25 February 2018

Homily - 25 February 2018 - The Second Sunday of Lent

The Second Sunday of Lent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

What does it mean to be devoted to God? We heard a few moments ago how the Lord God called Abraham to “go to the land of Moriah” and how the Lord’s messenger said to him, “I know now how devoted you are to God” (Genesis 22:2, 12). To be devoted is to be dedicated by a vow, to have sacrificed oneself, and to promise solemnly.

Stjorn Manuscript, Arni Magnusson 227 fol., fol. 23v
It is not difficult to see how devoted Abraham was to God, even if it is difficult for us to understand his devotion.

Abraham trusts totally in God, to the point of being ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son the future, for without a child the promised land was as nothing, ends in nothing. And in sacrificing his son he is sacrificing himself, his whole future, the whole of the promise. It really is the most radical act of faith.[1]

It is the radicality of Abraham’s faith that gives us pause because our faith is not so radical; it is often more practical and pragmatic. We are devoted to God to a certain extent, but not fully; we are often unwilling to sacrifice everything to God and trust fully in his promise, his vow, to us.

God’s devotion to us is seen in that he “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Romans 8:32). He held nothing back, but gave us everything. As Abraham was willing to offer Isaac to the Father, the Father willingly offered his Son – and the Son willingly offered himself – for us. What more could God have done for us? The depth of his love for us cannot be doubted because while we were in sin “he first loved us” (I John 4:19). How can we refuse to give everything to him in return? Seeing the death of his Son, and his Resurrection from the dead, how can we not see the depth of his love for us? How can we fail to trust I his love? If God did not withhold from us that which he loves, how can we withhold from God what we love?

God proves his love and care for us – he proves his devotion to us - in a truly heart-wrenching way. Christ Jesus called his brothers and sisters – he called us – to repent of our sins and live. As proof of the truth of his Gospel, he healed the sick, he cast out demons, he fed the hungry crowds, and he raised the dead. He entrusted his ministry of healing and reconciliation to his Apostles. And for all of this he was mocked, tortured, stripped, and lifted high on the Cross as a sign of contradiction before the world.

As he endured such unthinkable mistreatment, he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even before he was crucified, when the two brothers asked, “do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume” a village that refused to welcome him, Jesus did not permit it (Luke 9:54; cf. Luke 9:55). So great is his love for us, so great is his devotion to us. “If at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God!”[2]

The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we gladly abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, or whether we do so with a grumble. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we spend time in prayer each day, or only for a short time on Sundays. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we participate in the Holy Mass every Sunday and holy day, or whether we do so when it is convenient for us. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we speak the truth in love, or simply say whatever is easiest in the moment. There are many times each day that the Lord’s messenger can see how devoted we are to God; what does he see?

In his Message for Lent 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”[3] In other words, Lent summons us to a deeper devotion to the Lord and enables our love to be full. There are signs when our love is not what it should be, signs indicating our devotion to God is strong enough: “selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”[4]

When the zeal and devotion of the Apostles began to diminish, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor to reveal to them his glory. He had just told them “that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). This was too much for them; they were grieved at the thought of losing their Master and Friend and so Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Peter meant well, of course, but he did not understand or trust the promise of the Lord. Jesus allowed himself to be transfigured before them to give them a glimpse of his Resurrection, to give them a glimpse of his divinity and strengthen their devotion to him.

NAF 4515, fol. 34r.
In his description of how Jesus appeared during his Transfiguration, Saint Matthew includes a detail omitted by Saint Mark, namely that “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). It was an answer to that great cry of every human heart voiced by the Psalmist: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9). In that moment, the Lord Jesus allowed his Apostles to see him as he is; he allowed them to see “that Face which in the coming days of the Passion we shall contemplate disfigured by human sins, indifference, and ingratitude; that Face, radiant with light and dazzling with glory that will shine out at dawn on Easter Day.”[5]

Saint Augustine of Hippo called the Face of Jesus “the sun to the eyes of the heart.”[6] By this curious phrase, he indicated that the light of Jesus’ face illumines our hearts, shedding light upon our shadows and darkness that we would rather conceal. The more we allow the light of his Face to shine upon us, the more like him we become, which, of course, is the very purpose of Lent.

“Let us,” then, “keep our hearts and minds fixed on the Face of Christ” so our devotion to him may deepen.[7] By contemplating the beauty of his Face, let us hold fast to the promises we made in Baptism and learn to trust in the promise of the Lord’s own love. By contemplating his devotion to us in the mystery of the Cross, may he find us devoted to him in return and bring us to the full vision of his glory. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 4 March 2012.
[2] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2018.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, ibid.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 78.2. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ib: Matthew 14-28, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2002), 54.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, ibid.

No comments:

Post a Comment