Monday November 29, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier First Week of Advent
Reading (Isaiah 4:2-6) Gospel (St. Matthew 8:5-11)
The prophet Isaiah tells us in the first reading today that when the Lord purifies the people of Jerusalem He is then going to set up something that is very much similar to what occurred to the people of Israel when they were leaving Egypt. That is, over the whole side of Mount Zion and over the place of the assembly, he says, there will be a smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night. We are told that this is to protect the people. We recall how the people of Israel were protected by the cloud that was there in the desert; and when the people were camped at the Red Sea, the cloud moved from in front of the people to behind them so that it was between the Israelites and the Egyptians, protecting the Israelites from being killed by the Egyptians. The Lord is telling us that something similar to this is going to be happening.
And so if we ask ourselves, “Now how is that going to happen?” well, first of all, we have to recognize that there has to be this purification, and there indeed has been, but it continues for each and every individual person. The Church is the New Jerusalem, and, we are told, She is the spotless bride of the Lamb. So She has been purged. Yet because new people (who are sinful people) are born into the Church each and every day, the Church needs to be continually purged because even though the Church is pure and perfect the individuals within the Church are far from it. There is this constant need of purification, and who is it that is going to provide that purification? It is the Holy Spirit Who purifies and protects, the Holy Spirit Who is that glory cloud that overshadowed Our Lady, that overshadowed Our Lord and His disciples on Mount Tabor, that same cloud that filled the temple when Solomon was first consecrating the temple to the Lord. That same cloud of the Holy Spirit will protect us. He will lead us through the darkness of this world like a flame of fire. He will protect us in the daytime like that column of cloud. He will purify and He will perfect because the goal of the Holy Spirit is to make us true temples of the Lord.
If this is the case then there has to be complete faith, the kind of faith we hear about in the Gospel reading from the centurion, the total confidence in the Lord that the Lord would be able to heal his servant by merely speaking His word. And, of course, the centurion’s response is one that is on our lips everyday: Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. If we translated that properly, what we would say right before Communion would be: “But only say the word and my soul will be healed.” The healing of our souls is the work that is given over to the Lord and to the Holy Spirit. We are not worthy that He should come under our roof, and yet, at the same time, it is precisely in this that we are going to be purified. It is in this that we are going to be made whole.
That, again, is exactly what we read in the first reading, that the survivors in Jerusalem will be called holy. If we are members of the New Jerusalem, we are called to holiness – which means we all have to be purified. So in this holy season it is a time also of purification as we prepare for the coming of Our Lord into our hearts, and we want to prepare our hearts in the best way. Of course, the best way to have our hearts prepared and purified is to ask the Lord to do it. There may be some things we are much aware of that we can get rid of, but ask the Holy Spirit, the fire of God’s love, to enter your heart, to illuminate whatever it is that is in the darkness, to show you what needs to be purified, and even to purge from you whatever it is that you are not able to purify on your own. When we are completely purified, then that house will have been healed, the Lord will be living under our roof. Even though we are not worthy on our own, it is the Holy Spirit purifying us Who will make us holy, Who will make us worthy at the Lord’s word, so that we will be a true and beautiful dwelling place for Our Lord, a place far more fitting than the stable and the manger in which He was born and laid. We will be able to provide for Him a fitting temple, one that is filled with glory, one that is filled with the light and the glory of the Holy Spirit, Who has overshadowed us, Who has purified us, Who has perfected us, and Who will make us a holy temple for the Lord.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.