24th February 2013. 2nd Sunday of Lent
To all members of the ACP: You are welcome to contribute Homily Resource material to this website. Two paragraphs are fine for weekdays; a little more for Sundays. If possible, send it to me at least a week in advance of the date on which it applies. Send it to: rogers AT mountargus.ie
Gen 15:5-12. The covenant with Abraham, basis of Israel’s religion of trust.
Phil 3:17-4:1. Paul teaches the ways of faithfulness.
Lk 9:28-36. On a high mountain, Peter, James and John glimpsed the hidden glory of Jesus, and bowed down in worship.
Theme: We celebrate Christ’s transfiguration. Through prayerful worship we too encounter the transfigured Christ and our lives can be transfigured.
First Reading: Book of Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.
Second Reading: Letter to the Philippians 3:17-4:1
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” – not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came an overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
So What’s New?
Here’s a quote from a famous man, “Our young people love their comfort, have bad manners, no respect for authority, and only contempt for their elders. Children nowadays contradict their parents, gobble their food, and tyrannise their teachers.” Older people tend to agree with this assessment, as compared with the behaviour of our own young days. But here’s the catch, the words come from the Greek philosopher, Socrates, one of the wisest men who ever lived, and who spent his time trying to improve the youth Athens by teaching them to think critically. It seems that human nature does not change much, being the same yesterday and today.
We are all aware that ours is a time of extraordinary change, even if – as John Steinbeck once wrote – “the older we grow the more we protest against change, even change for the better.” In the well-loved hymn “Abide with me” this regret at the passing of old ways is well expressed in the lines: “Change and decay in all around I see./ Oh thou who changest not, abide with me.”
Only the eternal God is constant and beyond change. But in the life of Jesus, our God became like us and subject to all the changes of human life, when he was born of the Virgin Mary and lived in this material world of ours. Perhaps an important way of understanding Jesus is that God became man in order to show us how to live in a changing world.
There are many biblical stories that can help us cope with the unavoidable reality of change. For example, in Abraham, our forefather in faith, we see someone drawn to a basic change in life, to leave his home and family, called to give up the gods he had so far worshipped and adopt the uncertain existence of a nomad-shepherd in the mountains of Palestine. Abraham made this change driven by his deep relationship with God, a devotion so personal that he was later to be remembered as “the friend of God” (Is 41:8, “El Khalil” among the Arabs). God made a covenant with him, promising that Abraham would be the father of a great people. This story highlights the creative, life-enriching potential of change.
At its deepest level, our faith sees death itself as the gateway to a new kind of existence. In the transfiguration the three Apostles on the mountain had a premonition of this, a fleeting glimpse of eternity. They saw Christ surrounded by light, as the first fruits of a redeemed world. They glimpsed that he would open the way for all true believers to enter eternal life.
St Paul goes so far as to say that “Our true home is in heaven, and God will transform these lowly bodies of ours into copies of Christ’s glorious, risen body.” Reflecting on this in his old age, Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote, “life passes, riches fly away, popularity comes and goes, the senses decay, the world changes, friends die; one alone is constant; one alone is true to us, one alone can be all things to us, and this is God.”
After the vision on the mountain-top the three apostles had to go back down to the lowlands and get on with their daily lives, talking with people, coping with taxes and tax-collectors, buying food, dealing with problems as they arose. But if they did, they carried with them the memory of the glory of Christ, a vision of something great that lies ahead of us in God’s mysterious presence.
Transfigured by Prayer
As an older Catholic, my life in the Church straddled two worlds, before and after the Second Vatican Council. This lets me rummage in the storehouse of my mind and compare things old and new. I remember how important private prayer was in that pre-Conciliar world. People were devotional then. In the little town where I grew up, many of the youngsters called in to the church every evening for a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, that was before television came and changed all our lives. Probably we weren’t any more virtuous than teenagers today. Maybe we had nothing else to do in the evenings and like all teenagers we wanted to get out of the house and meet our friends.
All that habit of private prayer seemed to dramatically disappear after the Council, though I suspect television and other modern developments had much to do with it. Change always demands some price or other and the liturgical changes after Vatican II seem to have edged out private prayer. There are some signs now that it is making a comeback, as it is inevitably should. Inside every one of us there is a need for prayer, trying to break out. We feel that need to get away from it all, to be by ourselves for a while and try to make sense of our lives. What else is that but an urge to pray.
Today’s gospel gives a remarkable insight into the nature of prayer. Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. We too have to find the high ground, remote enough to give us an overall view of our petty world with all its preoccupations. A mountain can give us that perspective, as indeed can a lake or a desert, places where Jesus also liked to pray.
Lent is a time for us to try and create a hermitage somewhere in our lives where we can go and pray regularly. Only by prayer can we be transfigured and then try to transfigure our world. By reflecting deep inside ourselves we will transfigure our many and often complicated relationships. Prayer can transfigure our marriages, our homes, our work and our communities.
The famous American writer, Thurber, at the end of one of his fables, penned this couplet: All men should learn before they die,/Where they are going, from where and why. Only in prayer will we find the answer to these questions.
Our Gospel today comes after Jesus had said that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). This was no good news to the disciples who expected Jesus, as the Messiah, to drive out the Roman army of occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many of them would have begun to have second thoughts: Is Jesus really the expected Messiah? So a few days after, Jesus invites the three leaders of his group, Peter, James and John, to go with him up a mountain, to show them another angle on reality.
The mountain is a place of encounter with God. Moses encountered God on the mountain, and so did Elijah, and it was a favourite place of prayer for Jesus too. It was where the eyes of the apostles, their spiritual eyes, were opened and they caught a glimpse of the aspect of Jesus that their physical eyes could never see. Then they saw that the heavenly court was on the side of Jesus, and they heard the voice of the invisible God, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” (Lk 9:35). This was all the confirmation they needed. Jesus was indeed the expected one, for heaven itself bore witness. Now they would listen to him and follow him all the way to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. No matter what happens they are now sure of one thing: God is with Jesus; final victory will therefore be his.
How often we experience the absurdities of life such that our minds are filled with doubt and we question: Where is God? Think of people who have experienced abuse, deep-rooted individualism and insensitivity from church officials, and they ask, “How can God be in this place?” and many of them give up the faith. Others are traumatized by their experience of social injustice and discrimination. They apply for a job but see people less qualified than they get the job because of having the right connections or the right accent. They see forceful people advancing in society through unfair means and they ask: Where is God when this is going on? Or you may know someone undergoing personal and family crisis like terminal illness, breakdown of relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friends.
At times like these we need to climb the mountain of prayer and ask God to open our eyes that we may see. When God grants us a glimpse of eternity then we realize that all our troubles in this life are short-lived. Then we have the courage to accept the suffering of this life, knowing that through it all God is on our side. All it takes is a glimpse of heaven to empower us to take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that the cross of Lent is followed by the victory of Easter.