Purification – Now or Later
Friday December 23, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fourth Week of Advent
Reading (Malachi 3:1-4, 23-24) Gospel (St. Luke 1:57-66)
In the first reading today, the prophet Malachi speaks about the coming of the Lord, and he talks about the day of Our Lord’s appearance. He calls it a great and terrible day and he asks the question: Who will endure the day of His coming and who can stand when He appears? It is an interesting point because when He appeared He was a little baby. We think about this little child–Who is, of course, Almighty God–and we think of the innocence, the gentleness of a baby; yet here we have it called a great and terrible day and there is the question of who can endure it and who can stand when He appears. He appears in this manner because He is calling us to the same thing, to be innocent, to be gentle, to be pure. We are told that He is going to sit and refine the sons of Levi and all of the people of Judah and Jerusalem so that they will be able to offer fitting and acceptable sacrifice to the Lord.
Well, we are the members of the New Jerusalem, and we are called to offer fitting and acceptable sacrifice to God. The sacrifice of the altar is always fitting, perfect, and acceptable to God because it is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. So there is nothing lacking in His sacrifice; the question has to do with our own. As we come before Him and we unite ourselves with His sacrifice, what are we offering to the Lord? We have Our Lord present with us, not as a baby now but in the form of a piece of bread; once again, in a manner that does not seem so great and terrible; once again, in a manner that does not seem to be such that we would not be able to stand in His presence and that we would not be able to endure the day of His coming.
Yet anyone who has taken up the prayer life understands that in the presence of the Lord we are going to be purified, that if we are really true about seeking the Lord then in order to be able to see Him more clearly, in order to be able to have this union with Him that we desire, we have to be purified. And that purification is like a fire that burns within. The refining of silver and gold probably looks like a pretty easy task by comparison with the purification of the human soul.
The difference right now is that we can make the choice to allow that purification to happen. Because His appearance is one that does not seem so terrible and great, because His appearance is not one that we cannot endure, then we can choose to allow ourselves to be purified. We can choose to cooperate with God in this purification, or we can wait. If we wait, we will not be able to stand. We will hardly be able to endure what it is that we are going to have to deal with because then we will see God in all of His glory, no longer as an innocent, tender, gentle, little baby, but as the Just Judge in all of His glory. Then we will have to stand before Him and answer to everything we have done.
Every last one of us must be purified. We can choose to cooperate with the purification now, and in so doing we will be able to offer pure and fitting sacrifice to the Lord. We will be able to worship Him with a pure heart and with a purified soul. We will glorify Him more and we will be united more perfectly with Him. If we wait (and if we are in the state of grace at that time), the purification will be exceedingly harsh. There will be no growth in merit. We will not be able to glorify God with a more pure heart or with anything greater than what we already have. It is just simply being purified for the sake of being purified. If we do it here, we grow in holiness, we grow in merit, we gain a higher place in heaven, and we bring many, many people with us. If we wait until after the fact, it is pretty much useless, except for the fact that we are being purified so we can enter into the face-to-face vision with God; otherwise, we gain nothing from it.
So why wait? Everything is really set up for our benefit. Our Lord has come. He is present with us. When we think about what we will celebrate in two days, ask yourself, “If you were to be invited to the manger, how would you want yourself to be? What kind of disposition ought you to have as you come to worship the Christ Child at His birth?” See His innocence, His gentleness, His purity, His vulnerability, and then look at the Eucharist and ask: What kind of disposition then ought we to have as we come before Him there? If we look at our own disposition and realize that it needs some work then we need to tell God to do whatever He needs to do. And brace yourself because the purification is not fun. It is not easy, but it is worth every bit of it because the glory we can give to God after we are purified, the pure and fitting worship that will be acceptable to God that we can give to Him after we are purified, makes it worth every bit of anything we will have to endure. That is what we have to think about. Not to look at ourselves, not to get caught up in “what is happening to me,” but rather to look at Him and ask ourselves: “What kind of disposition should I have as I come before Him?”
The Day of the Lord is near at hand. In two days, we celebrate the birth of our Redeemer, and we are invited to come before Him and to worship Him. What kind of disposition ought we to have in His presence?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.