When God Seems to Pass Us By
Friday August 16, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 16:1-15, 60, 63) Gospel (St. Matthew 19:3-12)
In the first reading, God speaks to us through the prophet Ezekiel about Israel, His loved one, His bride, the one that He has taken to Himself. And He tells us that she came up in a way which was most unfortunate. The way that He puts it in this allegory is that on the day that Israel was born she was simply thrown out on the ground - the cord was not cut, she was not washed, she was seen as something loathsome, and she was abandoned. It sounds rather uncharitable, even on God's part; He says, "I passed by and saw you weltering in your blood, and I said, 'Live on in your blood; grow like a plant in the field'."
One would ask, "Why? If God sees this little baby out there weltering and the baby is simply languishing in its own blood, why wouldn't God do something about it?" The answer is because God was going to allow that child - in this case, the people of Israel - to grow strong. If they were going to be able to grow in the worst conditions, they would be strong and they would be able to withstand whatever was going to come against them.
The difficulty on the other side of it is that it tends to make one rather selfish. One forgets that it is God who has done all of these things for us and thinks instead that it is we who did it ourselves, and the pride sometimes gets in the way. That is exactly what the Lord goes on to point out to Israel. As time went along and Israel became ready for marriage, God chose her as His own. He washed her, put on the finest clothing, did everything for her; she was ravishingly beautiful. And what happened is that rather than being caught up in God, Israel got caught up in herself, in her own beauty. She thought she was the most wonderful thing that has ever been and then she began to play the harlot with anybody who came along. She gave herself to every false god, to every idol, to anything at all, because what happened is that in the hardship of her growing up she did not recognize that it was God who had given her all the grace and the strength to be able to grow.
Now the same thing can happen sometimes to us. People look back to their childhood and sometimes they get angry with God because they look at somebody who grew up in this wonderful family and everything was great and they had wonderful parents and everything was just the way that one would think it ought to be, then they look and say, "But not in my life. Why didn't God protect me? Why did He allow all of these horrible things to happen to me? Why was I neglected? Why was I abandoned? Why was I abused? Why did I have to go through all of these terrible things? Why didn't God take care of me?" All we have to do is look at Israel. God looked and saw Israel weltering in her blood and allowed her to be there to grow strong in doing that.
But then there needed to be a purification because Israel was caught up in herself. That is the same thing that happens to anybody who goes through very painful, difficult things when they are young. They think that God has abandoned them. They take out their anger on the Lord. And the Lord says, "When I came by again and saw that you were ready for love, I put the corner of my garment around you and made you my own." He has married you; He has called you to Himself. Yet what happens is that all too often we think that it is just us against the world. We have to do this on our own; nobody else was there for us; God had not been there - even though He was there. And then we play the harlot with God. We run around and give ourselves to anything and everything that comes along because we do not think God is faithful. Then when we stop and turn around, we realize God has been perfectly faithful to the vows that He has made. It is we who have not been faithful.
But then God goes on to say to Israel, "Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl." When we see what Jesus teaches about marriage in the Gospel reading and the fidelity that needs to be there among spouses, then we know that is the way God is going to approach us. He is faithful, even though we have not been. He is not going to abandon us; He did not adulterate; but rather, it is we who did. And yet, he is going to forgive us. So He goes on to say, "I will set up an everlasting covenant with you that you may remember and be covered with confusion, that you may be utterly silenced for shame when I pardon you for all you have done." That is exactly what the Lord has done.
Now again, we could ask, "Why didn't He just take care of things right from the beginning? Why did He allow it to happen this way? If He would have taken care of me the way that I think He should have, I would have been faithful." No. For those who grew up in those difficult circumstances, if it would have been different, we would not have even come to God, more than likely. We would never have even looked at Him because we would have been so caught up in ourselves in a different way. But now what God is saying is that even in the midst of our infidelity, He is going to forgive our sins. And it is in being forgiven that we will recognize that we have been loved and that God is faithful.
We will be brought to confusion and shame because of what we have done, but we will be brought to silence. We will be humbled in the sight of the Lord, and we will come back to Him and be faithful to Him. That is what He wants us to learn. He needs to humble us. He needs to knock us down because the down side of growing strong is that we grow self-centered, we grow self-important, we think that we can do it by ourselves, and we grow unfaithful. And so what Our Lord is letting us know is that He is going to humble us; He is going to let us see our weakness so that we do not get caught up in ourselves. When we see His love and His mercy and His compassion, then we will turn to Him and be faithful to Him as He has been faithful to us.
That is the lesson He wants us all to learn. So for us, we need to look at what God has done for us. We need to see how much He has loved us. We need to see how much He has forgiven us. And we need, now, to turn to Him with our whole heart. We need to be faithful to Him. We need to love Him in return as He has loved us. No matter what the circumstances of our lives have been, we must understand that God has allowed these things to happen to us for our own good. It is because He loved us and because this is the very best thing. It is not the best, objectively, looking at it and saying, "Couldn't there have been a better way?" Yes, there could have. But for us, subjectively, could there have been a better way? No, all of those things that happened were perfect according to the Will of God to form us into the person He wanted us to be, to strengthen us, to purify us so that we can be the saints God wants us to be.
When we have grown up in difficult circumstances, we are strong and able to withstand much. We will be faithful in the midst of persecution. We will be able to stand firm in our commitment to the Lord once we get out of ourselves and recognize what He has done for us. And when we see the healing that God will work in our lives, then we will see that even the most horrible things that have happened to us are part of His Providence, that they are matters of His love, and that He has allowed this for our good so that when we turn back to Him we will never turn away again. We will be faithful, then, for the rest of our lives, and we will become the true and faithful spouse that God desires from each one of us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.