Friday July 26, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Jeremiah 3:14-17) Gospel (St. Matthew 13:18-23)
The people of Israel, when they would have heard these words from the prophet Jeremiah: "In those days they will no longer say, 'The ark of the covenant of the Lord!' They will not think of it, or remember it, or miss it, or make another," these would have been unthinkable words. Remember that the ark was the holiest thing in all of Israel. It was the throne of God; it was the mercy seat; it was the place where the Ten Commandments were placed. They had some of the manna in it, and it had the staff of Aaron the high priest in it. It was considered the single most sacred object that the Israelites possessed. So to think that no one would speak of the ark anymore, that they would not even miss it [was unthinkable].
Yet, one can look around and see what is happening. For over 2,500 years now, the ark of the covenant has not been seen. The people in the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia claim that they have it because there was a temple that was built on Elephantine Island in the Nile River and there was a place there for an ark. But that had to have been, I suspect, not the actual ark, but rather a replica because we read in Maccabees that the prophet Jeremiah (the same one who wrote this) took the ark up to Mount Nebo, put it into a cave, and covered up the doorway. It says that no one will find it until the tribes of Israel are gathered together again. Toward the end of the world the ark is going to be found, the actual real one.
In the meantime, nobody really misses it. You do not hear much about it from the people of Israel. Even though they know fully well what the Ethiopians claim - that they have the ark - the Israelites pay very little attention to it. It does not bother them that they do not have the ark. It does not bother them that they do not have the temple. A few of the Hassidic Jews certainly are concerned about it, but that is all. Most of the Jewish people are not interested in trying to get the temple back and have the worship of God in the temple and all the sacrifice of the animals and so on.
So we have to ask, "What exactly does this mean, then? Why isn't it a problem?" It is because there is a new ark and there is a New Jerusalem. All of the tribes are indeed gathered together, and that is the Church. The ark is Our Lady. And the ark is seen, as Saint John saw, up in Heaven; it was a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She has been assumed into Heaven, into the royal, heavenly, divine throne room. She is the place where God chose to dwell. And now He dwells in the New Jerusalem, because this is exactly what we were told: "At that time they will call Jerusalem the Lord's throne." The Lord is enthroned right here on the altar, right in the tabernacle. The tabernacle is the tent, and that is exactly what He used to dwell in from the time of Moses all the way to the time of Solomon. He dwelt in a tabernacle, in a tent, and He went with the people wherever they would go. So the Lord is with us in the New Jerusalem, which is the Church, because we hear that exact thing: "At that time they will call Jerusalem the Lord's throne; there all the nations will be gathered together to honor the Name of the Lord at Jerusalem." That is precisely what we have in the Catholic Church: all the nations gathered together into the new and heavenly Jerusalem to be able to honor the Name of the Lord.
Now, the other part is what we have not yet seen: "There they will walk no longer in the hardness of their wicked hearts." For those who are seeking to live in holiness, everything is already here right in the Church to be able to become saints, to be able to put the hard-hearted wickedness away. But even there, most people do not want to live that. They want to be able to say that they are residents of the New Jerusalem but they do not want to live it. We need to embrace it because the time is coming when the Lord is going to purify things - and I think we can say that it has already begun. But it is just at the beginning for the purification of this new and heavenly Jerusalem. And so if we are going to walk in the hardness of our hearts, we will find ourselves outside of the New Jerusalem because the Lord will not tolerate that. He has tolerated it for a long time; the day is coming when He will not.
So we need to make sure we are looking to the Lord, that we are striving to live holiness, that we are striving to put away the wickedness and the hardness of our hearts so that we can live according to the new way with Jesus Christ, that we can live as Our Lady did, who is that tabernacle of the Lord; and even today, as we celebrate the feast of her parents, to look at these two extraordinarily holy individuals who were called to the married state and who became the grandparents of the Son of God. These are the people we can look to and say, "It is not impossible. They were able to live holiness under the Old Covenant. We have the New Covenant, the new ark, the New Jerusalem." It's all there for us, and it is anything but impossible because the Lord has done it all. All we need to do is choose it and walk in His path and choose to live in holiness of heart, in holiness of life - to reject the sinfulness, the wickedness, the hardness of heart, and open our hearts to the Lord to follow the good shepherd that He promised He would appoint - ultimately, that shepherd is Christ Himself - and to follow Him through Calvary to eternity with Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.