Lord, Unite Us to Yourself in the Desert
Monday July 5, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hosea 2:16, 17c-18, 21-22) Gospel (St. Matthew 9:18-26)
In the first reading today, we hear this very famous and well-known passage from the Book of the Prophet Hosea about how God is going to take Israel and lead her out into the desert. Israel was considered the bride of God Himself. Well, the New Israel is no different; the New Israel is the bride of Christ; it is His Church. And at this point, in many facets of the Church, there is a lot of infidelity. We recall that the prophet Hosea was told by God to marry a prostitute to demonstrate to the people just how unfaithful they had been to God. How things remain the same as the centuries go on, and so what God is going to have to do for His Church is exactly the same. The Church in general (that is, objectively looking at things) has been perfectly faithful to God, but the people in the Church have not. Therefore, because our hearts have strayed, God is going to allow the Church to be put down. Like the little girl in the Gospel, the Church will appear to be dead, but Our Lord will look and say, She is not dead but asleep. They will ridicule Him, as they will anyone who is trying to follow Him. Yet what the Lord is going to do is lead His Church out into the desert, and there He is going to speak to Her heart. Once again, we are going to have a Church that is going to be true to the Lord; the people of God will be faithful to Him. We will have a Church which is poor, thanks be to God. We will have a Church which is truly dependent on the Lord and not on the dollar bill. We will have a Church that will be a true spouse to the Lord.
When we look at Saint Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and see this relationship between Christ and the Church and the way the Church is to respond to the Lord, we recognize (again, objectively) that the Church has done that; when we look subjectively, it has not. In fact, all we need to do is look at what happens in the very area in which we are told that marriage is a symbol of Christ and His Church and how faithful things are in marriage these days. When Bishop Wilton Gregory, who is the president of the U.S.C.C.B., addressed the bishops a year ago, he said that of those of childbearing age who call themselves Catholic only 4% – 4 – are following the Church’s teaching with regard to contraception. Mind you that the Church is the bride of Christ, and if the Church – that is, the people in it – are being unfaithful, they are in essence contracepting Christ. They are not bringing the life of God into the world because they have cut life off. And if marriage between two human persons within the Church is a symbol of the marriage of Christ and His Church, it is no wonder we see this out-and-out prostitution going on.
The Lord says that He will lead her out into the desert and there He is going to speak to her heart, and on that day she will say, “My husband,” and never again, “My baal.” How many idols we have! How many Catholics are wandering away from the Church following false gods! We have all kinds of things that we have made into a god, whether it is any various form of contraception, whether it is money, whether it is materialism, or in our day and age literally the idols which people have set up – the New Age nonsense and the neopaganism that is going on in our country and sweeping right into our Church. All one needs to do is look at the shrine of Fatima where Our Blessed Lady appeared. They are trying now to turn it into an ecumenical center where just a couple of weeks ago they brought a busload of Hindus in and on the main altar of the basilica there the Hindus had a worship service because “we are all one and all religion is the same”. Oh, how we are saying, “My baal, my idol, my false god,” to the Lord.
But that will not happen after the Lord purifies His Church. Then we will truly say, “My husband,” and we will be espoused in love, which is exactly what Our Lord desires. And that is exactly what He says He is going to do: I will espouse you to Me in right and in justice, in love and mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the Lord. This is what He desires. Imagine what the Church is going to look like when the people are faithful to God. Just think what it is going to be. Think what a marriage would be if it were truly open to life. There would be lots of new life. We would be teeming with children, their beautiful little voices and their beautiful little faces. The Church, when we are open to the Lord, is going to bring the life of God into the world through the people. We already have Our Lord in the Eucharist, of course, and we have the fullness of the truth in the teachings of the Church; so again, it is not the objective Church which is unfaithful – it is the people in the Church – and that starts in the hierarchy and it goes all the way down. The infidelity, remember, flows from the altar of God. What you see going on in society has its origin at the altar, so we need make no bones about that. The infidelity begins with the priests and the bishops, and it flows from there to the people. But the Lord in His mercy, as He says in Isaiah: I will espouse you to Myself forever, is faithful to His marriage vows even though we have not been. So He is going to lead the Church out into the desert. He is going to allow Her to be purified, but in the desert it is there that we recognize we are completely dependent on the Lord. It is there that we will fall in love with Him once again. It is there that we will hear His voice speaking in the tiniest little breeze, in a little whisper. We will hear His voice and we will unite ourselves with Him and once again He will have a faithful bride. That is what He desires.
And so today we need to pray. We need to pray that this will happen soon, as quickly as possible, that the Lord will bring us out into the desert, that He will allow us to be united with Him in right and in justice and in mercy and in truth, that we will hear His voice speaking in the depths of our hearts and that we will respond in like kind so that we will be faithful to Him, that the bride of Christ will once again be open to life that the life of God will be teeming through the world through those members of the Mystical Christ which will be truly faithful to Him when they are united with Him in the desert.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.