is absolutely without doubt: All we need to do is look upon the Cross and see what He has done for us. We must, then, rid ourselves of all doubts, of all hesitations, and put our whole heart into what it is that we are doing; and with humble and contrite heart follow Him unreservedly and with complete trust and confidence.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.