Anyway, I hope you enjoy it and I hope that your Lent has been fruitful so far. May God continue to bless your prayer and your work!
Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent – Cycle C
I would guess that most of us here have had the experience of being on vacation where everything has been working out just perfect. Flights were on time, there was no traffic, the hotel was actually better than what the pictures in the advertisement showed it to be; the weather was perfect and you had just the right amount of time to do all of the things that you had set out to do without rushing through anything, which left you with just enough down time to relish all that you’ve enjoyed. It’s the kind of vacation that makes you think to yourself, “Man, I wish that we could just stay here forever.”
For me, it was a trip to Rome two years ago where I most experienced this feeling. I was traveling with a group of seminarians on a study tour through Rome and some of the surrounding areas. It was January, but the weather was all but perfect: Mostly sunny and about mid-60’s each day, which was just about perfect for walking through the city and seeing all of the sights. Ancient ruins, the great Basilicas and holy places, an audience with the Pope, some of my closest friends from the seminary, and, of course, incredible pastas and wine every night. You can probably imagine how much I desired to return home. In fact, I remember very clearly telling Fr. Denis, the rector of our seminary who was leading the trip, “You better hope that the weather turns bad before we have to leave, because if it doesn’t there’s no way that I’m going back to Indiana in January. I’ll stay here and join a band of gypsies if I have to.” Of course what I was saying was “It is good that we are here. I wish that we could stay here forever.”
Thus, I certainly wouldn’t blame Peter for his response to his experience on the mountain that we heard in today’s Gospel reading. You could imagine what it was like living in Israel in ancient times. There was no indoor plumbing or modern sewage system. There were no street cleaners or washing machines. For the most part, people walked around pretty dirty and for them that was normal. Thus, when Peter, James and John got a glimpse of the glory of God when Jesus was transfigured before them, and when they saw Moses and Elijah—the two great prophets of the Hebrew people—standing there with Jesus, it’s no surprise that Peter blurts out (even in his fear) “Lord, it is good that we are here. Let’s set up some tents and stay here.”
That’s a natural tendency for us, isn’t it? That once we’ve experienced an escape from the messiness of our daily lives we think it easier to throw all of that away and grasp onto what is in front of us: an experience of beauty, closeness with others, and joy. But soon, however, we realize that the experience that is in front of us cannot be contained and we find that what we thought was an escape was nothing more than a temporary reprieve.
Peter, James and John get that awakening. Peter wanted to build tents and stay on the mountain, but, as the Scriptures tell us, “he did not know what he was talking about.” This was an experience of Jesus, the Son of God, as someone wholly different from him—as someone completely beyond his grasp—yet Peter wanted to stuff him into a tent so as to keep that experience for himself and the other two.
Christ, for his part, wouldn’t allow that. Just as after his resurrection, when Mary Magdalene met him in the garden outside of the tomb, Jesus told her “Stop holding onto me. I have not yet ascended to my Father”; and when he told his disciples at his Ascension into heaven “Do not be sad, for I must go up so that I can send the Spirit to you,” so here Christ does not allow the apostles to hold onto the experience of his glory, but rather he directs them back down the mountain to take that experience to others. In other words, these experiences were meant to be permanent—at least, not in this world, anyway—but rather catalysts propelling them into the world to proclaim Christ’s glory.
Nevertheless, I believe that this experience of Christ’s transfiguration can be a model for us during Lent. Every year, the Church sets aside this time to be for us a “retreat” of sorts. During Lent we are called to take a serious look at our lives to see where we’ve been falling short in following the way that Jesus laid out for us. Even more so, however, we are being called by Jesus to this “mountaintop experience.” Through fasting and abstinence we leave off the messiness of our daily lives so as to follow Christ up the mountain. Thus detached from the world, we are freed to see him as he truly is in prayer. Having experienced Jesus as he truly is, we then come down the mountain—renewed and energized—to take this experience to our neighbors by witnessing what we’ve experienced both in words and in acts of love.
It starts with detachment. My brothers and sisters, we must learn to detach ourselves from the things of this world, otherwise we’ll never even make it up the mountain to experience Christ in a profound way. One way we do that, of course (I mean, aside from our fasting and abstinence), is through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Through it we commit ourselves not only to leaving off our sinful ways, which bind us to the world, but we step forward to encounter Christ in an intimate way, reconciling our hearts to his. My dear friends, if you have not celebrated this sacrament yet during Lent, I hope that you will make a commitment today to do so soon. Second only to an encounter with Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the best place for you to experience that deep, personal encounter with Christ in the person of the priest, to feel his love for you, and to receive his healing forgiveness that has the power to free you from whatever binds you to this world.
My brothers and sisters, if you’ve been afraid of returning to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or if you’ve just been apathetic about it, now is the time to face your fear or apathy and to follow Jesus’ call to meet him on the mountain, where he desires to reveal to you his glory and to hear, not only the words of the Father regarding him—“This is my chosen Son”—but also the words of the Father regarding yourselves: “You are my chosen son… you are my chosen daughter… and I love you.” If we can know that, my dear friends, then we won’t need the mountain any longer and on Easter Sunday we’ll rush down it proclaiming the joy that we celebrate even now: He is risen!
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 23rd & 24th, 2013