Venturing Out into the River of God's Grace
Tuesday March 12, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Lent
Reading (Ezekiel 47:1-9, 12) Gospel (St. John 5:1-16)
In the first reading, as we hear about this river flowing from underneath the temple, it begins as just a little, tiny trickle and becomes ankle-deep, knee-deep, waist-deep, and then finally a river through which Ezekiel was not able to cross except by swimming. And that river, we are told in other places, is the grace of God.
We see, then, the way that the Lord's grace works within each one of us because each one of us is to be a temple of the Lord. What it begins with, as we start to grow in the spiritual life, is just a little trickle. We are trying to overcome sin in our lives and the grace of God is at work, but you can barely tell sometimes as we begin, because we are fighting just to get rid of sin. As we grow in holiness, the working of God's grace becomes more evident. And finally it is now ankle-deep and knee-deep and waist-deep and it just keeps getting more and more [deep].
But the amazing thing is that at the first thousand cubits it was only a couple of inches. You see how much work has to be done just to be able to go from having a little trickle to being able to be only a few inches. The next thousand, it was now a foot and a half deep; the next thousand, now it was about three feet deep; and then the next thousand was over his head. So you see the way that the spiritual life grows is exponentially: The more that we move out, the deeper it gets and the faster it gets there.
And so the beginning part of the spiritual life is quite a struggle. We rejoice that, at least, there is the grace at work and we can see it and we can recognize that it is getting deeper. The question is - Are we willing to allow it to get to that point where it is over our heads? We can still control things pretty well ourselves if the water is only ankle or knee or waist-deep. But when we are in over our heads, we seem out of control. We are totally immersed at that point in the grace of God, and it is the Lord who is doing everything for us.
Or are we afraid, like the man in the Gospel, to allow that water to be up over our heads because we think that we are not going to be able to live, that we are going to sink if the water is too deep? The Lord tells the man in the Gospel to give up his sins lest something worse overtake him. Now that could mean that his sin is the reason for his paralysis. It could also mean that he has been cured physically but there is a spiritual paralysis that is even worse, and if he sins, the last state of his soul is going to be worse than the first.
What we need to think about for ourselves are both of those aspects. Sometimes it is because of our sinfulness that we are unwilling to wade out into that river, the river of God's grace, the river of the Holy Spirit, because we are afraid that it is going to flood over the top of us - which is really what we should desire - but we are afraid. And the other side of it is that once we have the grace of God, the Lord is warning us to give up our sins and allow that river to flood over the top of us; otherwise, something far worse might happen and the last state of the soul might be worse than the first. That is, it is one thing to be sitting here now, paralyzed by sin; it is another to go into eternity with mortal sin where we will be for eternity with Satan and his angels because we refused to repent.
So what we need to work on at this point is to get rid of sin entirely in our lives but to go out into the deep, not to simply allow ourselves to be standing in the water, ankle-deep - Praise God if that is where we are at! - but keep going. Get there, up to the point where it is at your ankles, your knees, your waist; and then dive in so that you are entirely covered in the Holy Spirit, in the waters of God's grace, that you can be filled with holiness and that you can do the Will of God in all things. That is what God is asking for us. That is His Will for each one of us - not that we would only be there with a trickle - but that it would be a flood, that the grace of God will radiate through us and be able to reach out to others. That is what God is holding out for us, if we are willing.
Like the man at the Pool of Bethesda, there are thousands of people - Jesus healed only one. Look around and ask yourself, "Why me?" Look at all the people when you go to work and ask why the Lord has chosen you. He has picked you from all of those other sick people, not because you were well, but because you were sick too. But He did it out of love for you and because He could see that within you was the faith and everything necessary to be able to achieve great holiness. Do not stop with just a trickle. Put out into the deep and let the Holy Spirit work within you the way that He desires.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.