April 6, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Tuesday of Holy Week
Reading (Isaiah 49:1-6) Gospel (St. John 13:21-33, 36-38)
When we hear the words from the prophet Isaiah in the first reading today about this suffering servant, he says, Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength, that is the worldly way of looking at things. That is, when we look at what Our Lord did with His life, there are many people who would say from a worldly point of view, “It was a waste. After all, He had so much talent and ability, and what did He do? He spent three years of public ministry and was put to death.” Yet, at the same time, for one with faith, we look at it in an entirely different way; and that is exactly how it follows up. It says, My reward is with the Lord, and my recompense is with my God, and then goes on to talk about who this servant is to be, that he will be the light to the nations and bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.
It is only in the Crucifixion of Our Lord that we are able to understand this, but only one with faith is able to see because someone without faith looking at the Cross will think it utter foolishness, indeed, complete absurdity. But this is precisely what Saint Paul tells us that the early Christians were having to deal with. That is, as he points out, The Cross of Christ is a stumbling block to the Jews and it is an absurdity to the Greeks; but for those who believe, it is the power of God.
And so when we look at these words and apply them to Our Lord, we are then the ones who are able to recognize the power of God shining through the Cross of Christ. When we hear the words of Our Lord at the Last Supper, as He speaks of being betrayed, it is precisely in that betrayal that He says, Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him. Again, this makes no sense. The apostles did not understand it. How is it possible that God is glorified when something that on the natural level is so evil is about to befall Our Lord? And yet, again, for us with faith looking back at it, we understand perfectly how this can happen.
This has to color, then, everything that happens in our own lives because oftentimes we spin our wheels, or so it seems. We do the duties of our state in life to the best of our ability, we try to be faithful to the Lord, we pray, we do the work that we think Our Lord is asking of us, and it seems to get us nowhere. In fact, in this world where evil is doubling over on itself faster and faster everyday, it does not matter what we do; it seems that we are going backwards. We are losing ground, and we will say, for instance, “It’s doing no good! I’m going nowhere! This is foolish! Why should I be spending all this time in prayer? I could be doing something else.” That is exactly the way the devil would want us to think.
So we need to keep remembering these words and the example of Our Lord: Though I thought I had toiled in vain, and for nothing, uselessly, spent My strength. That is exactly what it might look like on the outside, but we will only know when we are in heaven just how much our prayers have really saved us from and how much they have made a difference in the world. It is only when we are on the other side that we will be able to understand fully what it means to say that God is our reward. Our reward is in the Lord. As Mother Teresa would say to her sisters, “God does not ask that you be successful; He only asks that you will be faithful.” Very often what God will do is make sure that we do not have external success just to test our fidelity.
That is the challenge that is before us: to be able to see what looks like a waste, an absurdity, utter foolishness on the outside, but for one with faith, it is to recognize the glory of God, the power of God shining through human weakness so that with Our Lord it is when we are betrayed, when we are rejected, when it appears that we have toiled uselessly and for nothing spent our strength, it is precisely in that that God is glorified and we are glorified in Him.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.