25 February 20182 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Lent

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Lent
Second Sunday of Lent: The Covenant of Faith

As I mentioned in the homilies I had last week, what I would like to do this year during Lent is focus on the first readings. The first readings for the Sundays of Lent present various covenants. This Sunday our focus is on Abraham and the Covenant of Faith. We use the term faith in many ways. Sometimes we use the term to point to a particular religion. "I am a member of the Catholic faith. The people across the street are members of the Lutheran faith. Those down the block are members of the Methodist faith." Sometimes we use the term to refer to the sum teaching of the Church. For example, "Our faith teaches us that we have a responsibility to reach out to the poor." Sometimes we use the term to explain a certain belief, such as "I cannot understand the Trinity, but I believe in it because it is an article of our faith." Very often, we use the term faith to refer to our trust in another, "I have faith that my wife will pick me up at the airport." The most important use of the term faith, though, is our complete trust in God. This is how faith is used in today's reading from Genesis. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Yet, God had also told him that he would be the father of many nations.

How could this happen if he were to listen to God and sacrifice his son? Abraham had to have faith that somehow God would fulfill his promise. Let's pause for a second, though, and remember that the Hebrews never practiced human sacrifice. In fact, one of the reasons that God allowed their enemies to conquer them at the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities was that some Israelites had left Yahweh and joined in with the pagan sacrifice rituals even in some cases sacrificing their own children. This was a complete abomination before God and man. Yet, in today's first reading Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. This was not because God wanted human sacrifice, but because He wanted to test Abraham to see how great his faith really was. Would he sacrifice his only son, the one whom he loved? The Fathers of the Early Church also saw in this call for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac a prophecy of the extent of the Father's love for his people. Abraham's decision to sacrifice his son, Isaac, prefigured the Father's decision to sacrifice the Son, Jesus. God had told Abraham to do something that seemed utterly absurd. Yet, Abraham had faith that somehow God would work out his promise and his plan. Abraham completely trusted in God even though everything around him and within him told him differently. What faith Abraham had! What faith you have! I have been gifted with witnessing this type of faith over and over again in so many of you and your families.

Let me give you a beautiful example from just last week. A while back I saw two young brothers entering the Church, a sixteen year old and a fourteen year old. The sixteen year old is challenged. Many of you know him, or at least have been at Mass with him. He prays in his own way, with his own sounds which are not all that pleasant, but he comes here to pray with his family, and he is welcome here. In fact, I am edified by the way that the members of the parish accept him. What stood out to me last Sunday, though, was not the sixteen year old but his fourteen year old brother. When the two walked into the Church, the younger boy saw that his brother was frightened. His brother looked around, stopped and then started sucking his thumb. Perhaps the crowd scared him. Or maybe he just lost track of where his mother was. That's when I saw the younger boy take his brother's hand and guide him to the pew his Mom had picked out. I pointed this out to one of our servers saying, "Look, how beautifully that boy is taking care of his brother." What a wonderful man that fourteen year old is going to become.” What a wonderful child he is now. His brother has been a gift to him, as well as to the whole family and to our parish. I am also convinced that no matter how much work the older child takes, his parents love him deeply and could not bear the thought of a life without him. He is special in a many more ways than implied in the term special education. Consider this: for this boy to be born, his parents had to take a leap of faith. They had to trust God even though there were many telling them to do something terrible, something they would have regretted for the rest of their lives. But they trusted in God, and they and their other children and we have been blessed. Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. This family and our parish are receiving their portion of the covenant of faith.

Many children in our parish are adopted. Many of the adults in our parish were adopted when they were children. How much faith their parents, both their birth parents and their adoptive parents had to have in God! Many people were telling that pregnant woman to find a horrible solution to her situation. But she, in her own way, had faith that God would work it all out for the good. Many people cautioned the adoptive parents that this might be more difficult than they imagined, but they trusted in God. Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. These parents, birth and adoptive, are now celebrating the gift of the covenant of faith.

You married folks made a decision to give yourselves to God by giving yourselves to each other and by accepting the gift of each other. You needed faith in God to marry well. Your decision to marry in the Church was ultimately a realization that this is what God wanted. He wanted to be present in your marriage in the way of a sacrament. Your decision to marry your spouse was a matter of trusting in God, even though the future may have appeared to be unclear. Your decision to have children was also a decision to put your complete trust in God. Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. You look at your spouse, you look at your children, and yes neither they nor you are perfect, but you look at them and you realize that you also have received the gift of the covenant of faith. I could tell similar beautiful stories about so many of you and your families. You could have turned from trusting in God when so many around you suggested solutions to your challenges which would have ultimately pushed you away from God. Or you could have simply become cynical; instead, you chose to be people of faith. You know that God will work it all out. You don't know how, but somehow. And He will. This is your share in the covenant of faith. "If God is for us, who can be against us,” St. Paul asks in today's second reading. Life has its challenges, but each challenge can be met and conquered simply by trusting in God to work his wonders in our lives.

God will take care of you. And He will take care of me. We trust in Him. We have faith in Him. And when the challenges appear insurmountable, when our faith appears weak, we call out with that man in Mark 9:24. "I do believe, Lord. Help those parts of me that don't believe." And we trust in God to form with us, as He did with Abraham, a covenant of faith.
Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
2 Lent
Finding Hope When Life Hurts Week 2: Pivotal Moment
(February 25, 2018)

Bottom line: No matter what pivotal moment comes our way; our response determines whether it will make us or break us.
In Finding Hope When Life Hurts Fr. Sica reflects on life's pivotal moments: "A promotion, a wedding, the start of a family - how exciting! An accident, a terminal illness, the news that someone we love is dying - how terrible! It's the latter type of news that throws us for a loop. We go through the motions, haunted by events, our lives forever altered." Todays' Gospel recounts a pivotal moment: the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter says, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here!" It is also a moment of awe, even terror. "They were terrified," the Gospel says.

Brant Pitre analyzes the Transfiguration in The Case for Jesus. Dr. Pitre asks, "Why do Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus?" For sure Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets. But there's more: Although Moses and Elijah both had visions of God neither saw God face to face. In the Transfiguration they are finally allowed to see what they could not see during their earthly life - the unveiled face of God." Light shines from within Jesus; he himself is light from light. After giving a detailed description of the Transfiguration, Dr. Pitre the asks why Jesus tells his disciples not to speak about what happened. Why the secrecy? Well, The Case for Jesus devotes a full chapter to the secret of Jesus' divinity.

I want, however, to address a prior issue, something that many wonder about - namely, the reliability of the Gospels. Some say that because the Gospels were transmitted orally before being written down they contain distortions as happens in the Telephone Game. You've probably played the Telephone Game: you form a circle with a dozen people and the first person whispers a sentence to next person. By the end the message has completely changed. As the Case for Jesus points out, "the Telephone game 'works' precisely because it is a trivial parlor game and absolutely no one involved cares a whit about the content of the message that he is communicating. As a counterexample, consider the manner in which news of the Kennedy assassination spread from person to person, to all corners of the world. To be sure small distortions and exaggerations occurred along the way, but did anyone anywhere miss the message that the president of the United States, John Kennedy, was shot to death in Dallas on November 22, 1963? Dr. Brant Pitre shows how the "Telephone game" comparison might sound convincing but when you analyze the actual way the Gospels were transmitted, it doesn't hold up. I encourage you to read The Case for Jesus and to offer it to a family member who has questions, for example about the "Lost Gospels" or about whether Jesus claimed be divine.

Ultimately of course we're talking about an act of confidence in a person, to be able to say, "Jesus, I trust in you." This brings us back to those pivotal moments - some are wonderful, some are devastating. For us February 4, 11:04 am, was a pivotal moment as Sister Barbara passed from this life surrounded by parishioners singing "Amazing Grace." Regarding pivotal moments Fr. Sica says: "I've learned it doesn't matter what pivotal moment comes our way; our response determines whether it will make us or break us. Since everything is in turmoil, it's necessary to take baby steps. You need to wrap your head around it and ask. 'What just happened?' Then go to God. Have a heart-to-heart with him. Share your feelings, ask him for guidance and listen as he responds." As our Psalm says, "I believe even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted.' I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
2 Lent
Second Sunday of Lent, Classic
Mark 9: 2–10

Gospel Summary
Today's gospel brings us a story about the illumination of Jesus on a mountaintop in the presence of his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John. Tradition tells us that this mountaintop was Mount Tabor. However, the name of the mountain is not given in any account of the Transfiguration and so we are invited to ponder the symbolic significance of this major event in the ministry of Jesus. The illumination of Jesus has traditionally been interpreted as a light from heaven to show divine approval of his mission after he has just announced to his disciples that "the Son of Man must suffer greatly" (Mark 8: 31). This creates a problem, however, because only three of the disciples are present and future developments do not show that they were reassured. It is far more likely that the light is coming from within Jesus as his face glows in a full awareness of the surprising nature of the mission that his heavenly Father has assigned to him. Jesus certainly must have wondered about a mission that would result in his becoming a political Messiah, bringing violence and war, as his disciples and the crowds expected. Now he sees clearly that his mission of salvation is through loving and ultimately dying for others. His illumination, therefore, would be an ecstatic moment of discovery. And that is why Moses and Elijah join him there, for they too have experienced God's revelation on a mountaintop! In this moment of mystical experience, Jesus also hears a voice from heaven, which repeats the words heard at baptism but then adds, "Listen to him" (Mark 9: 7). This suggests that he is now prepared to share the ultimate wisdom of God, namely, that loving and sacrificing are the only way to conquer sin and death … and thus to enter into resurrection glory.

Life Implications
There is something very comforting about the fact that Jesus experienced a kind of mystical illumination that was followed by his direct movement to Jerusalem and the climax of his mission as our Savior. For this reminds us that we too need to reexamine the basic orientation of our lives and to ask whether we are willing to adopt the wisdom of Jesus which counsels us to put aside the dominant quest for satisfaction and security in this life and to accept a new way of living that is marked by a desire to be of service to others. When we realize that the words "Listen to him" are directed to each one of us, we must take very seriously the implications of such a command from God. This surely must mean that we too are expected to "visit" this mountain of the Transfiguration, where we can be "illuminated" by the sure knowledge that, when all is said and done, the most important thing that we can do in this life is to "die," as Jesus did, because we love and care for others. We may think that this means nothing but self-denial, but the fact is that those who seek the happiness of others more than their own satisfaction turn out to be the happiest people of all. This doesn't mean becoming a doormat or catering to obsessive dependants, but it does mean that we are sensitive to others and truly committed to their welfare. This daily "dying" leads to ultimate resurrection life. It is also an excellent way to keep the spirit of Lent.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.

Second Sunday of Lent, Modern Gospel
Romans 8:31B – 34; Mark 9; 2 – 10

God is for us! This statement should be seen on posters, bookmarks, and most importantly, imprinted on our hearts. God is with us at all times and in all situations. Echoing the vows of marriage God is with us, "in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, in rich or in poor.” Unlike marriage vows that end with, "until death do us part,” God's relationship with us does not end at death. That is unless we have made the conscious decision to turn away from him and choose to spend eternity without God. For those who have faithfully lived the Gospel, even if just on their deathbed, God is with us even after death. Many of us were taught that the reason God made us was to, "know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world, so as to be happy with Him forever in the next.” God's plan for us is that we get to heaven so as to be with Him forever. God is for us and desires that we never be separated from Him. Ten days ago we began the Season of Lent with Ash Wednesday.

The imposition of ashes on our foreheads reminds us of three things;
1. We are sinners and the ashes are a sign of our repentance,
2. That God created us as mortal beings from nothing, dust, and that we will end our day's on earth be turning back to dust, and finally,
3. as we look upon others with ashes we are reminded that we are not alone, we are part of a community that journeys together. Lent is the season for us to journey together and examine our lives and our relationship with God so as to make the decision to restore or improve our relationship that relationship. We make this journey individually and with the community always keeping in mind that God is with us as we journey to the place Jesus has prepared for us in the Father's house. What are we journeying to? In the Gospel we are given a glimpse of our destination, the Glory of God's presence. Peter, James and John were led up to the mountain where they were privileged to see Jesus Transfigured and to hear the voice of the Father. It was an experience so magnificent that it was difficult for them to understand. They were astonished and terrified. They really didn't know what to think or how to process their feelings, but in the end the voice of the Father and the presence of Jesus gave them peace. Jesus told them not to tell anyone until he had Risen. We are told that Peter, James and John kept this to themselves and it wasn't until after the resurrection that they began to understand, and told of this amazing encounter. God is with us as we journey to experience first hand the glory the three apostles experienced at the Transfiguration. It is a journey that at times astonishes us, and at others can be terrifying. We can experience moments when we know beyond a show of a doubt that God is with us, and there are moments when we can be in anguish over some situation, ready to give up because of our failure to resist temptation, or just don't feel God's presence. In all of these God is with us, and Lent is our time to renew our faith and to allow the Lord to renew us. Our Lenten journey is part of our lifelong journey to Heaven. May we continue our journey through Lent as if we were ascending the Mount of the Transfiguration with our eyes fixed on the Glory of God at Easter. Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.

Homily from Father Alex McAllister SDS
2 Lent
Second Sunday of Lent

Well you couldn't find three more wonderful scripture readings than those presented to us today: The Sacrifice of Isaac, the famous passage from Romans “With God on our side who could be against us?” and St Mark's account of the Transfiguration. We call that incident from the Book of Genesis the Sacrifice of Isaac, but, of course, we recognise that there was no actual sacrifice. But I suppose it felt very real to them at the time. Abraham certainly intended to sacrifice his son and it was only the intervention by God at the very last moment that saved the boy. It seems a very cruel story especially when seen in the context of Abraham's life. Following God's commands Abraham had cut himself off from his past and gone into an unknown land. The promise made to him by God was that he should have many descendents and Isaac the fruit of this promise was conceived only after a long time and much difficulty. Now God really does put Abraham's faith to the test because he is being asked to sacrifice this precious child who is the key to God's own promise. Abraham's past has been cut off and it now seems as though his future is to be cut off too. This command of God is utterly incomprehensible. The child promised by God is to be given back to him in sacrifice. God seems so cruel; he is not only about to break his own promise but he rubs in the gravity of the sacrifice he demands by saying “your only son Isaac, whom you love.” Despite this seeming cruelty from a fickle God Abraham doggedly carries out his commands.

He travels three days to the assigned place, makes all the necessary preparations and diligently does what the Lord has asked. At the eleventh hour the Angel of the Lord intervenes and in effect declares that Abraham has passed the test. But there is no rejoicing from Abraham, he simply takes the ram caught in the bush and sacrifices it instead. We have here only an edited version of the text but there is no expression of emotion anywhere in it. This gives the story what writers have called an “ancient magnificence”. There are many levels to this extraordinary story and only one of them is the testing of Abraham. But perhaps we ought to look instead to Isaac. He is the child of the promise. He is the one on whom the future depends. He is the gift of God given in Abraham and Sarah's extreme old age. Perhaps this whole episode is about God helping Abraham to understand much more deeply that Isaac is God's pure gift. Of course, at the time of his birth the old couple would certainly have acknowledged the arrival of this child as a miracle. But still they would think of it as ‘their' child. They did the conceiving and the rearing and all the rest, and Isaac is according to them ‘their' son. So maybe in this incident God is letting them know that Isaac is God's child not theirs; that this boy on whom so much depends is God's utterly free gift to them. He is not only given to them in a miracle but is taken away and then given back again in yet another miracle.

We read this text, of course, from a particular historical standpoint and in it we tend to see Isaac as a prefigurement of Christ. You can draw the many parallels between Isaac and Christ for yourself. Like Isaac, Christ is God's utterly free gift to us and so is the salvation he brought for us. It comes to us completely free and we need always to be aware of this. We did absolutely nothing to earn our salvation and indeed, no matter how perfectly we live our lives, we do not, and cannot ever, deserve it. Salvation is God's freely chosen gift to us. And we must acknowledge our utter dependence on this greatest of all acts of love. When we turn our attention to the Transfiguration we find ourselves up on the top of another mountain. In Mark this incident occurs immediately after Christ's first prediction of his passion, death and resurrection. And on the mountain Jesus is revealed to the select group of Apostles in all his divine glory. The presence of Moses and Elijah, the dazzling brightness, the cloud which covered them, and the voice of approval from God all these confirm that Jesus is the Son of God. We are being told that it is in this light that the immediately prior prediction of the passion and resurrection must be understood. Like Isaac, Jesus is the promise of God. He is the one on whom salvation depends. However, unlike Isaac, Jesus will actually be the sacrifice which brings about our salvation. The closest group of apostles get a glimpse of Jesus' true nature. They are not only told that he is the Son of God, they see that he is the Son of God. His conferring with Moses and Elijah shows that he is in true line with them, indeed that he is the fulfilment of everything they stood for. The understanding of the Apostles is imperfect.

This is only to be expected; they are confused by these events and they are quite unable to realise their significance at the time. This is shown in the bumbling words of Peter. But they remember what happened that day on the mountain and much later, in the light of the resurrection, they see the meaning of that most extraordinary event. The passage from Paul's Letter to the Romans is literally a hymn to God's love as expressed in Jesus Christ and it is a perfect complement to the other two more weighty readings. We are in the law courts; that's the language Paul is using. I used to be a chaplain in a women's prison and when I read this text to them the prisoners understood Paul's words perfectly. They knew all about witnesses being on your side. They knew exactly what it meant to be vindicated in a court of law. The subject of acquittal was the constant topic of the intercessory prayers that they made at mass. How frequently have I read out a prayer written by a prisoner which goes: Please pray that I get a walk-out when I go to court on Monday. Walk-out being their word for release. But in the reading Paul is speaking about no earthly law court. This is the law court of heaven. This is the Final Judgement. On that day we certainly need Christ himself on our side otherwise we are sure to be condemned. By ourselves we are completely defenceless, entirely guilty, and we would need to shake in our shoes with fear. But as Paul says With God on our side who can be against us? We need Christ, the free gift of God, to stand beside us. He has already paid the price for our sins with his sacrifice on the Cross. He is the true Son of God who stands at God's right hand and pleads for us. The infinite love and power of God are revealed in him and he quite freely bestows on us his infinite love and mercy. In the light of these wonderful things all we can do is praise and thank and bless his holy name.

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