Tuesday May 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Seventh Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Sirach 2:1-11) Gospel (St. Mark 9:30-37)
In the Gospel reading today, as we hear the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, Our Lord tells them which one is the greatest. And it is not anything that, on the natural level, we would ever assume. The Lord says it is the one who serves the rest, the one who makes himself the lowest and the servant of all. When we compare this, then, with what we hear in the first reading, and when we look at what Our Lord Himself told His disciples immediately before they got into an argument about who was the greatest among them, we have a context for ourselves. The Lord tells His apostles that He is going to be handed over and He is going to be put to death. It is in that context that they are arguing about who is the greatest.
And so we hear Sirach, the Wise Man, saying, When you prepare yourself to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials, and then he talks about how we have to be undisturbed in time of adversity, we have to wait on Him with patience, and when crushing misfortune befalls us we still have to be patient, that it is through these means that we are going to be purified like gold and silver that are tested. And he says, Worthy people are tested in a crucible of humiliation. Worthy people are tested in a crucible of humiliation. That is the one who is the greatest. You can ask yourself which is better: something that was dug out of the side of a hill someplace that has some gold in it and a whole bunch of dirt, or 24kt pure gold that has been purified. Obviously, what we would want is the pure gold. That is what God wants from us hearts and lives that are pure and the only way they are going to be purified is through suffering, by being humiliated, by being crushed.
That is not what most of us like to think when we stop to think about the Lord. After all, if we look down a little further in the same reading, Sirach asks the question: Has anyone hoped in the Lord and been disappointed? Has anyone persevered in His commandments and been forsaken? Has anyone called upon the Lord and been rebuffed? We hear those things and say, Wait a minute. If the Lord is not going to let us be disappointed or forsaken or rebuffed then how does it happen that if we call upon Him and ask Him to take away the suffering, if we ask Him to make us powerful and rich and all these other things, these things do not seem to fit? They fit perfectly well. Remember Saint Paul talking about Jesus and His Crucifixion. He says, Jesus called out to the One Who was able to save Him from death and He did. He did not save Him from entering into death, He did not save Him from being killed, but He raised Him from death. So we have to be careful how we understand these things.
It is not that God is going to take us away from the difficult things or keep us from entering into them, but rather it is a matter that He is going to give us the grace to remain faithful, to be able to accept the trials and difficulties and unite ourselves with Him. In this way, anyone who understands the trials and sufferings of life and who has remained faithful to the Lord recognizes that they have not been disappointed. They did not initially get what they had hoped for, that is, freedom from the trials or all kinds of ease or material things or wealth or whatever they might have set out for initially, but they realize that they have not been disappointed in the least. Their prayers were not rejected. They have not been rebuffed, although it may have seemed like it at first. But what happens is that, like gold tested in the fire, their hearts are purified to be able to love God more perfectly and they draw close to Him and they are united with Him. They realize, if that is the case, that they have all the riches there are. They have been glorified and exalted beyond anything else they could have ever hoped for. This is the way God works.
What God wants is for us to be saints. Read the lives of the saints and see if there is one that you can find who did not have to suffer greatly. Well, if He wants you to be a saint, it is not going to be any different. So if we look at that question again of who is the greatest, it is the one who is the most humble. And how does one become humble? If you are a worthy person, you are going to be purified in the crucible of humiliation and that is a gift to be crushed, to be utterly spent, and in that way to become perfect so as to be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.