Listening to God in Lent, 2nd Sunday of Lent (C), March 11, 2001

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C
March 11, 2001
Gen 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

1) Why does the Church give us this reading of the Transfiguration of the Lord every second Sunday of Lent? I think for the same reason the event happened in the first place. After having explained to his apostles that he would be tortured and killed at the hands of the authorities, Jesus took three of them — the same three he would take to the garden of Gethsemane, up to a mountain to give them a glimpse of the glory that awaited him. Similarly, the Church gives us this reading now to let us know what the context is for all of the sacrifices we undertake every Lent; namely, if this Lent truly brings us to true conversion, to turning away from sin and believing ever more in the Gospel, then we too we will the Lord brilliantly transfigured in the glory of the Resurrection forever in heaven.

2) But that glory comes only through the Cross. Easter Sunday MUST pass through Good Friday. That’s why, right in the heart of the episode of the Transfiguration, when Moses and Elijah appear with Christ, they’re talking not about the glory that was to come, not about Heaven, but they were talking about Jesus’ suffering, Cross and death, the “exodus” that Jesus was to accomplish in Jerusalem. This exodus meant the passage Jesus would make from the slavery of death to the Promised Land of eternal life, just as Moses had lead the Israelites in the exodus from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. In the midst of the gloriously shining white garments of Jesus, there is the persistent shadow of the Cross. The Cross and the Resurrection are always intimately bound. And if we ever have the privilege of seeing the Son of God face-to-face in heaven, we will see Jesus transfigured, but we will also recognize him, as the apostles did after the resurrection, with his glorious scars. Even in Jesus’ Resurrection, there was the reminder of the Cross to which Jesus was so united that he was hammered to it.

3) What does this mean for us? For us to experience the joy of Easter in this life and to experience of the joy of the Resurrection in the next life, we need to face the Cross head on. Jesus said to his apostles 2000 years ago and to us today that if we want to be his disciples, we must pick up our Crosses each day and follow him. That if we want to enter into life, we first must die, just like the seed falling to the ground, just like Jesus. That is why we have this season of Lent, so that we can, with the whole Church, concentrate on this call to enter into Christ’s death so that we might also enter into his glory. This is the time when we focus on picking up our Crosses every day and following Christ, making those sacrifices that are necessary in order to love others and to love God with all we’ve got.

4) We live in a culture and in a time when the sacrifices of love that constitute picking up our Cross and following the Lord are becoming rarer and rarer. One of sad consequences of the fact of the blessings received in America is that many of our young people have really never known what it means to sacrifice and, as a result, can so often take everything for granted, our faith, food and clothing, everything that people have given them. The older people here who knew what it meant to sacrifice, who grew up during the great depression in the 30s, who lived during the difficult times associated with World War II, they knew what it meant to sacrifice themselves out of love for others, for the country, for the family, for God. I was reading the other day a story in the newspaper about how difficult it is for the military to recruit young people today, because so few relate to the value of giving themselves in service to the nation. They have started advertising focusing on how many benefits they’ll receive, on what’s in it for them. So many young people back down from giving of themselves to God because of the sacrifices that would be involved in the priesthood or in becoming a nun. So many young people are afraid to get married, because of the sacrifices that marriage always means. Often, even if a couple wants to get married, oftentimes they’re doing it trying to minimize the sacrifices. Priests everywhere talk about how many couples come to them to get married but they don’t really want to have any children for a while, because it would obviously require sacrifices and they’re not interested, at least at the beginning, in taking on those sacrifices. Our culture is a culture in which we are all learning to try to take as much as we can get, and in which giving is becoming rarer and rarer.

5) St. Paul said in today’s second reading to the Philippians, but he equally could have been speaking about the people of our day, “Many conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach. Their glory is in their “shame.” There minds are occupied with earthly things.” The enemies of the Cross of Christ, and he says there are many, are those who seek to serve themselves, to “eat, drink and be merry,” whose glory often is in the shame of being greedy money-mongerers, or listing the amount of people they’ve had sex with, who never really lift up their heads to heaven but are exclusively focused on getting as much out of human life, of taking advantage of enough things and people that they try, in vain, to construct an earthly heaven. But there is no real heaven on earth and if we seek our heaven on earth, we’ll really never up in the true heaven. The kingdom of God, which begins here, is a kingdom of love, but that love requires great sacrifice, as any love does. The greatest love of all, as Jesus says, is to lay down our lives for others, which is what he did. If we do this, if we truly sacrifice of ourselves for others, for the members of our family, for God in our parish, for the people in need in our midst, then we will not fit into that category that St. Paul describes of enemies of the cross of Christ, but rather into the category of those who recognize that “our citizenship is in heaven, from which we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” And so this weekend, we are called to examine whether we’re really living the spirit of sacrifice, of love; whether we’re truly picking up our Cross each day and uniting ourselves with the Lord. We do this in a particular way through fasting, so that we won’t make our stomachs our God, and through almsgiving, giving of our time, our talents and our treasure (money) to those who need it. God clearly calls us to do this. What do we say?

6) The second part of the episode of the Transfiguration which is so important to us comes later, when after the cloud has covered Jesus and the prophets, God the Father speaks to Peter, James and John and to us and says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” We have to ask ourselves if we really have been trying to listen to Jesus. There are many ways we’re called to listen to him. We’re called to listen to him in silent prayer. To listen to him in meditation on Sacred Scripture. To listen to him in the person of the Pope, the bishops and priests whom He sent out to speak autoritatively in His Name with the promise “He who hears you hears me.” To listen to him in what he says to us by daily events, the successes, the Crosses, the persons whom we meet. I’d like to do a test on just one aspect of these, to give you an indication of how seriously you take these words of the Father. We’re called to listen to the Lord in Sacred Scripture. About 20 minutes ago, we said the Responsorial Psalm five times. What was it? (The Lord is my light and my salvation).

7) In order to listen to Jesus, we first have to block out all of the noise pollution that comes from our culture and from all our daily concerns so that we can “tune” Jesus in when he speaks to us. For most of us, that means doing two things. First, it means that we have to make the time to listen to the Lord. We have to turn off the television, or the radio, or the phone, put away the newspaper, close the magazine, and let go of the things of the world — like what we’re going to prepare for dinner, or what we’re going to do on the weekend, etc. — for a little while. This is the first thing. We need to stop being so busy and stop giving our attention to these things for so much of our day. The second thing we need comes later. Once we’ve got some quiet from all of the spiritual noise pollution that comes from this busy-ness, we then have to do something even more difficult. We have to shut up. We have to learn how to be quiet in front of the Lord and listen for his voice. We have to stop for a while giving him our laundry list of prayer intentions. We have to stop complaining to him about how others we live or work with are behaving. We have to stop telling him what’s wrong with his Church, or with the world, or with particular public figures, etc. We have to stop talking and listen to him, so that he can speak to us in this quiet and whisper to us from within.

8 ) That’s why the Church always calls us to pray ever more during Lent, so that we can hear Jesus more effectively, and so that we can therefore follow him ever more faithfully in life. I’d like to suggest three ways that I’d ask all of you to consider doing this Lent. I’d like to ask you not to just pick one out of these three, but to do all three.

9) To pray at home. Every day pray at home together with your family, not just at grace, but together. It doesn’t have to be for an incredibly long time. But take 5-10 minutes at least and pray together. Turn to God. Ask him what he wants from you. You can pray the Rosary if you wish. You can open up Sacred Scripture and meditate on a passage together. You can lift up several petitions to the Lord. But pray every day, asking God to help you to listen to his voice and to follow it.

10) To come to daily Mass, at least once a week. The greatest prayer ever made was Jesus’ own, the prayer of the Mass, which is, the prayer he made at the Last Supper and from the Cross to save us. That is what Lent is all about. Every day here, twice a day, in Portuguese in the morning and in English in the evening, there is a Mass offered. Every parish here in the city has them, if the times here don’t mesh with your schedule. But come to here God in Sacred Scripture here at Mass and enter into his passion, death and resurrection in Holy Communion. Mass attendance at the English daily Mass is very low. Sometimes, even though the Mass is in English, the number of Portuguese speakers outnumbers the number of English speakers. The Mass is the greatest event in the history of the world and we have the chance to receive God every day, the God who created us out of love, who died on that Cross out of love for us, and who feeds us with himself. This is something I hope dedicated Christians would want to participate in every single day. It requires a sacrifice for sure to make God our true priority, but Lent is a time of special graces so that we might make those choices and put God first. Please, please consider coming to daily Mass during this blessed time of Lent.

11) Third and lastly, beginning next weekend, we’re going to have the English speaking mission. Father Ferry and I have invited Fr. Joseph Clark, a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, to preach the mission. He’ll be preaching at next weekend’s Masses and then preaching at the “mission” proper, which will be Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights, March 19-21, with 7 pm Masses here in the Church. Fr. Clark is a great, dynamic and powerful preacher and a real man of God. The other day I was speaking to Fr. Ferry about the English-speaking mission in preparation for it. I asked him, “How many people come to it?” I guessed, “What, about 300?” He looked at me as if I were from another planet. He said, “I wish.” I said, “What 200?” He looked at me and said “no.” I said, “What, about 150?” He said, “No, about half that.” I then said, “What?!” in sheer amazement. “We bring in an excellent preacher from Virginia and only 75 people on average show up for it?!” In Lowell, when I was a kid, and still today, when there are Lenten missions, the Churches are packed. The people are hungering for Christ, and even though it’s not easy to sacrifice three straight nights to come to the Church to pray, the people do it during Lent because they know they need Christ. And oftentimes they come to hear preachers who are far less capable than Fr. Clark.

12) Therefore, I’d like to ask you to please do what you need to do to be able to attend the three nights of the mission, March 17-19. If you can’t come to all three nights, please come to two. If you really can’t make two, please come at least to one. Jesus will be here each of those three nights, not just in his Word in Sacred Scripture, in the powerful words of Fr. Clark, but also in his body and blood. This is the greatest treasure we’ll ever receive. Abraham left everything, as we read in the first reading, to follow the Lord to a far away land. Please, on those three nights, leave whatever you have at home to do and come to the Church to be nourished by the Lord this Lent. Praying at home, coming to daily Mass, coming to the three-day Lenten English mission. These are three ways in which we can truly take seriously the words of God the Father to Listen to Jesus.

13) If we keep this imperative that God the Father gave the Apostles on Mount Tabor and gives to us again today this weekend, here and now, by picking up our Cross and following the Lord and listening to Him, then it is our great hope that we will hear God the Father speak again after the Lenten pilgrimage of our life, saying to us the words for which our very ears were made in our mothers’ wombs: “Come, O you Blessed of My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world.”