January 9, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Friday After Epiphany
Reading (1 John 5:5-13) Gospel (St. Luke 5:12-16)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear that the people came to Jesus but He withdrew to deserted places in order to pray. Now this does not sound like what we would expect from the Lord because, after all, we are told in other places that the people would bring all their sick to Him and He would heal them. But He did not heal everybody. There were obviously many others that remained with their various ailments and Jesus went off to pray. This tells us a couple of things. First of all, it highlights the absolute importance of prayer, that Jesus is placing prayer over all the other things. Something that many people get caught up into is that we see all the things that need to be accomplished and so we run and run and run trying to accomplish them all and we do not spend much time in prayer. Well, we are not going to accomplish anything if we do not pray. You may accomplish the task externally but what good does that do? If you are not doing it with God and according to the way of God, it is not going to do you any good at all. So, first and foremost, we have to spend the time in prayer because it is from there that we are going to have the grace to be able to, first, know the Will of God, and secondly, accomplish the work that needs to be done in the way that God wants it to be done.
Secondly, what we see with Our Lord withdrawing to pray is that there is obviously a certain disposition that the people needed to have as they came to Him. Far too many people come to Jesus for purely selfish reasons. Here are people who heard that there was someone who had the power to cure and, of course – it is human – what they wanted was to be cured, so they came to Jesus in order to be cured. They did not necessarily want anything to do with God; they did not necessarily have faith; they just wanted to have their problem fixed. If they were not going to have faith, He was not going to deal with them. It is not because He did not love them, it is not because He was not compassionate toward their problem, but rather it is a matter that if we approach the Lord purely out of selfishness that is exactly the opposite of what He is seeking. We are commanded, as we have seen over the last number of days, to love. Love is the opposite of selfishness.
The Lord does not have a problem with the idea of curing somebody but it has to be with the right disposition. For instance, the man in the Gospel today comes to the Lord and says, “If You will to do so, You can cure me.” Now we could all go to prayer and say the same thing and we know that it is true. “Lord, You are all-powerful, You are God, You can do anything You want. If You want to do this, You can.” Well, we know that is the case, but the difference is that the man in the Gospel came to the Lord in a spirit of humility and faith, not simply saying, “I know that You can do this if You want to, so go for it,” but rather to humble himself, to come before the Lord with an open heart and to present himself before the Lord in faith, and to acknowledge that, “Yes, I believe that You can do this,” and to have the faith that it would be done. There is an entirely different disposition between that and somebody who just comes before the Lord and says, “Well, I know You healed other people so You can heal me too. I don’t want to change my life. I don’t want to do anything different – just heal me.” It is not going to happen.
There is also a point where we have to come before the Lord with the faith to say, “Whatever You want to have done is what is going to be the best. And so if You will to heal me, that is fine; and if You will that this ailment I have is what is going to heal me then that’s fine too. Your Will be done.” In other words, “If it is better for me to be ill because that is not only going to bring about the conversion of other people, but it’s going to bring about my purification and my salvation, then so be it.” People, for instance, would come to Padre Pio. I remember two stories of people who were blind. They came to Padre Pio and he saw that they had the faith to be healed, and he said, “I will heal you if you wish. But if you remain blind, if you accept this cross, you will have a much higher place in heaven and you will bring many people with you.” In both cases the people said, “Then let me remain blind. If that would give greater glory to God then that would be my choice.” And so it was not out of selfishness that they wanted to be healed, and neither can it be for us. But rather, if we come before the Lord, no matter what the area of healing is that we are seeking – physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, whatever it might be – if it will give greater glory to God to heal us then that is what He will do. But if it will be for our benefit and for the greater glory of God to allow us to remain with that ailment then that is what He will do because He knows fully well that He could heal us and then we could go out and be absolutely foolish and wind up in hell for eternity, and He does not want that. If we would do something so foolish as that, He is not going to heal us because He loves us so much that He does not want us doing something stupid. So He may leave us with our ailment because He knows that, number one, it kind of forces us to pray; number two, it keeps us out of a lot of trouble; and, number three, it is what is going to bring us to heaven. If that is the case, it is precisely the ailment that He has allowed that is going to be the healing balm we need. So it is just the opposite of what it might appear.
We need to trust the Lord. We need to come to Him in faith and we need to accept His Will. But we need to pray. We need to see the necessity of prayer because only in prayer will we come to be able to discern whether the physical, mental, or spiritual problems that we suffer from are God’s Will and whether that is what is best for us or whether it is not. It is only in prayer that we are going to be able to know what God wants to do with the various things in our lives. It is only in prayer that we are going to unite ourselves with His Will. And so, just like Jesus, no matter how much there is to be done, there is an absolute necessity for each and every one of us to make prayer the priority, to set the work aside for the moment, to go and pray; and then, fueled by the grace that we receive from prayer, to take up the work, not according to the way we think it needs to be done but according to God’s Will as directed through our prayer.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.