Trusting in the Providence of God
October 9, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 25:6-10a) Reading II (Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20)
Gospel (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
In the second reading today, Saint Paul tells the Philippians that he can do all things in Him Who strengthens him. In other words, no matter what the circumstances, as long as we have the strength of Christ all things are possible for us. Of course, to be able to say that we have the strength of Christ and that we can do all things in Him Who strengthens us, it requires that we be in the state of grace. That is where the strength comes from, to be united with Christ, to be one with Him. If we look at the Gospel reading, for instance, we hear about a king who gives a wedding banquet for his son. The people that he had invited did not come; consequently, he invited others. There was a man there who did not have on a wedding garment and was cast out into the darkness, bound hand and foot to wail and grind his teeth. The wedding garment is sanctifying grace. Sanctifying grace, remember, is the life of God in our souls. If we have the life of God in us then we have also our participation in the divine nature, which means that we are able to act not merely on a human level but on a divine level, that we can act in a divine manner. If that is the case, we can understand why Saint Paul would say that he can do all things in the One Who strengthens him, because it is God Himself Who gives His life, it is God Himself Who gives His own nature to us.
Remember that in Baptism we are made members of Jesus Christ. If we are members of Jesus Christ, we can look at the life of Christ and see that everything was provided for Him. We look at those who have followed Christ most closely, all of the saints, and we see that everything was provided for them. So when Saint Paul is talking about how he has learned to be able to deal with abundance or with humility, how he has learned to be well-fed or to go hungry, it does not mean that God is going to provide for all of our desires, but it means that God is going to provide for all of our needs. Remember, Our Lord came into this world and said: The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head. It was not an easy life for Jesus. It was not an easy life for Saint Paul. All we have to do is look at the litany of the things that he himself tells us happened. He was whipped and beaten and stoned and shipwrecked and all these other things that happened to him. He would go hungry for days without being able to eat. It was not a simple life, yet what he learned through all of this is that God is faithful and that God Himself will provide for everything we need.
Now we might look at it and say, “I need three meals a day and they need to have certain things,” and blah, blah, blah. No, we do not. We want it – God knows what we need. Again, you look at the saints and there are days when they do not eat a thing because there is nothing there to eat. Then what they recognize is that in God’s providence He provided for them what was the best because they had been trying to do some work, whatever it might be–to convert someone, to spread the Gospel, who knows what their work was–and it was precisely the fact that they were made to suffer that brought about the grace for the Gospel to be spread or for the people to accept whatever it was they were trying to do. Rather than complaining against God and saying, “Why didn’t You give me what I wanted?” what they did is what we need to learn to do, and that is to go to prayer and say, “What is it that You want me to learn from this?”
In fact, if you look into your own life and say, “Oh, no, I’ve asked God for things in the past and I didn’t get them, so forget it,” rather than complaining, sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask the Lord why; not in an angry way, but in a way that is really seeking the truth. “This is what I asked for, and for whatever reason, You chose not to give it to me. I accept that, but why?” Then let Him show you. What you will find is that He did not give you something that was good because He had something better. You might have been asking for something that was perfectly reasonable–if it was illicit, we can understand why God is not going to give it to you–but if it was perfectly good and you can say, “Look, I don’t understand why God wouldn’t provide this because this is what I was looking for and this is what I think God would want, but He didn’t do it,” it is because what you were asking for was good but not necessarily the best. God will provide in the way that is the best.
Now we do not necessarily see that it is the best. Like the saints, when they are made to go hungry for days at a time, at the time it might not seem like the best. Saint Paul probably did not think it was the best thing that could have happened for him to be stoned to the point that he was dead, to be beaten with rods on three separate occasions, to be shipwrecked and spend a couple of days and nights floating around on the ocean. It did not seem like the best at the time, but, as he was able to look back at it, he recognized that this truly was the best. And it was through these things that he learned how to trust God.
He goes on in his Letter to the Philippians to say that God is going to provide for these people everything that they need from the glorious riches of Jesus Christ. You are a member of Jesus Christ, and if you are in the state of grace, not only can you do all things in Him Who strengthens you, but you have all of the glorious riches of Jesus Christ at your disposal. What are those glorious riches of Jesus Christ? We hear about some of them in the first reading today from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. The prophet talks about God’s holy mountain and how on this mountain God is going to provide for His people. The mountain is Jesus Christ. And what is it that God is providing? Rich food and sweet wine. What do we have in the Eucharist? The richest food, the sweetest wine. We have a feast provided for our souls. In fact, what we have is a wedding feast provided for our souls. This is why the Church gives to us not only that first reading but the Gospel to go with it, that the king gave a wedding feast for his son. Jesus is the Bridegroom; our souls are the bride of Christ and we have been invited to the feast.
Again, we need to keep clear exactly what the deal is. The people who were invited did not come, so God has now filled His banquet hall with the people who were wandering the streets, the good and the bad alike. We were not the ones who were initially invited, so we cannot be smug thinking how wonderful we are that we were among the elite that the King wanted at His Son’s wedding. Rather, because those who did not come left the wedding banquet empty, God has called us. Now we have to respond in the way that is the most perfect. We need to come to the feast. We need to have on a proper wedding garment. We cannot receive Holy Communion unless we are in the state of sanctifying grace. How can we claim that our souls are the spouse of Christ and that we are united with Christ if we are in the state of mortal sin? The word mortal means “death.” If we do not have the life of Christ in us, we cannot unite ourselves with Him. If we have chosen death over life, how can we receive Holy Communion, which is Life itself? Isn’t that exactly what the prophet tells us is happening on the holy mountain? That on this mountain God is going to destroy the veil that veils all peoples, and on this mountain He will destroy death forever.
When we look at what it is that we get all upset about, it usually winds up being just a couple of things. It is all about fear. And fear is from a lack of trust, that we are afraid we are going to be lacking something. It is usually money, which is really about the idea that we might lose our home or we might not have the food or whatever it might be. It is, ultimately, a fear of death. If you just look forward, it is the fear of death. So what is God providing for us? He is providing a banquet for our souls and He is guaranteeing us life. He will destroy death forever. If we are afraid then we are not trusting God. If we are afraid to die, you have to ask yourself why. If we profess our faith in Jesus Christ and eternal life, then why would we be afraid to die? If you are in the state of grace when you die, you will go to heaven. There is no alternative. Every single person who dies in the state of grace goes to heaven. You may have to stop off in Purgatory for a while, but in Purgatory you cannot go backwards. If you die in the state of grace, you will go to heaven. The alternative is also true. If you are not in the state of grace when you die, you cannot go to heaven. Every single person who dies in the state of mortal sin goes to hell. Every single person who dies in the state of grace goes to heaven. It is just that simple.
So if you are in the state of grace, you have nothing to fear. Have you been to Confession? Have you confessed all the mortal sins that you are aware of? Are you trying to live a good life? Are you praying everyday? Then why be afraid? The only reason to be afraid is if any of those things I just mentioned are not present in your life. If you are not praying, if you are not following the Ten Commandments, if you are not in the state of grace, then you have reason to be afraid. But if we are in the state of grace and we are trying to live a truly Christian life, we have nothing at all to fear because God has destroyed death in our soul forever. Mortal sin is gone. Remember, every single thing that you have confessed in Confession is gone; it will never, ever, ever be heard of again–ever. You do not have to fear the past. God is not going to bring it up to you as long as you have brought it up to Him. The only thing you need to fear is if you have not brought it up to Him.
We need to learn to trust. It is one of the hardest things in the spiritual life. We do not trust God, and we know that we have no reason to not trust Him. We know in our heads that God is perfectly trustworthy and all of His promises are complete and perfect. So why don’t we trust? It is not because anything is lacking on God’s part; it is because there is something lacking on our part. That is what we need to face: our own self. Look at your dignity. You are a member of Jesus Christ, which means all of the glorious riches in Christ are yours. Your soul is the bride of Jesus Christ, which is exactly what you celebrate every time you receive Holy Communion. Right before receiving Communion, what does the priest say? Blessed are they who are called to the banquet of the Lamb. It is the wedding banquet. Jesus is the Bridegroom of your soul, but He is also the banquet upon which we feast. Every time we receive Communion, we celebrate the marriage of Christ and our souls, the union that we have with Jesus. That is why we have to be in the state of grace. We cannot celebrate that union if we are not in union with Him.
But if you are in the state of grace and you are united with Christ and you are a member of Christ, do you think God is going to abandon you? Do you think He is not going to take care of you? God sent His Son into this world and He had nowhere to lay His head. He did not know where the next meal was going to come from; He was wandering the countryside and preaching; He did not have a forty-hour-a-week job with a paycheck. And He did not go hungry. God took care of His every need. You are a member of Jesus Christ; you are God’s own son or daughter. He will take care of your needs as well–not your wants, necessarily, but your needs. Look at the saints, not one of them ever died of starvation. God provided for what they needed. He will provide for us as well everything that we need. Look at what He gives us in the Eucharist: His own Son. Do we think He is going to fail to provide anything else that we need? If He is willing to give us the greatest gift, why would He not be willing to give us all the other things that we need? We have no reason to doubt; we have every reason to believe and every reason to trust. And if we are in the state of grace, if we are trusting, if we are doing what we are supposed to, then, with Saint Paul, we can be confident that not only will God provide for us all of our needs from the glorious riches of Jesus Christ, but even more wonderfully we can say with the greatest confidence: I know that I can do all things in Him Who strengthens me.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.