27 February 2010

Second Sunday of Lent (Ordinary Form)

First Reading, Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Abram, who would later be called Abraham, is known as the “Father of Faith”.

In this Reading, God makes a covenant with Abram which promises descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky as well as a possession of land. Notice the similarities with this Reading and the Annunciation story (Luke 1:26-38). God's covenant with Abram would play a part in the Almighty's Divine plan of what would be many, many years of salvation history leading up to the New and Everlasting Covenant which was proposed to Mary by the angel Gabriel. Both Abram and Mary trusted in the Lord and accepted His will for them. Abram and Mary both ask how their respective covenants will take place and in neither case is the question to be understood as a question of doubt, but merely an inquiry as to how the events will come to light. Both covenants begin with an unlikely birth. Abram's wife Sarai (Sarah) was barren but gave birth to Isaac; and Mary, who of course, was a Virgin, gave birth to Jesus.

The birds of prey which swooped down on the carcasses may have been instigated by the evil one since it is a certainty that God's covenant with Abram would not be in the devil's best interest since it would eventually lead to the salvation of humanity by Christ's Sacrifice.

A trance fell upon Abram which was probably, as termed in mystical theology, an ecstasy in which Abram would have been informed of some of the eventual occurrences in salvation history. A vision of Israel's oppression, being kept in bondage by Egypt may account for the terrifying darkness which enveloped Abram; and more than likely he would've also seen that it would be four hundred years of captivity before the Promised Land is gained.

The flaming torch which passes between the split pieces of the sacrifice is a symbol of the Divinity. Abram also would have passed through it which is a sign that the covenant has been ratified.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:17---4:1
Saint Paul's reference to those who are occupied with earthly things could almost make one believe in our age of secularism that this letter was written recently instead of nearly two thousand years ago. Paul does write, however, that he is in tears for those who are enemies of the Cross of Christ. This is a lesson for us to love and continually pray for those who have chosen similar paths of destruction.

For the season of Lent, this is a great letter to remind ourselves of our commitment and re-commitment to serving Christ. We have so much to look forward to. Our citizenship is in heaven; therefore, our lowly bodies will be changed to conform to Christ's glorified Body. Even now, we are witnesses and living examples of the spiritual transformation that occurs when committed to Christ. Saint Paul is an outstanding example of this; a former enemy of the Cross who would end up shedding tears for those who remained that way; a former persecutor of the Church who would be persecuted for tirelessly laboring for the Church; a man who knew how to hate but his conversion would have him loving even those who arrested and beat him.

Saint Paul's example demonstrates that being fully committed to Christ doesn't guarantee an easy life, but those who carry their cross with Christ have a sense of peace no matter how heavy that cross may become. This letter to the Philippians is a love letter encouraging us all to stand firm in the Lord.

Gospel, Luke 9:28b-36
During Lent we are encouraged to make prayer a primary endeavor which hopefully will lead to a lifelong priority. The Venerable Bede points out that since Christ ascended the mountain both to pray and be Transfigured, it is a lesson to us that we must dwell in heaven by our thoughts and apply our minds to continual prayer. Anyone who is serious about the spiritual life could at any moment have Jesus take them up the spiritual mountain, the higher rungs of the spiritual ladder. The psalmist writes: "Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord; or who shall stand in His holy place?" (Psalm 23 [24]:3).

Saint Peter proclaims: "Master, it is good that we are here." Indeed, but being there could also be spiritually painful for human creatures as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux explains: "If sometimes a poor mortal feels that heavenly joy for a rapturous moment, then this wretched life envies his happiness, the malice of daily trifles disturbs him, this body of death weighs him down, the needs of the flesh are imperative, the weakness of corruption fails him, and above all brotherly love calls him back to duty. Alas! That voice summons him to re-enter his own round of existence." This is when love bursts through the boundaries of human love and enters the realm of celestial love.

The figures of Moses and Elijah, who have already traveled the journey of this life, now see what they longed to see in mortal life, a privilege that is given here in this Gospel to Peter, James and John. These three disciples and the mystics of the Church have experienced love at a frightening level -- frightening because it is far beyond the limits of the human experience. It also introduces a different aspect of human suffering beyond the usual physical infirmities and mental stress that we usually associate with suffering; and considering heightened love as a form of suffering while applying it to what the Church teaches about redemptive suffering can take the entire subject to a transfiguring level. On a more comprehensible level, virtually every human person within the age of at least semi-self sufficiency has had some experience with “loving until it hurts”; it most often comes in parental love, spousal love or perhaps being the offspring of a suffering parent.

The figures of Moses and Elijah also represent the Law and the Prophets; and, of course, Jesus is the fulfillment of both. The Catechism of the Catholic Church adds: "Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled Face of Him Whom they sought; the light of the knowledge of the glory of God shines in the Face of Christ, crucified and risen" (CCC 2583). Saint Cyril explains that Moses and Elijah conversing with our Lord reveals that Jesus is also the Lord of the Old Testament.

Poor Peter, so overwhelmed, asks to make three tents. The reason he did not know what he was saying is that he was proposing to place Jesus on an equal level with Moses and Elijah. That is to say, he was improperly ranking together the Lord of all with His servants; or another way of putting it is that Peter was mistakenly identifying the Creator and His creation as equals. Peter, of course, was not intentionally doing this; he was just caught up in the moment and scared. Another reason has to do with getting a taste of heaven. Nicholas Kempf in his Expositiones Mysticæ Cantica Canticorum, wrote: “When hearts have been moved to jubilation of this sort, the things that result within the spirit cannot be put into conventional and customary words. Just as people drunk with wine lose the ability to talk in a normal fashion, so the bride drunk with sober intoxication speaks in a way intelligible not to anyone and everyone, but only to lovers loving in a similar way. So too, after tasting the sweetness of glory, Peter did not know what he was saying.” Thomas à Kempis is quite clear about Christ's singular exaltedness as he writes in the “Imitation of Christ”: “Thou alone the Most Exalted and Most Glorious above all things!”

A Voice is heard from a cloud saying: “This is My chosen Son; listen to Him.” Once again, just like at the Baptism of Jesus, the Father reveals the Son. The text goes on to explain that once the Voice of the Father had spoken, Moses and Elijah had vanished; only Jesus remained. Perhaps this occurred so that there can be no misunderstanding as to which of the three the Father proclaimed to be His Son.

The Transfiguration manifests the Divinity of Jesus. It also provides us with a preview of our glorious future, a future of eternal joy and peace, a future of forever beholding our Lord's Face, a future and eternity in our heavenly homeland.