The Second Sunday of Lent
Dear brothers and sisters,
At first glance, the account of the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus might seem a bit out of place in these early days of Lent. In the midst of this penitential season, we may feel somewhat somber as we take a close look at our lives and our discipleship of the Lord. As we look at our sinfulness, the exuberant joy of the Transfiguration may catch us off guard.
But if we examine the context of this great moment in the Gospel of Luke, we see that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor after he predicts his coming Passion and Death in Jerusalem. In fact, he had just finished telling me what being his disciple entails:
Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. Truly I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:23-27).
To be sure, following Jesus is no easy task. When following after Jesus begins to look too costly, we must remember that we have not been made for ease, but for greatness.
Knowing the great weight that must have hung on the Apostle’s hearts, Jesus took the three up the mountain with him to pray (cf. Luke 9:28). Pope Saint Leo the Great wrote that
The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
Certainly the Apostles would to be not only encouraged but also strengthened in their love of the Lord and the certainty of placing their faith in him. Beholding his glory and hearing the voice of the Father, they could again say with his confidence, “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” (Psalm 27:1)?
We, too, often need this same encouraged to follow the Lord and to hope in him. So it is that Holy Mother Church has placed this passage before us for our reflection today. As we look at our sinfulness in these days of Lent, we need to remember that the Cross is not the end, but the means of new life, of entering into the house of the Father. We must hear anew the words of the Psalmist: “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
We must wait for the Lord because the Cross is the promise of eternal glory, of everlasting joy and gladness in the presence of the Lord; in it and through it we see his face (cf. Psalm 27:8). The Cross continually reminds us that despite our sinfulness the Lord did not abandon us. Therefore, "no one should be ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed. No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised.” The Cross stands before us, in all of its starkness, as both a reminder of our sins and of the Lord's great mercy. When we look to the Cross, we can truly say to God, “Of you my heart speaks, you my glance seeks” (Psalm 27:8). When we look to the Cross, we can hear the Lord say to us, “Of you my heart speaks, you my glance seeks.”
We know that it was the Lord who first made the Covenant with Abram and promised to bless him with land and heirs. This Covenant was renewed with Moses when the Lord promised to be Israel's God and Israel promised to be his people (cf. Leviticus 26:12). Why was the Covenant renewed? Because of Israel's infidelity to it; the Lord kept faith with Israel, Israel did not keep faith with the Lord.
Knowing the weakness of fallen humanity, in the fullness God sent his Son to seal the new and everlasting Covenant not in the blood of sheep and goats, but in his own blood. This final Covenant was sealed on Calvary with the Lord's death on the Cross and the piercing of his side.
But now, even we, who are joined to Christ in Baptism and nourished with his own Body and Blood by which the New Covenant was sealed, have broken faith the Lord; we have sinned and turned from the Lord. Unlike Abram who put his faith in the Lord, we so often put our faith in ourselves (cf. Genesis 15:6).
In his letter to the Christians at Philippi, Saint Paul laments the reality that "many, as I have often told you, and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ" (Philippians 3:18). The enemies of the cross, he explains, are those who "are occupied with earthly things" (Philippians 3:19).
In these days marked by increased prayer, fasting, and alms giving, we have a profound opportunity to honestly examine our lives in the light of faith and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Let us not waste these days but make the most of them by reflecting on our words, thoughts, actions, and inactions. As difficult or painful as it may be, we must sincerely ask: Am I conducting myself as an enemy of the cross of Christ? Are more my thoughts more occupied with earthly things they with heavenly things? Have I allowed the Lord's love to influence and shape every aspect of my life?
In his Message for Lent 2013, Pope Benedict XVI reminded us that
Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ's love and accordingly, under influence of that love - "Caritas Christi urgent nos" [II Corinthians 5:14] - they are profoundly open to loving their neighbor in concrete ways [cf. Deus caritas est, 33]. This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God's love."
Today, then, and in the coming days of Lent, you and I would do well to seek to climb the mountain of the Lord in pray and ask: Do I love others as the Lord loves me? Do I forgive others as the Lord has forgiven me? Do I serve others as the Lord has served me?
We know already that the answer to these questions is not always “Yes;” the answer is instead, all too often, “No.” And yet, though we know our sinfulness, our many failures to love both God and neighbor, we do not soon enough seek to be reconciled to God and counted no longer as enemies of the Cross of Christ but as friends of the Cross of Christ.
If Saint Paul wept for the lack of faith of the early Christians, for their failure to live as authentic disciples of the Lord, why do we not also weep for our sins? In these coming days we must find moments of solitude and stillness so that can listen to the voice of the Lord calling us to repentance and conversion. We have in the example of Father Damien a Saint with a deep love of the Sacrament of Penance and a deep awareness of his need for it.
Let us follow the example of this holy priest who followed so closely after the Lord confess our sins to a priest. Let us allow ourselves, dear brothers and sisters, to be conquered by the love of Christ and place ourselves entirely at his service so that one day we may “see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13). Amen.