The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail Against Her
Friday April 23, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 5:34-42) Gospel (St. John 6:1-15)
There are a couple of personalities in the readings today that we need to look at before we say anything more.
First of all is a man by the name of Gamaliel, the man who speaks up before the Sanhedrin, telling them that if this work of the apostles is of divine origin that they are going to be fighting even God Himself, and if it is of human origin that it will just simply die out on its own. Gamaliel was the teacher of Saint Paul. He is considered the greatest rabbi ever to have lived and Saint Paul was his star pupil, so one can imagine what Gamaliel must have thought when Saint Paul converted to become a Christian. Yet, at the same time, we see the wisdom that this man had as a teacher of the law who was respected by all because he knew the law so well and lived what it is that he believed. This man is a very important individual, even for us as Christians, when we recognize who he was and what it is that he did.
The second person that we need to consider is the one mentioned in the Gospel, that is, when the people said, “Truly, this is the Prophet.” What they are talking about is the individual that Moses spoke of in the Book of Deuteronomy when he said, “God will raise up from your own people a prophet like me. You are to obey him in everything that he tells you.” So this is the person they were waiting for. They knew that in all this time the prophets themselves had been raised up, but none of them was ever the Prophet that they were looking for. And so this one, finally, they were looking at and saying, “Here is the Prophet. This is the one Moses spoke of in the law.” When we hear words like that – whatever Moses spoke of in the law – what they are talking about is this one individual who is supposed to come into the world.
They recognized rightly that that was Jesus. The problem is they did not recognize rightly Who He really was. They recognized that He was the Prophet, but they did not recognize that He was the Messiah. They wanted to make Him king. Moses, of course, was the leader of the people; so they thought if this man was going to be like Moses that he was going to do what Moses did and he would lead the people out of slavery and into the promised land. That is, of course, exactly what Jesus did. But it is not out of slavery to the Romans, but rather out of our slavery to sin and into the promised land, the fruit of the true freedom of the children of God; and secondly, into the promised land of Heaven. And so it was simply a misunderstanding of what He was supposed to do and Who He truly was, what it meant to be that Prophet.
But we also have to consider what Gamaliel has said: that if this is of human origin, it will destroy itself. If we just look at the Church and some of the problems within, one has to simply acknowledge the reality. If this were of human origin, it truly would have died about 950 or 980 years ago. If you look at some of the chaos which takes place in all of the human things within the Church, there is no possible way that this could have survived. If a business operated the way the Church does, the business would have closed years ago. But the Church is not a business; that is not what it is about. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who try to make it into a business, but that is not what it is. And so regardless of human sin, regardless of human stupidity, regardless of all the human weakness – and even human beings who are trying to make the Church into something that She is not – the Church is never going to die because the Church is Jesus Christ. Regardless of how much people try to destroy the Church (and the ones inside are far worse than the ones outside) it is not going to work.
There are many people who are not trying to destroy the Church, but just in the way that they operate they would destroy it if it were a business. And then there are many people who are maliciously attempting to destroy the Church from both the inside and the outside. But in over 2,000 years, that has not succeeded. There is the story of the pope who was alive at the time of Napoleon. When Napoleon went to visit the Pope, he looked at him and said, “I am going to destroy your Church.” And the Holy Father stood up, walked over and put his arm around Napoleon’s shoulders and said, “I have a piece of advice for you. The priests have been trying for over 1,500 years to destroy the Church and they have not succeeded. You won’t either.” Nobody is going to be able to destroy the Church because Our Lord Himself founded it and made a promise that the jaws of hell will not prevail against it.
For us, then, we simply need to be faithful. We need to be able to look beyond all the human nonsense, all the human weakness, all the human sinfulness, and all the human stupidity. We need to be able to look to the divinity, to the divine element of the Church: that God has promised that He would give to us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. And that is precisely what the Church has managed to do. In spite of all the human frailty that is present within the Church, She has managed to preach the truth. The beautiful thing is that the truth is out there for anyone. It is objective. It is not a subjective opinion, but rather it is objective and it is there in writing for anyone to be able to look up and to be able to accept.
So one can look and say, “I have a pastor who’s not doing a good job,” or, “My bishop is not doing what he’s supposed to.” That does not excuse anybody for not being able to have the truth. It may be true that the human individuals who are entrusted with the task are not doing what they are supposed to, but there is not one of us who can suggest that we do not have access to that truth. The Catechism is right there for anybody to read. The teachings of the Church are right there for anybody to look up. We have our part to do. This is not of human origin; it is not a merely human work. The human element of the Church would have destroyed it almost 2,000 years ago. It is something which is divine, and it is something into which each one of us has been baptized. Therefore, even our own human weakness, our own human sin has not been able to keep us from being able to access the truth.
And so when we look at our own selves and we look at the Church and we look at the people in the Church, we simply need to recognize that there is a part that is human (which is unfortunately very obvious these days) and a part that is divine (which is also very obvious in these days if one is willing to look). The same is true within ourselves. If we can look at our own selves and make an honest inventory of the reality of who we are, we realize that our own sinfulness, our own stupidity, our own weakness has not managed to destroy our belief in and our love for Jesus Christ. If that is the case on the individual level – and each one of us is the temple of the Holy Spirit – then how much more on the universal level, that is, of the whole Church. All of the human problems will never be able to destroy the divinity and will never be able to inhibit the truth which the Holy Spirit is going to continue to proclaim.
We simply need to look beyond all the human problems, which are all there and they are all real. But who cares? As Pope John XXIII said when someone asked him how he could sleep at night with all the problems in the Church, he said, “I don’t have any problems sleeping. When it’s time for bed, I say, ‘Lord, it’s Your Church. I’m going to bed.’” Well, it is the Lord’s Church; do not worry about all the problems. Focus on the Lord, focus on the truth, and remain faithful to Christ. Ignore all the problems. All that the problems are going to do is get you upset. And what good is it? Just pray to Jesus. Realize that, yes, there is a human problem in the Church, but the Church is not human – the Church is divine. We need to focus on that, and in that to recognize that we have the Prophet, Who is the Messiah, Who will lead us out of all this human sinfulness and into the true freedom of the children of God and into the fullness of life in the promised land of heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.