Wednesday April 28, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week of Easter
Reading (Acts 8:1b-8) Gospel (St. John 6:35-40)
In the readings today, once again we see two opposite extremes. We hear about Philip in the first reading going down to the city of Samaria. He preached about Our Lord, and we are told that the crowds who heard him and saw the signs that he worked immediately believed in what it was that Our Lord had done and Who He was based on the word of Saint Philip. But then we hear what Our Lord is telling the people of Israel. He says, “Although you have seen Me, you do not believe.” Now it is a problem that those who already know the Lord, to some degree at least, will suffer from in one extreme or the other. Remember that Saint John tells us, “He came to His own, and His own received Him not.”
That is a real concern that we have to have for our own selves. What tends to happen (with some good reason) is that we become very, very skeptical, skeptical about anything that is not within the parameters that we think it is supposed to be in. So we reject all kinds of things even though we should not. Saint John tells us that we are to test every spirit so we can find out what is from the Lord and what is not. But what often happens is we just reject anything outright because it is something we cannot control.
On the other hand, there is the problem of believing everything that comes down the pike. If anybody claims that they are having, for instance, an apparition or a locution, all of a sudden there are some people who without a second thought believe that they must be telling the truth. Of course, about 80% – 90% of that stuff floating around out there today is a bunch of nonsense, or at very best it is simply the fruit of prayer. That is, it has nothing to do with anything coming directly from Jesus or Mary, but rather it is simply that people who are praying and recognizing the realities of what is going on around them are able to discern certain things from their prayer and they think therefore that they are getting a message – which they are not; all that it is is the light that comes from prayer.
And so what happens is we have these two extremes that we need to be very careful about because we do know that the way the Lord is going to work is never going to be the way we think it is going to be. That is a guarantee. Show me one place in Scripture where you see that the way a prophecy is fulfilled is the way that you would think it would be fulfilled just from looking at the original prophecy. At the same time, we hear Our Lord speaking through the prophet Amos when he says that God does nothing in the world without first telling his prophets. If that is the case, we know that He is going to inform us of what He is planning on doing, and we need to have our minds and hearts open to that.
So it is finding the balance. And the only way that balance is going to be found is, once again, in prayer. Otherwise, what happens is faith becomes just an intellectual pursuit, in which case we pass off everything we cannot understand or control with our minds; or it can become an emotional pursuit, in which case anything objective gets thrown out the window for all kinds of subjective things that are based on emotions or based on anything other than solid faith. We can see the result of that in both extremes. One, that there are lots of Catholics, for instance, who do not want to believe if they cannot grasp it in their head, because they do not really want to pray, because they do not want to change their lives, because they do not really want to live their faith. They just want to know the objective elements of the Faith, which are critically important, but it is a matter of putting those into practice. Then we can look at the other half and look at all the people who claim that they are being led by the Holy Spirit and are led right out of the Church so that they no longer have the sacraments and they are no longer part of the Church because a spirit led them out of the Church. It was not the Holy Spirit, but a spirit did lead them away because they refused to be rooted in the objective truths of the Faith. Rather, they took their emotional experiences and allowed those to become the whole basis of what they were believing, and they wound up leaving the Lord thinking that they were going to find Him.
We do need to be extremely careful. But we have to understand that the pattern is already there for the way the Lord is going to work, and it is out of our control. As long as we begin to understand that, then we can open our minds and our hearts to things that are beyond our control. We have to be reasonable in the way that we approach them. It is not an unreasonable thing to be skeptical, but it is completely unreasonable to throw everything out just because it is not within the parameters that we think it ought to be in, or because it is not happening in a way that has been established for a thousand years and therefore it cannot be real. If that is the case, then what we would have to do is reject all the prophets of the Old Testament because at one point it was the first time that they were heard, and so certainly this could not be the reality. Well, we know better than that because, of course, they have been approved. So we just need to be very, very cautious.
“In the middle stands virtue,” the old saying goes. We do not want to get overly emotional; we do not want to lose the objective elements because those keep us grounded. At the same time, we cannot just simply know our Catechism and think that is enough. We have to pray. We have to have that subjective element of faith that is going to lead us in a relationship with Christ and help us to open our minds to the truths that the Lord wants us to know, that is, the truths about our own life, the truths also about what He may be doing in the world. It is what helps us when we see things that are bigger than we are and out of our control to be able to remain faithful, to remain at peace, to continue to trust; because you can be guaranteed that whatever the Lord does, it will not be the way you expect it to be. If you are waiting for something to happen according to your preconceived notions, you are either going to miss completely what the Lord is doing or you are going to lose your faith because it is not happening the way that one expects.
Once again, there is that absolute necessity of prayer. If we are not deeply rooted in prayer, we are not going to see what the Lord is doing. And so it is absolutely necessary, especially with the mess that we have got in the world and in the Church today, that we must be deeply rooted in prayer. Anyone who is not spending substantial amounts of time in deep prayer is going to find themselves lost in the chaos because we will have no light, we will have no direction. It is only when we are united with Christ that we are going to be able to remain firmly rooted and faithful and continue to move forward in the midst of all the turbulence that is going to be coming – and some of which is already here. We need to continue to study the Faith, we need to know the objective realities and truths, but we need to be careful to find that balance. Not to fall off the edge on either end, but rather to find where virtue stands – which is in the middle – to have that proper balance to be rooted in the objective, and to be deeply rooted in prayer so that the subjective element, the relationship with Christ, is firmly established and leading us through the light of Christ to the peace which we are seeking.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.