Wednesday February 23, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Week of Lent
Reading (Jeremiah 18:18-20) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:17-28)
In the two readings today, we see similar situations, yet we see two entirely different ways of dealing with it. Jeremiah is being plotted against by the people who want to kill him because what he says makes them upset. He calls them to conversion, he points out their sinfulness, and in response to that they want to kill him. And in the Gospel reading, we hear Our Lord telling us that He is going up to Jerusalem where He is going to be handed over and mocked and scourged and crucified. On the one hand, we see Jeremiah turning to the Lord and saying, “Does good always have to be repaid by evil? Save me from these people! Why should they do this?” Then we have Our Lord saying, “This is the reason I came into the world.” He came to give His life; He came to serve and not to be served. And so He understood fully well that this is what needed to happen.
We need to go back, then, to Jeremiah and look at that point of the “mystery of iniquity” as you might call it: Does good always have to be repaid with evil? That certainly is the way it appears some days. If you try to treat someone with charity, you get kicked in the shins. If you try to do what is right and good in the sight of God, you are going to be ridiculed and rejected and persecuted and so on. That is true. Now, on the natural level, we would look at it and say, “It’s not fair. It doesn’t seem right. Why would God allow this?” There is a very simple reason. First of all, He allows it because He wants us to grow in holiness. He has told us that we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. Are we willing to do that? It is only in the midst of suffering that we are going to grow in virtue. If everybody you know was running around patting you on the back and telling you that you are just the most wonderful person they know, all that is going to do is fill you with pride. Consequently, there is not going to be any growth in virtue because the pride will destroy it all. So the Lord, on the other hand, says to us, “If you are going to try to be holy, if you are going to grow in virtue, if you are going to be more godlike, then you first need to be humble and you need to prove that is really what you want.” If what we want is to do good and be patted on the back, then I think Our Lord would look at us and say, “You have already received your reward.” But if we are truly going to be righteous, that means we have to do what is right even in the face of evil, that we have to stand up for the truth even when it is rejected by others, that we have to be united with Christ even in His suffering and death.
It is true that on the natural level people are going to reject us if we do what is right and good because we wind up being a censure to their thoughts, to their conscience, and they do not like it. But we cannot back off of what is right just because people do not like it. Yet lots of people do. They get frustrated with it, and instead of really striving for holiness, they simply say, “Well, I just want to be like all the other Catholics. I’ll still go to Mass on Sunday, but I don’t need to be doing all these other things because look at what it’s costing me.” And they quit. They do not quit going to Mass, but they quit really striving for holiness because they just want to be like everyone else. Well, to be like everyone else is to repay good with evil. It is to persecute, it is to judge, it is to do all the things that all the other people are doing that they did not like; but they fall right into the same pattern, and unfortunately so do we sometimes.
So what we have to be able to look at is how much we really want to grow, how much we really want to be like Christ. Are we willing to suffer with Him, to be persecuted with Him, and ultimately to be crucified with Him? Are we willing to do what is right in the face of evil? Are we willing to serve even when our service is rejected? These are the things that Our Lord came to do. It is not fair on the natural level, and yet we cannot look at the natural level – we have to look at God and we have to see what He is trying to do. He will bring about virtue for us. He will free us from these situations, although not always in the way we think that He ought; He freed Jesus perfectly from it by the Resurrection, not by getting Him out of their hands. He will bring about conversion for the people for whom we pray and offer the suffering. It is a win-win situation if we are willing to cooperate, if we are willing to do God’s Will, if we are willing to endure the fact that good is going to be repaid with evil on the natural level. But when it comes to God, Who is going to repay us in eternity, good is going to repaid with a greater good. Just think: The little bit of good that we do on the natural level is going to be repaid with eternal life with Christ, with heaven, with the face-to-face vision of God. When we look at it that way, then we need to ask ourselves, “Is it worth the little bit of suffering we have to endure to be able to obtain the reward that God will give us?”
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.