September 5, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Colossians 1:24-2:3) Gospel (St. Luke 6:6-11)
In the first reading today, Saint Paul on several occasions speaks about a mystery. The mystery he speaks of, he also then makes clear what exactly it is, that is, God has chosen to make this mystery known among the Gentiles, and the mystery is none other than Christ, in Whom you dwell, Who is our hope for glory. Christ in you, and you in Christ – that is the mystery Saint Paul is talking about.
In the face of this mystery he also goes on to talk about the sufferings that he himself is enduring and the struggles that he has to endure for the churches. He tells us that in his body he is making up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of the Body of Christ, that is, the Church. If we are members of Christ, and Christ is in us and we are in Him, then the life of Christ must be lived in us. And so, as Saint Paul tells us once again about this mystery, which is all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Christ, the mystery is the fullness of God. That fullness of God in the person of Jesus Christ dwells in us. Therefore, Christ wants to live His life in us and He wants to live His life through us.
Now the real question is: Are we willing to allow that to happen? It sounds, on the one hand, like a pretty wonderful thing. But then we look at the Gospel reading and we see the people plotting against Him, watching for any possible misstep, looking for anything at all to be able to accuse Him. We look at the Cross and we hear Saint Paul telling us that he is making up in his body for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ. And we realize that if Jesus is going to live His life in us and through us that it is going to require that we will suffer. Are we willing?
As we have seen over the last week, and really over the last year or so, and as I told you beginning a couple of years ago, the labor pains for the Church have begun. We are members of the Church, which means that the labor is happening in us. So we have a choice. Unlike a mother who is about to give birth – she has no choice; it is going to happen to her whether she wants it to happen or not – we have a choice. We can stay with Jesus and we can endure the labor, or we can abandon Him. Those are the only two choices we have. There is no middle option. The reality of the matter is that things are going to continue to get worse. The tragedy we have just seen in New Orleans is just the beginning. The labor pains are getting closer together and they are getting stronger. But as any woman who has ever given birth knows, they will continue to get even closer together and they will become far more intense.
We have not yet gotten to the point of the birth of the children of God. Saint Paul says, All creation groans as in travail even until now as it awaits the revelation of the sons of God. Are we going to stay with the Church? Are we going to stay with Jesus? All of the world is going to suffer. The question is how we are willing to do it. Are we willing to do it with Christ, or are we only going to do it apart from Christ? If we are willing to suffer with Christ, we will offer it to Him, we will offer it with Him, we will unite ourselves with His Cross and with His suffering for the good of the world, for the salvation of souls. Just think how many souls have been lost in this last week who were unprepared for death. How many more, thousands or even millions, are going to be called home unprepared for death? If we are willing to pray for them, we can obtain for them the grace to be repentant, to turn their hearts to Christ. The other possibility is that we can suffer and we can curse God. We can complain and we can whine and we can yell at the Lord for allowing all of this to happen.
When we look at what Jesus did, He went into the Garden looking at the suffering that was to come. He was afraid of it. He did not like the idea particularly. Yet He said, Not my will be done but Yours. The cup is not going to pass us by. Are we going to stay in the Garden and say with Him, “Not my will be done but Yours”? Or are we going to run? It is coming whether we want it to or not. How are we going to handle it?
On this Labor Day, we need to think of labor in the other sense, that is, the labor that results in birth, a birth to something which is glorious, a birth that will bring forth a joy that we have never known, a birth that is going to bring peace, the birth of the freedom of the children of God. That is what the world has been waiting for, for two thousand years. It is what we as Christians have been praying for. It is close now at hand, within our grasp. Are we going to stick it out? Are we going to stay with Jesus and make up with Saint Paul in our bodies what is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church? Are we going to allow Him to continue to live His passion in us and through us? Are we willing to be crucified with Him so that we can be glorified with Him? Those are the questions we need to ask. The labor is upon us. The world is in travail even until now and it groans in agony. Are we willing to say “yes,” “not my will be done but Yours”? Or are we going to run from the suffering, run from the Cross?
The world cannot avoid it. Individual persons cannot avoid it. It will come to the good and the bad; it will come to the rich and the poor. There is no escape. The question simply has to do with our disposition. Go into the Garden with Jesus, enter His labor, look at the cup that is being offered, and answer the question that Jesus asked His apostles: Can you drink the cup from which I am to drink? Can you be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized? Then look at God and ask what your response will be. Pray for the grace with Jesus Christ to say, Not my will be done but Yours.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.