Wednesday November 23, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Daniel 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28) Gospel (St. Luke 21:12-19)
In the readings today, we see a point that we all know and believe, yet at the same time in a lived-out reality we do not always put it very well into practice, that is, God is the Lord of all creation and all history and absolutely nothing in this world or in our individual lives happens without His permission. That is something, again, that we all know, but being able to live it is hard.
We can look, for instance, at the first reading where we hear about how God allowed Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, to sack Jerusalem and even to pillage the temple and take the gold and silver vessels from the temple and put them in the treasury of his own false gods. God did not do anything about that until King Belshazzar, as we heard in the first reading, decided to have a party and use the very vessels from the temple of the Lord to drink wine out of. That would be as if somebody broke into the church and stole the chalices and used them to drink Coke. We would be horrified by somebody having something like Coca-cola in a chalice that was made for the Precious Blood. That is the same basic idea of what happened. We can say, “Well, why didn’t God do something right away? When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple and stole the vessels, why didn’t God do something immediately?” It was because the people of Israel were so sinful and they needed to be purified. In order to make a point, God even allowed the temple to be sacked.
If we move from there to the Gospel reading, we hear Our Lord telling us that some of us are going to be handed over–even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends–we will be put into prison, and some will be put to death. Again, we look at this and say, “But why would God allow that?” It is because, number one, He said, This is the means by which you will be able to give testimony to Me. It is an opportunity for us, number one, to be able to express our faith; number two, it is the means by which we will become saints; number three, it is the way that we will give the greatest glory to God.
He goes on to say, You will be hated by all. Now this is one of the hardest parts of being Catholic, I mean truly Catholic, that is, if you are going to uphold the truth, people will hate you because they do not want the truth. Remember, Jesus said, If they hate you it is because they hated Me first. It is not us that they hate as individuals–it is the truth that they hate, and the truth is Jesus Christ. The worst part is that it is the very people in the Church who are the worst of all. The ones who you would expect to support you while you are trying to do what is right, they are the ones more than anyone who are going to ridicule you, undermine you, and even try to destroy you. That is very frustrating for most people. But this has been the pattern for two thousand years and it is not going to change now.
In fact, it is one of the things that the Church will often look at in canonization processes. If somebody is going to be a saint, one of the first things the Church will ask is: How were they treated by the people in the Church? And then the second question: How did that person deal with the way they were treated by the people in the Church? And by the people in the Church, it is not just the people sitting in the pews; it is the bishops and the priests. So we have to understand that if we are truly going to live our lives for Jesus Christ we are going to be treated the same way He was. If Jesus was alive today (physically alive, that is), the bishops and the priests and the people in the pew would hate His guts and they would treat Him the same way the priests and the high priest and the people treated Him two thousand years ago. Human nature has not changed. Now we would like to say, “We wouldn’t do that,” but the fact of the matter is that unless we are steeped in prayer we would be doing the exact same thing. If we look at the people who were steeped in prayer, Anna and Simeon, for instance, they recognized Our Lord and they glorified God. If you look at the people who were supposed to be serving God but were not prayerful, they hated Him. That is the pattern that is going to remain.
As long as we are not being obnoxious about what we are doing and people do not like what we are doing, then we are doing just fine. Where the real test comes in for us is whether we are going to remain faithful to the Lord, or whether we are going to water things down in order to be accepted by those who are more worldly. Really, when it comes down to it, we have a choice. Do we want to be accepted by Jesus, or do we want to be accepted by those who are more worldly? The Church is going to be persecuted, the people in the Church are going to be persecuted, each one of us, if we are going to be faithful to Christ, will be persecuted. Jesus told us that if we deny Him before men, He will deny us before His Father in heaven. That is where the real crux of the question comes: Are we going to be willing to remain faithful to Christ right to the very end? What if we were to be put into prison for our faith? What if we were to be tortured for our faith? What if we were to be put to death for our faith? If we cannot handle the peer pressure, if we cannot handle the other people in the office, if we cannot handle our family members, what are we going to do in the face of torturers if such a thing should ever happen to us? Now we see why God allows these things to happen in our lives–so that our faith can grow stronger, so that we will be able to give witness to Christ, and so that we can give God the greatest glory and become saints.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.