Sunday, February 24, 2013

Year C Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen 15:5-12.17-18; Ps 27:1.8-9.13-14; Phil 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

From darkness He brings light; from evil He brings good; from death He brings life. This is what God does, or sets out to do, perpetually. We can be confident that God is at work in this extraordinary moment the Church is living, brought about by Pope Benedict's stunning act of freedom in renouncing the papacy. Of course, He accomplished this most profoundly in the resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God wants to do this for each of us, but too often we offer nothing but resistance. We waste time, effort, and energy in useless complaining, which arises from our anxiety, our distress, wondering, like Job’s well-meaning but misguided wife and friends, what we have done to displease God in such a way as to cause Him to punish us.

A few years ago, a friend of mine, mourning the sudden and tragic loss of her husband, asked me how I could have confidence that there is life after death. I responded by saying that I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t at least wish for everlasting life, but that there is a fundamental difference between wishing and hoping. We wish for things that seem to us impossible and likely are impossible. But hoping for something is rooted in experience. Of course, we experienced dying and rising to new life in baptism. Some of us can remember this experience, others cannot. Either way, it remains a fact, which is why you can’t be unbaptized. Through life’s ups and especially through life’s downs, we have many opportunities to experience for ourselves God’s goodness, His faithfulness. So, if we were to look for a more descriptive synonym for hope, which is the flower, or fruit, of faith, “trusting” is far better than “wishing.”

In our first reading today God promises Abram that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the heavens and that God will give them a land that is theirs. Scripture then relates that “Abram put his faith in the LORD” and that God “credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” St. Paul, in the third chapter of his Letter to the Galatians, citing this same passage from Genesis, wrote: “Realize then that it is those who have faith who are children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). The apostle goes on to point out that it is by faith, not by works of the law, that we are counted righteous by God, which is only possible because of Jesus Christ. My dear friends, we need to stop inflicting God’s punishments on ourselves, which is a sure sign of exactly the kind of spiritual childishness, as opposed to child-likeness, St. Paul insists in several of his New Testament letters we must overcome if we are reach full Christian maturity.

In today’s Gospel Peter, James, and John are to receive a preview, a dress rehearsal for Christ’s resurrection. What was their response, even as the glory of Jesus’ Transfiguration began to occur? They were asleep. But the glory of this event was so radiant that it awoke them from their slumber. Upon awakening and seeing what was going on, Peter suggests building three tabernacles on the site, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But the author of Luke tells us, “he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:33). As with Abram, who was enveloped in “a deep, terrifying darkness” (Gen. 15:12), Peter, who was frantically reacting to what he saw- thus giving lie to the humorous exhortation, “Look busy, Jesus is coming”- “a cloud came and cast a shadow over them” (Luke 9:34). The three disciples “became frightened” as they were enveloped in the cloud and heard the Father’s voice tell them, “This is my chosen Son, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Their response went from babbling in the face of divine glory to silence, ready to listen. This is what the darkness we experience can do for us. In the words of a recent popular song by Flo + the Machine: “it’s always darkest before the dawn.”

In the ninth chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, the same chapter from which our Gospel reading for today is taken, just prior to Luke’s account of His Transfiguration, Jesus sets forth what we often call “the conditions of discipleship.”- “Then he said to all," Luke writes, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

It's Lent. So let’s listen to Christ by heeding St. Paul’s exhortation from our second reading and not be enemies of the cross of Christ, not letting our stomachs, or other bodily desires be our god, or be overly pre-occupied with the things of this world. What does it mean to be overly pre-occupied with the things of the world? Do you skip praying because you think you’re too busy? Do you miss Mass on Sunday or holy days because you think you have better things to do? Do you avoid examining your conscience and availing yourself of the Sacrament of Penance because you are convinced that your sins of omission and commission “really aren’t that bad?” Because you’ve given no thought to mortification, are you prone to forget obligatory Friday abstinence during Lent, or even worse, just blow it off, thinking yourself so reasonable a person that to bother with such things is beneath you?

We do not perform our spiritual disciplines in order to earn God’s favor, make ourselves more pleasing to Him, or to stave off hardship, difficulty, and pain. Neither do we engage in them to make ourselves more deserving of God’s love, which was made most manifest in the excruciating death of His Son for our sakes. As James Kushiner observed, “A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His grace.” We do them as acts of hope that express our trust in God’s promise of eternal life. We do them in response to God’s love. We do them as a way of cooperating with what God is doing in each one of our lives, if nothing else, to better attune ourselves to recognize more clearly just how God is at work in our lives.

It is only by embracing the darkness, embracing the crosses that come our way, that, like Abraham, our father in faith, and like the apostles, we experience for ourselves “in this valley of tears,” just how the “Lord is [our] light and [our] salvation” (Ps. 27:1). Embracing the cross is always an act of hope that allows God to show us He is worthy of our trust.

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