March 20, 2011 - Second Sunday of Lent

Today's Readings

One week into Lent is a tough place to be. We have five weeks left until Easter. Around this time we begin to look longingly at the indulgences that make up our life the rest of the year. It seems as though we ought to be further along than just beginning the second week. At least, I hope this is how you feel. If not, if Lent is going along easily, if you forgot that it was Lent, then you probably are not doing enough for Lent. Lent is only easy if we are already perfect or if we are not doing it. The point of Lent is to die. On Easter, Jesus rose from the dead. If we want to rise with Jesus this Easter, we will need to be dead by then.  Lent ought to be killing us: that is how you know it is working.

How glorious it is then that the Church gives us some refreshment today. Not the mistaken refreshment of those who think that Sundays are a day off from Lent, as if Jesus took a day off each week during the 40 days in the desert. No, man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God. The readings today, the Word of God, provide our example, encouragement, and refreshment.

We begin with a good example in Abraham who, at the Word of God, left his home and traveled across the whole Middle East. Abraham believed that God would fulfill his promise. We can only begin to imagine the sacrifices he made. It was 25 more years before the promise began to be fulfilled with the birth of Isaac. God has made promises to us also. He promises us that if we leave our lives behind, he will give us far more than anything we ever gave up. We should believe this promise.

After the example we get encouragement and advice. St. Paul tells us, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” We are not supposed to use our own strength. There is a strength that comes from God and it is stronger than we are. We prayed in the psalm today: “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.” Lent is not a time where we learn to trust in ourselves. If the fasting of Lent or the additional work and prayer we do were done with our own strength, then Lent would make our pride and self-reliance grow. If, instead, we do everything with the strength that comes from God, then our reliance on God will grow, our love for God will grow.

 Then we arrive at the refreshment. The Gospel today is the Transfiguration, as it always is on the Second Sunday of Lent. The Transfiguration is such a beautiful image, like an eyewitness account of heaven. All of salvation history is present on the mountain. Moses, who wrote down the Law, was there. Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets, was there. Jesus, son of David, King of Israel, was there. Peter, who was the first pope and wrote two letters of the New Testament, was there. John, who wrote a Gospel and another letter, was there. James, the first apostle to be a martyr was there. God is present: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father speaks; the Son, Jesus, shines forth like the sun; and the Holy Spirit is present as the bright cloud.

The Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” What a wonderful relationship between the Father and the Son. We were supposed to have perfect families like that too, but sin ruined it. Imagine, children, if your parents were perfect. Perhaps I am surprising you, when I warn you that they are not; perhaps you have already figured that out. But if they were perfect, it would be easier to always obey them. And parents, imagine if your children were perfect. How much easier it would be to be their parent! Our families are not perfect, because we are not perfect, but for now, let us just stay on this mountain, and imagine.

Peter was so happy to be on the mountain that he did not even know what to say; he only knew that he wanted to stay there. I wonder whether he interrupted Moses or Elijah, who were conversing with our Lord, with his offer to set up tents.  Years later, Peter recalled this moment in a letter, reminding people that he was actually there on the mountain, that he had really heard the Father’s voice say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Life was good, that day, on top of the mountain. It was as close to being in heaven as a person can experience on the earth. If we sit and contemplate that image, of Jesus shining like the sun, surrounded by saints, we can share in that taste of heaven.

We will probably have to wait until heaven to see heaven. When we see Jesus shining like the sun, surrounded by the saints, it will be on the other side of whatever death is out there waiting for us. But we do have a sort of mountain we can visit: right here at Mass. We will not see Moses or Elijah or Peter, James, and John, but we will read about them, and Jesus too. Jesus will be present, not in shining white garments, but hidden under the forms of bread and wine. The apostles spent time with Jesus every day, but his true identity, which was usually hidden, was revealed on the mountain. We can receive the Eucharist every day, and we believe that Jesus’ true identity is hidden in these symbols of bread and wine, which actually are the Body and Blood and Soul and Divinity of our Lord, the same Jesus Christ who was transfigured on the mountain. Indeed, the apostles saw Jesus on that mountain, but we, when we receive the Eucharist, are united to him in our bodies.

When we come here each week, it is like climbing the mountain. The world still exists out there, but we can forget about it for a little while. We should savor this time we spend with God. We cannot set up tents, though. We have to go back into the world. Jesus had to come down from the mountain and go die on the Cross. We have got five more weeks of Lent, and then the rest of life, before heaven.