Friday July 9, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Hosea 14:2-10) Gospel (St. Matthew 10:16-23)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord makes very clear that if we are going to follow Him we are going to be persecuted. Now one would wonder why, if He is God (and He is), if He is all-powerful (and He is), if He can do anything He wants (and He can), why wouldn’t He protect His people? Why would He allow them to be persecuted? Why would He tell them, When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next? Why does He not keep them from being dragged into court, from being martyred, from having to suffer for their faith? It is precisely because it is through these means that our faith is purified, and as the Lord says: You will be dragged into court in order to give witness before them and the pagans. It is a necessity and it is a part of our faith that we are going to have to be persecuted, that we will have to suffer.
So when we see some of the struggles that are going on in our own lives and in our own day, we realize this is something that, first, we should not be surprised about; but more than that, it is something that we should really rejoice in because it gives us an opportunity to be true Catholics, to really be able to respond to Our Lord and put our faith into practice. When it is acceptable in a society to be Catholic, although not really Catholic but lukewarm Catholic, to be able to say that you are Catholic but you do not really have to believe in all the things the Catholic Church believes, well, then it is pretty easy to be a Catholic. It is even pretty easy to be a good Catholic. You are going to get a little bit of ridicule and grief, but nothing too major. But when it is not acceptable to be Catholic, that is when we have to make a decision. Are we really going to be faithful to Our Lord or are we going to be like everyone else? That is the choice we have to make. And so we have an opportunity to be able to put our faith into practice, to put it truly into practice, to be able to show whether or not we are going to be faithful to Our Lord when push comes to shove. This is a glorious opportunity, and it is a privilege beyond any other. It may not feel like it when we are in the midst of it, but it is the reality.
When the persecution works its way through and the purification has done what it needs to do within our souls and within the Church, then the Lord is going to speak to us just as He did through the prophet Hosea: “Return to Me,” says the Lord, your God. And that is exactly what will happen. Our hearts will be purified; we will be humble; we will be able to offer true sacrifice to the Lord. Again, in the Church, it is not that there is any problem at all with the sacrifice being offered because it is Jesus Himself, but there is a problem with the people trying to offer it because our hearts are not necessarily where they belong. Once our hearts are humbled, then as we offer sacrifice to the Lord we will have our hearts in the right place. Our sacrifice (not merely the sacrifice of the Lord, but our sacrifice individually that we are trying to offer to the Lord) will be acceptable when our hearts are humbled, when our focus is proper, when our love for God is fervent. That is what the Lord is looking for, and it is precisely that which persecution and purification bring about.
Even though we do not like the persecution very much, we have to recognize it as a gift because it truly is. All of the sufferings, all of the struggles, all of the ridicule, whatever it might be that we are having to endure, rather than looking at God and shaking our fist and wondering why and even being completely stupid and saying, “What are You doing to me? What did I ever do to You?” – as if we need to ask that question! – what we need to do is accept and even be grateful for the opportunity to suffer for our faith, for the opportunity to really be able to see just how deep our faith is and how true we are to the Lord. When nobody is giving you any grief, it is pretty easy to be a Catholic. When you are getting grief for being Catholic, that is when you are going to find out how deep your faith really is. Now the other thing to watch out for is that if we are going to be faithful and we are going to be true to the Lord in His teaching, what many of us will tend to do is pull into ourselves. Our pride will rise up and we are going to dig our heels in and say, “Just make me leave the faith!” That does not work either; that is pure pride and it needs to be knocked out of us, which is why the Lord allows us to suffer so that we can become humble. So it is the proper balance: We need to be faithful, but we need to be humble so that we can truly love the Lord and we can come before Him with hearts that are purified, with hearts that are humble, with hearts that are filled with love so we can offer true sacrifice, acceptable sacrifice to the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.