Sunday Sermon for January 26, 2020, the Third Sunday in Ordinary time, Year A

Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17; Mt 4:12-23

In the first reading today Isaiah tells us that “God first degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali” but then tells us everything is turned around for the people in these lands and that “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”  St. Matthew, in the Gospel reading today, tells us this passage is fulfilled by our Lord leaving Nazareth and going to live in Capernaum, which is in the region of Zebulon and Naphtali.  St. John tells us that Jesus is the light and that the light came into the darkness and the darkness was not able to comprehend it.

The pattern we see in how God dealt with these two regions of Galilee provides insight into how He deals with His Saints.  Before anyone can be raised up to great holiness, they have to be brought low.  St. Augustine described this using the example of a container filled with vinegar that you want to fill with honey.  First, the vinegar must be poured out of the container, but it cannot be replaced immediately by the honey because remnants of the vinegar remain in the container.  For this reason, he says, the container must be scrubbed clean; only then can it be filled with honey.

In this example, St. Augustine is talking about our souls.  God wants to fill us with His grace and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but our souls are either filled with sin or the remnants of sin still cling to us.  Therefore, we must be brought low so the pride can be poured out and any other sinful tendencies can be scoured.  After this process, the soul can be filled with God’s grace and the person will be truly holy.

When we consider the call of the Apostles presented in the Gospel reading, we recognize what a gift and privilege it was to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  Of course, they could not have known the magnitude of this gift when they were first called, nor could they have imagined the cost it would require.  Individually, they would all need to be purified.  The depth and length of this purification would be different for each depending on the number and gravity of sins that needed to be purged, the level of holiness to which they were being called, and the number of people they would influence.

This would imply that the writers of the Gospels would have required more purification than some of the others because for nearly 2000 years people have been changed and instructed through their gift.  St. John was called to the heights of sanctity, so his purification would have been long and intense.  St. Peter would need profound purification to lead the Church and set her on the right course from the beginning.

The Scriptures do not shy away from revealing the Apostles’ imperfections.  In case we might think they were Saints when they were called, we need only to think about a few events recorded in Scripture.  St. John, the Beloved Disciple and closest to Jesus, was probably the holiest of the Apostles.  However, along with his brother, James, they were known by the Lord as Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder.  St. Peter actually rebuked our Lord when Jesus said He would be crucified and denied Him three times.  Not only did the whole lot of them argue about who was the greatest, they all abandoned our Lord in His suffering.  St. Thomas also doubted the resurrection. 

I mention these imperfections because we recognize that we are no different from the Apostles.  God chose weak and broken people and, after crushing them in purification, raised them up to be great Saints.  There is a reason why God allowed the people of Corinth to experience divisions among themselves over something so seemingly foolish as does one belong to Peter, Paul, Apollos, or Jesus?  At least the first three are Apostles or disciples of the Lord.  Look at our ridiculous divisions over things that are trivial.  God allowed these divisions to teach Christians over the centuries because we are just like them.  Maybe our issues are different, but the basic problem is the same: our darkness. 

The Light has come into our darkness.  The problems and divisions are due to our desire for the darkness rather than the Light.  St. Paul prayed that we would be united in the same mind and purpose.  The mind is about truth, and the purpose is about the will, so we are to be united in truth and in charity.  In other words, we are to be united in Jesus Who is truth and Charity.  Trust God in trials, focus on the Light, and let God make you a great Saint!

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit