A Transfigured Community, Second Sunday of Lent (A), March 20, 2011

Fr. Roger J. Landry

St. Anthony of Padua Church, New Bedford, MA

Second Sunday of Lent, Year A

March 20, 2011

Gen 12:1-4;  2Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9


The following text guided this homily:

A Transfigured Community

  • Benedict XVI on the meaning of this Sunday:
    • The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17: 1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the Grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.
    • The Second Sunday is called the Sunday of Abraham and the Transfiguration. … Like Abraham, the father of believers, we are invited to depart, to go out from our native land, to leave the secure places we have constructed, in order to place once again our trust in God. The goal of that journey is seen in the transfiguration of Christ, the beloved Son, in whom we also become “children of God.”
  • But this is a journey we don’t make alone.
    • God didn’t call Abram to go on a journey all by himself. At the time God called him, as we know, he was 75 and childless, but he didn’t go alone or just with his wife, Sarai. He took his nephew Lot and all the persons who lived with both of them and set forth on that journey to the land that the Lord would show them. God’s promise, as well, was not that he would make Abram famous, but that he would make him the father of a great nation, a nation that would journey with him and continue to journey long after him.
    • In the Gospel, when Jesus ascends Mount Tabor, he doesn’t ascend alone. He doesn’t just take a hiking partner from among the twelve. He takes with him Peter, James and John. The Gospel writers do not indicate whether Jesus knew ahead of time what would take place at the top of the mountain. If he didn’t know, it shows how much he valued sharing the physical exertion and the time with others. If he did know that he would be transfigured and that Moses and Elijah would come to converse with him, then it is clear that he would want Peter, James and John to be strengthened by the experience and capable of repeating it after he had been raised from the dead. Because the three had all shared it, that experience would strengthen their bond, just like the experience of the same three’s seeing Jesus transfigured in perspired blood in the agony of the Garden would be something that they would share forever, never forget, pass on to others.
  • This leads to the theme that the members of our Parish Pastoral Council asked me to speak about at this, our third full parish family Mass. It’s that this journey that we’re called to make, this pilgrimage in faith following in the footsteps of Abraham, this uphill climb away from the secure places we’ve constructed up the mountain  toward the celestial Jerusalem where Jesus will be gloriously transfigured and speaking not just with Moses and Elijah, but the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, St. Anthony, hopefully many of our relatives and all the saints, is something we’re not called to do alone. We’re called by God to do it together.
  • In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us,“God saved US and called US with a holy calling.” He could have said, “saved me and called each of us to a holy calling,” but St. Paul knew that Jesus had come to continue the work the Lord had done with Abraham, to lead his family, spread across many nations, not just to a land flowing with milk and honey at the eastern boundary of the Mediterranean see, but to a promised land that would be eternal. For that reason St. Paul begged them to “join with me in suffering for the Gospel, relying on the power of God.” The Gospel, in other words, was worth that joint exertion, impelled by God’s power.
  • This point about the communal aspect of our call to holiness, our call not merely to do a Lenten journey together but a life journey together with each other and together with God, was stressed by Pope Benedict in some beautiful words he gave to the seminarians of Rome two weeks ago. The theme of his remarks came from St. Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Ephesus to “preserve the unity of the Spirit.”
    • He first emphasized that each of us is personally called by God to be a saint. “God, the Lord, has called each of us, he has called each one by name. God is so great that he has time for each one of us, he knows me, he knows each of us by name, personally. It is a personal call for each of us. I think that we must meditate on this mystery often: God, the Lord, called me, calls me, knows me, awaits my response as he awaited Mary’s response, as he awaited the response of the Apostles. God calls me: this fact should make us attentive to God’s voice, attentive to his words, to his call for me, to realize this part of salvation history for which he has called me.” But he calls us to more than merely a personal relationship with him. He calls us to a communal relationship on the path to sanctity.
    • The Holy Father says, “Now we take a step forward. …We have now spoken of vocation as a very personal call: God calls me. He knows me. He awaits my personal response. But, at the same time, God’s call is a community call, it is an ecclesial call, God calls us in a community. … St. Paul speaks of a spirit and a body. The spirit creates the body and unites us in one body. And then he speaks of unity, he speaks of the chain of being, of the bond of peace. …We are in this bond of peace which is the Church, she is the great bond that unites us to Christ. Perhaps we should also meditate personally on this point: We are called personally, but we are called in a body. And this is not something abstract, but very real.”
    • He then turns to the challenges of parish life: and how each of us has a role within a parish to “accept, to support and to encourage the entire parish, the people, those who are likable and those who are not likable, to insert oneself in this body.” He notes that it’s not always easy or simple to insert oneself in the body of a parish because “we want our personal relationship with God” and “the body itself does not always please us.” He stresses, however: “But precisely in this way we are in communion with Christ: accepting this corporeity of his Church, of the Spirit, who incarnates Himself in the body.” Jesus wanted to save us as a community and to accept Jesus means to accept what it means that he incarnates himself in a body, that when we become one body with him in Holy Communion, we also become one body with all those who receive that same body in grace. We can’t say “Amen!” to Jesus in Holy Communion without saying “Amen!”, “yes!” to what Jesus wants to do in us as a community through Holy Communion. We can’t be grateful for the miracle of the Holy Spirit’s changing bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ through the ministry of the priest while at the same time resisting how the Holy Spirit, through the work of the same priest, wants to make us “one body, one spirit in Christ.”
    • The Holy Father reminds us that while “often perhaps… feel the problem, the difficulty of the community” which is the Church, both our parish and the Church throughout the world, “We must also keep present that it is very beautiful to be in company, to walk in a great company of all the centuries, to have friends in Heaven and on earth, and to feel the beauty of this body, to be happy that the Lord has called us in one body and has given us friends in all parts of the world.” While there are clearly challenges, there are also beautiful benefits.
    • The Holy Father points out that when  St. Paul urges us all to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” he goes on to talk about the ground for our unity: St. Paul’s words that “there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”  Pope Benedict comments how passionate “the Apostle has at heart the unity of the Church. He ends with a ‘scale of unity,’ up to the Unity [of the three persons of the Trinity]: God is one, the God of all and God’s oneness is expressed in our communion, because God is the Father, the Creator of us all. That is why we are all brothers, we are all one body and the unity of God is the condition, it is also the creation of human fraternity of peace.”
    • The last thing Pope Benedict describes is the “form of the unity of the Church.” He said it’s “imitation of Jesus, conformity to him in the concreteness of his behavior.” The unity of the Church, he says, “is not given by a “stamp” imposed from outside, but is the fruit of concord, of a common commitment ‘to behave like Jesus, in the strength of his Spirit.’” The Pope quotes St. John Chrysostom who says, the “bond is beautiful, with which we are bound together with one another and with God. It is not a chain that wounds. It does not give cramps to the hands, it leaves the hands free, it gives them ample space and greater courage.” And the Pope comments that “here we find the evangelical paradox: Christian love is a bond,” in a “chain” … “because of the Lord, as Jesus himself, who made himself a slave to free us. To preserve the unity of the Spirit one must stamp one’s behavior with that humility, gentleness and magnanimity that Jesus gave in his Passion; one must have one’s hands and heart bound by the bond of love that he himself accepted for us, making himself our slave. This is the “bond of peace.” And St. John Chrysostom says in the same commentary: “Be bound to your brothers, those thus bound together in love bear everything with ease. Thus he wishes us to be bound to one another, not only to be in peace, not only to be friends, but for us all to be one, ‘one soul’.”
  • That’s what the Lord is calling us to. This Lent is an opportunity for us to focus on it anew. To leave our comfort zones and go with Jesus, in imitation of Jesus, who came from heaven to earth to found a family, to bring us together, to help us to learn how to love each other as he loves us, and real love always binds us together.
  • Let us ask the Lord, as we prepare to receive him in Holy Communion on this day in which he is transfigured for us under the appearances of bread and wine, to transfigure and transform us so that we might live in communion with him and with each other. St. Peter said today, “It is good Lord that we are here.” Today may all of us say, “It is good Lord that we are here TOGETHER.” Praised be Jesus Christ!

The readings for today’s Mass were:

Reading 1 GN 12:1-4A

The LORD said to Abram:
“Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

Abram went as the LORD directed him.

Responsorial Psalm PS 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

R/ (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
R/ Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
R/ Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
R/ Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.

Reading 2 2 TIM 1:8B-10

Bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life,
not according to our works
but according to his own design
and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began,
but now made manifest
through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus,
who destroyed death and brought life and immortality
to light through the gospel.

Gospel MT 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
While he was still speaking, behold,
a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.”
When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate
and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
“Rise, and do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes,
they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
Jesus charged them,
“Do not tell the vision to anyone
until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”