Sunday Sermon for July 8, 2012, the Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

Readings: Ez 2:2-5; 2Cor 12:7-10; Mk 6:1-6

After looking at today’s readings we might conclude that we are going to be in trouble no matter what we do. In other words, if we are lacking in faith, like the people in the Gospel and in the first reading, we are in rebellion against God and very little will be able to be accomplished because of our hardness of face and obstinacy of heart, to quote the Lord’s description from the first reading. At the same time, if the faith is there and the Lord is able to do some wonderful things, we might become proud and take credit for God’s work, so He allows difficult things to happen in order to keep us humble.

One might wonder why we would want to do God’s will if it is going to mean a lot of suffering, sometimes even quite intense. It is because of our desire to grow in holiness, because we are convinced of the truth and because we know that God’s will is truly the best. Of course, the question that needs to be asked is whether or not we really want or believe these things.

These become the critical questions for us today. I think most of us could easily look around and acknowledge that our country has strayed far from God. However, I think we also have to admit that many within the Church have strayed from God. Sometimes we like to convince ourselves that because we go to Mass on Sunday, or even daily, and say a few prayers that we are, therefore, close to God or doing His will.

In the Gospel our Lord went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. In other words, the people who were there were the people who were practicing their faith, at least by going weekly to the Synagogue. When all was said and done, our Lord was amazed by their lack of faith. I am afraid that this would hold true for many people sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings. If we are simply cultural Catholics, going through the motions, trying to appease our consciences, our trying to convince ourselves that we are really good people because we go to Mass on Sunday, then we are just like the people of Nazareth.

The hopeful thing is that in both the first reading and in the Gospel we see that God sends His Prophets, and even His Son, to people who are hard of face and obstinate of heart. This is the Church’s task in the world today. It must be carried out by all of us, but especially the Bishops and the Priests. All too often this is not happening. We are more focused on money than we are on God, we are more concerned about a day off than caring for the flock, we are more concerned about what people think of us than what God thinks of us, so we are willing to water down the Gospel in order to be liked.

This seriously compromises the prophetic vocation of the Church. But, even if the people in the Church are rebellious and lack in faith, the Church still stands as the sign of God among us and her teachings are true, even if people do not want them.

In order to perform the duties God has given us regarding the faith, i.e., believe it, live it, witness to it, we have to have a serious prayer life. Prayer will lead us to acquire the necessary virtues, the most important of which are charity and humility. Since the height of our charity is equal to the depth of our humility, God will provide us with opportunities to be humbled. These will be individually suited to our personality, our vocation, and our holiness.

St. Paul, who tells us how arrogant he was, can say in the second reading that he know boasts of his weakness. When is the last time you did that? He who used to be so proud is now content with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints for the sake of Christ. Imagine finding your contentment in such things as these. We can see the fruit of the suffering he endured.

Unfortunately, because of sin and stubbornness, there is no other way to purify us and make us humble. While it does not sound pleasant and, to be honest, most of us do not want it at all, when we can see in ourselves that we are a rebellious house, hard of face and obstinate of heart, then we can understand why these things need to happen to us. This understanding can lead to acceptance and, eventually, to being content. In other words, we can actually become humble, really want to do God’s will, and be a prophetic witness in the world.

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