Sunday, February 21, 2016

Year C Second Sunday of Lent

Readings: Gen 15:5-12.17-18; Ps 21:1.7-9.13-14; Phil 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

Jesus appearing along with Moses and Elijah in today’s Gospel shows us that he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Christ’s Transfiguration takes its cue from the conclusion of the book of the prophet Malachi:
Remember the law of Moses my servant, whom I charged at Horeb with statutes and ordinances for all Israel. Now I am sending to you Elijah the prophet, before the day of the LORD comes, the great and terrible day. He will turn the heart of fathers to their sons, and the heart of sons to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with utter destruction (Mal 3:22-24)
What did the Lord converse with Moses and Elijah about? The “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). God is merciful because, rather than “strike the land,” he sent his only begotten Son to liberate us from sin and death. That it is Jesus and him alone who liberates us is indicated by the sacred author when he describes the cloud, the voice telling the three disciples, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Luke 9:35), and, upon the dissipation of the cloud, their finding Jesus “alone.”

The author of St. Luke’s Gospel tells us that after witnessing Christ’s Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John “fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen” (Luke 9:36). Why didn’t the three tell anyone what they had seen until later? Likely because they did not understand what they had seen until after Jesus’ rose from the dead. Christ’s resurrection illuminates everything, including the mystery of our own existence.

In addition to being linked with Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness, Lent is linked with the Israelites' 40 year sojourn through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Hence, Lent is the time for you to consider what it is that enslaves you and prevents you from experiencing Christ’s liberation. The paradox of life in Christ is stated beautifully in the Prayer of St. Francis: “For it is in giving that we receive.” It would be worse than futile to seek to liberate yourself through strenuous effort. If you can liberate yourself and deliver yourself to the Promised Land, then you don't need a Liberator or Deliverer. Lent, therefore, is the time to re-affirm your trust in Jesus Christ, to “listen to him” (Luke 9:35).

You re-affirm your trust in Christ by engaging in acts of penance, by confessing and receiving his mercy in the Sacrament of Penance, and by practicing the three disciplines that make one a Christian: prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, in a more intense and intentional way. So central are these disciplines to being a disciple of Jesus that it's fair to wonder if someone who does not practice them might merely be his fan rather than his disciple.

Transfiguration, by Raphael, 1516-20

I would submit that what many of us need to be liberated from is our selfishness, our self-absorption, our incessant worrying about and looking after our own well-being, our ceaseless striving to get ahead, measuring success by money, possessions, or worldly prestige. This is precisely what St. Paul is getting at in our second reading from his Letter to the Philippians. We must not conduct ourselves, the apostle insists, “as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18). An enemy of the cross of Christ, as described by Paul, is someone whose “end is destruction” (Phil 3:19). What he goes on to describe is not God pouring out wrath on the enemies of Christ’s cross, but their self-destruction: “Their God is their stomach; their glory is their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things” (Phil 3:20).

By virtue of our baptism, confirmation, and participation in this Eucharist, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Phil 3:20), in the true Promised Land to which we are led, if we're willing to follow Christ. The price of entry is not a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtle dove, and a pigeon. It is steeper - we must offer our selves whole and entire. This is precisely what St. Paul wrote to the Christians in ancient Rome: “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect” (Rom 12:1-2).

We have witnesses of Christ’s liberation in our very midst: those preparing to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the great Paschal Vigil. As of yesterday, most of our Catechumens are now numbered among the Elect. RCIA is not merely a class, as is commonly supposed. It is a process of conversion, an apprenticeship in following Christ. It is the way we integrate people who respond to the Holy Spirit’s call into the life of our parish. We all have a role to play in this. RCIA presents us with an opportunity to be what Pope Francis calls us to be – missionary disciples, witnesses of the Good News that is Christ Jesus.

Lent can be described in one hyphenated word: self-denial. One way Christ summons us to deny ourselves is by selflessly serving others like he did. Practically, this means serving others at some inconvenience. Do not bury your talents, but invest them wisely in the work of God's kingdom. Opportunities to serve abound in our parish: volunteering to help prepare parents for the baptism of their infants and small children, teaching in our Children's Religious Education Program, singing in a choir, chairing DDD, etc. Following the Easter Vigil we will be making a concerted effort to form a RCIA team. I urge you to consider joining it.

My dear sisters and brothers, it is not a question whether the Lord is calling you to serve others. The relevant question is how he is calling you to do so. So, I urge you to make this a point of discernment over Lent. By doing this you enter the true spirit of Lent by opening yourself to being transfigured, that is, being conformed more to the image of Christ, or, in a word, liberated.

1 comment:

  1. My favorite: are you a disciple or merely a fan?

    Kathleen

    ReplyDelete