The Lenten Hike of Faith and Mercy, Second Sunday of Lent (C), February 21, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Michael Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Lent, Year C
February 21, 2016
Gen 15:5-12.17-18, Ps 27, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Lk 9:28-36

 

To listen to an audio recording, please click below: 

 

The following text guided the homily: 

The Itinerary of Lent

The Season of Lent is always about a journey of faith. Last Sunday, we saw how the same Holy Spirit who led Jesus into the desert to be tested wants to lead us on an interior journey into a spiritual desert to be alone with God, so that there we can learn from Jesus how to imitate his prayer, his fasting, his total giving of himself and his life to the will of God the Father. Today, on the Second Sunday of Lent each year, the Church presents to us in the first reading Abraham and in the Gospel the Transfiguration, because the biography of Abraham and the geography of this scene show us so much about the journey we’re called to make in Lent and Life.

Like Father in Faith, like Son

Abram at 75 was called by the Lord to leave his native place, to pack up all his belongings and go to a place that the Lord would show him. The Lord wasn’t even indicating to him what the destination would be, whether it would be the ancient version of a beach resort or an impoverished hovel. But despite the fact that he had no idea where the journey would end, because he believed, Abram packed and left. Most of those in Ur of the Chaldeans must have thought he was out of his mind. But that external journey was just a sign of the interior pilgrimage that God was going to ask him to traverse by faith. When God told him that even though he and his wife Sara had been trying to conceive a child for likely more than 50 years without success, he would become the father of many nations, with descendants as numerous as the grains of sand on the beaches of the world and the stars in the heavens, Abram journeyed out of his own experience of biological possibility and by faith followed the Lord. In today’s first reading we see that faith in action. God told him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” That’s striking enough, but the real shocker comes later in the reading. After Abraham had sacrificed the heifer, she-goat, ram, turtledove and pigeon, the text of Genesis says, “As the sun was about to set…” and then right afterward, “When the sun had set and it was dark….” What does that mean? When Abraham looked up into the heavens and counted the stars, he was looking, not at stars in the middle of the night but rather at a blue sky in broad daylight! He was counting stars he couldn’t see, but he believed that the stars were there even though he couldn’t see them. He had the same faith in God’s promise of giving him descendants: even though he couldn’t see them, he knew they were there — even if he would never have fathomed that God himself would become his 42nd generation descendant according to the flesh! The final culmination of Abraham’s faith happened when God seemed to be asking him to sacrifice his beloved “Son of the Promise,” Isaac when Isaac was 13. Abraham was also willing to trust in the Lord and make that exterior and interior journey to Mt. Moriah, believing, as we read in the letter to the Hebrews, that even if Isaac were to die, God would bring him back from the dead, this happening many centuries before Christ’s own resurrection. Abraham’s faith led him, in short, to trust in the Lord so much that there was nothing he wouldn’t do. That’s why he’s called our father in faith, because he shows us what faith really is, the type of faith God wants to give us, the type of faith we will have if we respond to God with the loving, trusting obedience of faith we see in Abraham. God asks us every Lent to make a similar journey of faith.

Climbing up the Mountain

In the Gospel, we see how God was leading Peter, James and Church — and with them the whole Church — on a similar journey of faith. Jesus took the three apostles on a grueling hike up an exceedingly high mountain — an exertion of at least several hours — in order to pray with them. The mountain is a special place of prayer throughout the Bible. We see Moses climb Mt. Sinai. We see Elijah climb Mt. Horeb. The Temple was built on the top of Mt. Zion in Jerusalem. At the top of a mountain we can see far greater distances and can breathe fresh air. We can gain a different exterior and interior perspective than when we’re immersed in so many things on the ground. And it was there, in the midst of prayer at the top of the mountain, that the three apostles were able to see Jesus’ glory, to see him as he really is, to see that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets — represented respectively by Moses and Elijah — and to hear God the Father speaking, too, indicating to them who Jesus is and how we’re called to respond.

Listening to Jesus about the Cross

We need to pause a little and focus on what God the Father said to the apostles, because those words are key for us to grasp in faith. By this point the apostles had been following Jesus for two years. They had heard his homilies in synagogues, Temple precincts, on mountainsides and in plains, from Peter’s boat and along the path, in formal sermons, parables and home-spun images. And yet, after two years absorbing Jesus’ teaching, when God the Father theophanically speaks from the crowd for only one of three times in the Gospel, he says, “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him!” Listen to him! What had they been doing for the previous years but listening to Jesus? But God the Father who could see their heads and their hearts knew that they were selectively listening to Jesus. They were particularly tone-deaf to Jesus’ most challenging words, as he said to them right before the scene of the Transfiguration, that he “must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” and that “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mt 16:21-24). God the Father was telling them not to ignore these crucial truths that Jesus was teaching them about what must happen to him and what must happen to them if they wish to be his followers. They would need to follow Jesus with faith along the way of the Cross. We also see this point in the fact that when Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus, they were discussing the “exodus” he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. This means not the exodus from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, but the even greater exodus death into life, the Passaover he had just indicated to his apostles, that he would be betrayed, tortured, and crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead, and the passage that he, as the new Moses, would want to lead us as we deny ourselves, picked up our cross each day and follow him.

But do we want to make this exodus together with Jesus? Are we prepared to listen to Jesus as he tells us, “Follow me!” along this path? Today, two millennia years after Jesus’ exodus, it’s easier for us to accept, at least with regard to Jesus, because we know of his resurrection 40 hours after his Crucifixion, but so many of us still resist the second part, calling us and our loved ones to follow Jesus up Calvary, to be crucified in order to live, to lose our life to save it, to fall to the ground like a grain of wheat in order to bear any fruit. St. Paul says in today’s second reading that many conduct themselves as “enemies of the Cross of Christ” by focusing on their bellies and physical pleasures. God calls us, in faith, to be friends of the Cross of Christ, to be willing to do with our own life what Abraham was willing to do with his son Isaac’s.

Embracing God’s Mercy 

In this extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, we’re called to make this journey of faith in a particular way. We’re called, like Abraham, to trust in God’s mercy and leave our own customary places and go to the place where the Lord wishes to lead us. There are many Catholics who have not made the journey God is asking of all of us. Pope Francis inaugurated the Year of Mercy 76 days ago but we haven’t budged an inch in terms of changing our habits, leaving our own Ur behind, coming in faith to receive God’s mercy, entering into Jesus’ exodus, and then living a new life with him. Rather than becoming “friends of Christ’s cross” on which Jesus died to pour out his merciful love upon us, many of us still for the most part conduct ourselves as enemies of the Cross of Christ: we’d rather pig out than fast, rather than spend our money on ourselves and our pleasures than care for the poor and needy who need it much more than we do, we’d rather waste time watching TV, playing with our various gadgets or engaging in diversions than really want to pray. Our God, like St. Paul describes in today’s second reading, can remain our stomach, our end destruction, our glory not God’s mercy but our shame and our sins. While our citizenship is in heaven, we are far more interested in the dynamics of this year’s presidential election than we our own divine election. And many of us don’t lose any sleep that the vast majority of our family, friends, classmates, coworker and neighbors haven’t opened themselves up to receive and be transformed by God’s mercy to the extent God wants to any more than we have. That’s why the Lord is reiterating his appeal today, asking us to mean what we prayed in today’s Psalm, turning to him as our “light,” our “salvation” and our “life’s refuge” and begging, “Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me and answer me. Hide not your face from me. You are my helper!” God is there to help us to see the bounty of his merciful love in the land of the living and to strengthen us to be stouthearted waiting for his mercy with courage. But he wants us to make the effort to seize, to leave our Ur behind, and to climb with Christ the mountain of Transfiguration, listening to him as he says to us throughout Lent, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” and “Be not afraid.”

Transfigured Faith

And to strengthen our faith, that’s why the Church gives us the scene of the Transfiguration. When Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus up the Mount of Transfiguration, they saw his glory, which gave them confidence that after Jesus’ betrayal and crucifixion, he would in fact return glorified. God wants us to have the same experience. This transformation is what the Church proclaims in the preface for today’s Mass: “For after [Jesus] had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection,” for Jesus and for us. That’s what St. Paul describes in today’s second reading, that God’s intention was to transfigure “our lowly body to conform with [Jesus’] glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” That transfiguration happens precisely through entering into Jesus exodus through following him with faith along the way of the Cross. That’s a process that each Lent we focus on anew and embrace.

The Fulfillment of Transfigured Glory

As we prepare to enter into Christ’s exodus — his passion, death, and resurrection — in this Mass, we ask God the Father for the grace that we might have faith in Him like Abraham our Father in faith, like the apostles Peter, James and John, like St. Paul, to listen to this Beloved Son whom the Father, out of love for us, allowed to suffer so much, that we might be true friends of his Cross and of Him on the Cross. As we get ready to receive the same flesh and blood that hung on and dripped from the Cross for us and our salvation but now is full of the radiant resurrected glory of light of which the Transfiguration was a foretaste, we ask God to strengthen us for the journey of faith in life so that, listening to the Son so attentively that we base our lives on every word, we may come to that place where Jesus has built a booth for us, and where he is conversing with Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, John, Michael, Joseph, Mary, and wants to converse with us forever!

 

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1 GN 15:5-12, 17-18

The Lord God took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.He then said to him,
“I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans
to give you this land as a possession.”
“O Lord GOD,” he asked,
“how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
He answered him,
“Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat,
a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought him all these, split them in two,
and placed each half opposite the other;
but the birds he did not cut up.
Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses,
but Abram stayed with them.
As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram,
and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.

When the sun had set and it was dark,
there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,
which passed between those pieces.
It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram,
saying: “To your descendants I give this land,
from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14

R. (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me.
Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Your presence, O LORD, I seek.
Hide not your face from me;
do not in anger repel your servant.
You are my helper: cast me not off.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
R. The Lord is my light and my salvation.

Reading 2 PHIL 3:17—4:1

Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters,
and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.
For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
in this way stand firm in the Lord.

Or PHIL 3:20—4:1

Brothers and sisters:
Our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
in this way stand firm in the Lord, beloved.

Verse Before The Gospel CF. MT 17:5

From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard:
This is my beloved Son, hear him.

Gospel LK 9:28B-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.
transz