17 March 20192 Lent

Homily from Father James Gilhooley
2 Lent
Second Sunday of Lent - Cycle C
Luke 9, 28-36

A missionary told this tale. Some African Christians were sitting about at a retreat. The subject was how best to spread the Gospel. Various methods were suggested running from literature to videos to radio announcements. Finally a young woman arose. She said, "When we judge a pagan village is ready for the Lord Jesus, the first people we send in is a Christian family. It is their lives that will inspire the villagers to think seriously about becoming Christian. They are better than a hundred books or videos or radio announcements. They will be the keyhole through which others will see the Lord Christ. To spread the Church Christians must not so much promote as attract." The woman's views carried the day. As Albert Schweitzer, who was a superb keyhole in his own life, testified, "Example is not the main thing. It is the only thing." This then is what we are aiming for while Lent remains very young. Like the Christ of today's Gospel, we too must become transfigured.

The Teacher is saying to us, "Do not dwell on my Transfiguration overly long today. Rather, continue or perhaps begin to work on your own." The Christ is betting on each one of us here to become an attractive keyhole. Someone asked Mother Teresa how he might better spread the Gospel. She replied simply, "Smile more often. Live as though you believe there are 542 references to joy in the Scriptures." But we are in luck. The Transfiguration of course occurred in a microsecond. There is no such time pressure on us. We have almost six weeks to accomplish our own transformation. Happily each of us is not acting alone. For we shall be attempting to become forty day wonders in communion with our fellow Catholics throughout the globe. We are - all of us - looking inward to remove the stains, wrinkles, and wounds from each of our lives. The entire Mystical Body of Christ is groaning to give birth to more attractive Catholics.

In seminaries, monasteries, and convents, this period is traditionally called Quadraginta. In Italy, our fellow Catholics call it Quaresima. In Spain, Cuaresima. In France, Careme. And, among my ancestors in Eire, Corghas. But it makes no difference really what one calls this season. As Vatican Council II reminded us, we are all members of a Church always needing reform. Cleansed or, perhaps better, transfigured at Easter, we will move out of our churches ready to transform others. We will pass on to others what we our own selves have first achieved. And those "others" desperately need us. One American government official describes the current scene this way. "In this country, it is impossible to maintain civilization with 12-year olds having babies, with 15-year olds killing each other, with 17-year olds dying of AIDS, and with 18-year olds ending up with diplomas they can't even read."

And as a Director of Campus Ministry at a college of mostly Catholic students, I must add that fewer and fewer of their number see any need to attend Sunday Liturgy. The Eucharist is unknown country for most of them. "We are becoming the kind of society," says former US Secretary of Education William J Bennett, "that other nineteenth century societies sent missionaries to." So, our work is obviously cut out for us. But, as the late John Tracy Ellis would point out, a knowledge of history is comforting. It tells us that the Church has had a long practice in saving and redeeming civilizations. Why then not this one? But here is the rub. As one sage has written, we must be the change that we want to see in the world. And so there rises the absolute necessity that this be the best Lent that each of us has ever had. "If ever this society was in need of Catholicism, " said Secretary Bennett, "it is now. If 60 million Catholics were to live and vote their faith, it would transform American society." And, if Catholic throughout the globe were to live their belief in the Christ, it would transform world society. Remember this message from an unknown author as you go about transforming yourself. The Jesus you wish to imitate came not to dominate but to motivate, not to condemn but to forgive, not to oppress but to free, not to compel but to teach.

Homily from Father Joseph Pellegrino
2 Lent
Second Sunday of Lent: On Being Transfigured

There are objects and people in our lives that we have become so accustomed to that we take them for granted. For example, we are so used to electricity that we assume that everything in our homes will always have the necessary power. And then a hurricane hits. And we lose power for hours. The refrigerator doesn't work. You can't cook anything unless you have an outdoor grill, not really useful in a rain storm. The air conditioner isn't working, and its getting hot in the house. Worst still, there's no TV, God forbid! The same thing with relationships. We are so accustomed to our loved ones always being at home that we enter into a bit of a shock when a child goes to college. Or far worse, someone we care for dies. Then we really feel rotten for taking their presence for granted. Perhaps, we do this regarding our church. We are so used to coming into the Church that we tend to forget that we are coming before a special presence of God, the Sacred Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We take it for granted that Jesus is there with us, but we are so used to His Sacramental Presence, that we don't give this Presence the reverence it deserves. Maybe we are so bound in the physical world that we overlook the reality of the spiritual. Today's readings help us to refocus on the spiritual in our lives, to refocus on the mystical.

The mystery of God has entered human history in the covenant God made with this wandering Armenian, Abram, whom He now names Abraham. St. Paul tells the Philippians that they should not be like the Pharisees who are so concerned with Jewish dietary laws that "Their God is their belly," and so proud of their circumcision that "their glory is in a shameful part of their body." The problem was that they were not allowing mystery, the mystical, to enter their lives. "Our citizenship is in heaven," St. Paul says. The spiritual is what matters. We have to allow God to transform our minds by his spiritual reality. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to a mere external following of physical laws. The spiritual must reign. The spiritual must transform the world. We come upon Jesus at prayer on the Mountain. Even though the Transfiguration is presented in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, only Luke begins the account with the Lord at prayer. This is significant. The Lord is opening Himself to the presence of the Father. At peace, at prayer, He is transformed, transfigured, into a state that reflects the glory of God. Moses and Elijah appear. They also are radiant, reflecting the glory of God.

Moses, the representative of the Books of the Law, Elijah, representing the Books of the Prophets, come to speak to Jesus, the very Word of God. They are speaking of God's plan for his people, the conquest of the spiritual. Of course, the disciples, Peter, James and John, don't understand this. They are still looking for a physical kingdom. The spiritual is beyond them. The voice in the cloud is meant for them and us: "This is my Beloved Son, Listen to Him." God wants to transform the world. He has established the Kingdom of the Spirit and called us as the new Chosen People. Following him does not mean merely performing certain external actions, like not eating pork or being circumcised, or simply coming to Church, showing up to get married, having our children baptized, receive communion or be confirmed. Following God means entering a spiritual, mystical relationship with him, a relationship that is present through our daily duties as well as when we are together at prayer. We have to nourish our spiritual lives, our relationship to God. We have to feed our spiritual life the food of union with God. The spiritual must conquer in our lives. If we become spiritual, then we can fulfill the call to evangelize the world.

This is exhibited in a story about a meeting of leading African catechists who were discussing how to best to spread the Gospel. Various methods were suggested running from literature to videos to radio announcements. Finally, a young woman arose. She said, "When we judge that a village is ready for the Lord Jesus, the first people we send in is a devout, determined Christian family. It is their lives that will inspire the villagers to think seriously about becoming Christian. They are better than a hundred books or videos or radio announcements. Then she used this expression: She said "They will be the keyhole through which others will peer to see the Lord Christ. To spread the Church Christians must not so much promote as attract." The woman's views carried the day. This is what the Missionaries of St. Thomas do in India. We were blessed to have had Missionaries of St. Thomas here serving our parish and still up at Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Port Richey. Their main ministry is to go into a village or town where they are the only Catholics or Christians. They serve the people for generations, until finally, the people, perhaps the grandchildren of the people there when the first Christians arrived, decide to become Catholic. Soon after this the whole village become Catholic. The presence of Christ in others attracts them to faith. We all need to be less concerned with devising ways for people to hear about the faith and more concerned living the faith in a way that attracts people to the faith.

We can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit is the Mystical Power of God. This Holy Mystery is a Holy Magnet. "This is my Beloved Son, listen to him," the Sacred Voice calls out from heaven. God's plan is that we share in the Glory of the Lord and that we share the Glory of the Lord. We have to be people of mystery. We have to be people of prayer. This is how we can listen to Him. We have to have a prayer life. We have to respond to His message in our hearts. We have to listen. We have to grow. He is transforming the world. He is transforming us. On the Second Sunday of Lent we consider the way we are following the Lord. Do we allow ourselves to be exposed to the spiritual? Do we pray, really pray? Do we allow the spiritual to become real in our lives? Are we allowing God's plan to take effect in our world? Are we living as citizens of heaven, or is our glory the mere external following of our religion? If someone were to ask any of us, "What exactly is a Catholic?" in what terms would we form our answer?

If we were to answer the question in terms of religious practices, such as "a Catholic is a person who goes to Church on Sundays, receives the sacraments, says the Rosary, etc," we would be giving far too much importance to what we do and not enough importance to what God is doing. However, if we were to answer the question, "What is a Catholic?" in terms of what God does, if we were to say, "A Catholic is someone united to God in such a way that others experience the Mystery of God working in him," then it is God and his works that are the essence of lives. Few people are drawn to Catholicism because they want to do the things that Catholics do. People are drawn to Catholicism because they want to experience God as Catholics experience Him. Spiritually alive, living with God, united in the Holy Spirit, we can become the Divine Magnet for the world. We began today's Gospel with Jesus at prayer, in union with the Father, entering into the mystery of his Being. He is transfigured.

The disciples call out, "It is good for us to be here." Yes it is. It is good for all of us to be here in the presence of the Lord. We also are called into the mystery of our being, the depth of whom we are where physical and spiritual unite. We are called into our depth, into union with the Holy Spirit so others might say, "It is good for us to be here." Transform us Lord. Transfigure us, Lord. You want the spiritual to be real in our lives. You knock on the door of our hearts. Help us to let you in. Help us to fight for the reign of the spiritual, the mystical. Help us to be vehicles of your presence.

Homily from Father Phil Bloom
* Available in Spanish - see Spanish Homilies
2 Lent
Is Good (March 17, 2019)

Bottom line: God calls us to gratitude: for small gifts like a raisin, large gifts like family and country and even for misfortunes which God allows for a purpose. Above all we are grateful for Jesus who shares his glory with us. "It is good we are here." Amen. Last Sunday we heard about Jesus being tempted by the devil. You might remember the etymology of the word "devil". It comes from the Greek diabolein which means to tear apart, to divide, to scatter. The devil works on you and me to tear us apart inside, to make us lose focus and become scattered, distracted. Jesus on the other hand wants to brings us back together, to regain focus, to serve God alone. Or as Brother Lawrence expresses it, to Practice the Presence of God. (hold up book) This Sunday we see one of the most powerful means to regain focus, namely gratitude. Peter says, "It is good we are here." He's referring to Jesus' transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah.

The response applies more broadly, "it is good we are here" In Mindful Catholic, Dr. Greg Bottaro begins with a basic exercise of awareness and gratitude. It's sometimes called the raisin exercise. It involves taking a raisin or a nut spending time appreciating how it looks and feels: first in the hand, then in the mouth moving it slowly, finally to crunch it, notice what it's like to crew and swallow. To take a few minutes with a single raisin is so different from how we normally experience food. I can grab a handful of Cheez Its, devour them while I'm looking at a computer. Reaching for another handful I hardly notice what I'm doing. The raisin exercise has helped me slow down - a little - and to appreciate. To be grateful for something small is enormous. It's like Peter saying "It is good we are here." Last October I took a delegation to Peru. The delegation included a high school student. She observed how the children there have so much less than children here.

Yet, she said, they seem so much happier than our children. In Lent we have days of fast and abstinence. That discipline can enable us to not take food for granted - to gratefully enjoy a simple meal. We fast in other ways - from the Gloria, the Alleluia and flowers in the sanctuary to appreciate them more when Easter arrives. So much of happiness depends on gratitude, especially gratitude for small things. The books I've read about mindfulness emphasize gratitude. In one course a university professor encouraged keeping a gratitude journal. I have to admit I hadn't kept a journal for years. It has made difference for me to write down words - people, events or things which make me say, "It is good we are here." Here's a few I wrote down: library, tamale, central heat, walk with Sister Carmen, sun, new baby.

Once I got started, it was easy to fill a notebook page, especially with names of people. Gratitude has power. We can see it in the life of St. Patrick who we honor this weekend. As a youth Irish pirates kidnapped him and sold him into slavery. After six years he made a harrowing escape.* Patrick could have said, "I will never go back to that island". Or "I'll get my revenge." Instead he saw his misfortune as part of God's providence. He worked, studies and became a priest, then returned to Ireland. He brought those rugged people to Christ. You and I may not become great missionaries but like Patrick we can see even our misfortunes as part of God's providence. It all begins with gratitude. St. Paul gives a great motive for gratitude. He says that we possess dual citizenship. We belong to our country and in Jesus we have citizenship in heaven. I don't know about you, but I grateful to belong to this country. In spite of nation's problems and sins, people envy us: our freedom, opportunities and abundance. In comparison with nations throughout history - and even today, children born here have won the lottery.

They can have a beautiful future. We should be grateful for our country. At the same time our citizenship here is small potatoes compared with citizenship in heaven - in Christ. Today we get a small glimpse of Jesus' reality. With Peter, James and John we see some of his glory. And with Peter we can say, "It is good we are here." Next week we'll see what's involved in claiming true citizenship in Christ. Today God calls us to gratitude: for small gifts like a raisin, large gifts like family and country and even for misfortunes which God allows for a purpose. Above all we are grateful for Jesus who shares his glory with us. "It is good we are here." Amen.

Homily from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pa
Saint Vincent Archabbey
2 Lent

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

The first reading today is very strange to the modern reader unless we make ourselves familiar with the customs and usages of the ancient world. The extraordinary ceremony related here was no sacrifice but rather a ritual symbolic of a covenant or a solemn promise between two people. What they did was take one or more animals and cut them in half and then laid them out opposite to each other but separate, making a sort of avenue between the two halves just as is recorded here in the Book of Genesis. Then the parties to the covenant would walk down the avenue between the halves of the animals. The meaning of this is obvious: if I break the covenant then let happen to me what has happened to these animals, may I also be severed in two.' In the middle of the night Abraham wakes in terror from a deep sleep and observes Yahweh passing between the pieces of flesh in the form of a blazing fire. Here is an event unprecedented in the history of religion till that point: God himself stoops down to enter a Covenant relationship with Abraham using the forms that men use among themselves.

There are other interesting elements in the account given to us, one being the birds of prey coming down to pick at the carcases which Abraham drove off. Some commentators see these as being symbolic of the powers of evil trying to intervene and hinder the making of this great covenant. This extraordinary intervention of God comes about as a result of Abraham putting his faith in God, leaving his homeland and beginning his great pilgrimage of faith. Abraham never regretted putting his faith in Yahweh for gradually the promises of Yahweh were fulfilled. Isaac was born soon after and from Isaac two sons, Esau and Jacob, and from Jacob twelve sons who were to become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Eventually the Chosen People would inherit the land of Canaan according to God's promise. But, of course, the supreme blessing that was to result from this solemn covenant was the birth of the greatest of all Abraham's descendents, Jesus Christ himself.

And through Jesus Abraham's descendents would become more numerous than ever for from then on all who believe in Christ can call themselves a true Son or Daughter of Abraham. We are given this incident from the Old Testament to help us interpret the Gospel account of the Transfiguration and by placing these two events together we realise that one of the lessons we are to take is that of continuity; continuity between the Old and the New Covenant. And what we have to learn from Abraham is that like him we should have faith in God and realise that if we do so he will keep his promises to us. They will not all be fulfilled in an instant, but fulfilled they certainly will be, and more than we could ever hope for One might wonder why the beautiful Gospel reading about the Transfiguration is given to us in Lent. It seems such a sombre time of the year to focus on so joyful an event; and one which already has its own special day in the liturgical year on 6th August. Well there is a clue in the opening line, although unfortunately in the text we are given the first half of the opening line is omitted.

The first line should read: 'Now about eight days after this had been said, he took Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray.' So, what is it that was so significant that Luke feels able to omit the intervening seven days? As you might have guessed, it was Peter's Confession and the prediction of Christ's Passion. In fact, it is the first of three predictions of the passion in Luke. When you read the Gospel through these three predictions sound like the ominous tolling of a bell. As we have seen, the first covenant with Abraham was sealed in the blood of a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. Here we are being told that the New Covenant is going to be sealed in the blood of Jesus. God revealed himself to Abraham in a blazing flame and here he reveals himself by encompassing Jesus in blinding light. The presence of Moses and Elijah being all the confirmation we need that the New Covenant is an extension and fulfilment of the Old Covenant. Having unwrapped some of the historical and religious meaning of these two events you might by now be asking yourself how they impact on us?

As we have noted with Abraham the appropriate response to these events is faith. But what the Transfiguration teaches us is that if we are to share in Christ's glory then we also have to share in his suffering. And suddenly we realise why this particular text is given to us in Lent. Jesus is destined to suffer but his sufferings are glorious because through his suffering and death he takes our sins upon himself and brings salvation to the world. Because of our human condition we too inevitably undergo suffering at various times but unlike those who do not know Christ we believe that our sufferings are filled with meaning. By uniting them with Christ we make a small contribution to the great work of salvation. There are many other lessons to draw from the Transfiguration and some interesting scriptural curiosities. I've often wondered about the three booths or tents that Peter proposed one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. I looked this up and find that it is another one of Peter misunderstandings. By giving them all tents he would have been putting Moses and Elijah on the same level as Jesus thus showing that, as the text says, he really did not know what he was saying. Another interesting nugget is the word passing; 'Moses and Elijah were speaking of his passing'. The word translated by 'passing' is actually 'exodus' and we immediately see the connection with Moses and how Jesus is the New Moses. Exodus literally means 'a road out' and is generally understood to mean death.

But it doesn't simply mean death because the Exodus from Egypt was an experience of salvation for the People of Israel and now the Exodus of Christ, by which we mean the events of his passion, death and resurrection, is to be the definitive act of salvation for all mankind. One could go on and on uncovering layers and layers of meaning but we have to stop somewhere. The longer we look at the Transfiguration the more we realise it is of great significance in the life of Christ and is intimately connected to the other important events of his life. They were overawed and as it says, 'The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.' Perhaps for us too that is the most appropriate response; just to keep silence and contemplate the mystery and leave the talking till later.

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