Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Second Sunday in Lent


February 24, 2013
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36

Scripture opens this week with the Lord God taking Abram outside to look up at the sky and count the innumerable stars as a promise of Abram’s many descendants. It is like a perfect postcard moment when one can imagine the mentor-God gently placing his arm around Abram, whispering in a tender voice, “the future is yours because you are my beloved chosen one.” Gazing up at the sky on a warm night remains fascinating and Abram had this reminder of God’s commitment to him whenever the sun faded from the day.

            As Abram prepares the sacrificial offering, he stays awake to fend off the birds of prey, but sleep overtakes him and he iss semi-conscious. In his trance-like state, Abram sees a torch pass between each offering and the Lord makes a covenant with him giving his descendants possession of the land from the great valley in Egypt to the fertile rivers in modern-day Baghdad as a blessing.

            Jesus goes up the mountain to pray with Peter, James, and John and he re-enacts the actions of Moses. When Moses comes down from the mountain, the nature of his face is changed; as Jesus prays, his face changes in appearance and his clothing becomes dazzling white by being in the presence of God. This is reminiscent of Daniels’ vision of God enthroned in majesty. Moses and Elijah are seen talking to Jesus giving us indication that Jesus is more important than the Law and the prophets. The two leaders of Israel’s traditions disappear and Jesus alone remains.

The crucial message Moses and Elijah bring to Jesus concerns his “exodus” that he is going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Through God’s intervention, Moses leads the displaced Israelites nation out of bondage to become a new, prosperous nation thus fulfilling the covenant with Abram. Their descendants will be as numerous as the stars and they will return to the land promised to them generations before. The new exodus Jesus leads is even greater for he will deliver the people from their sins. Jesus fulfills the covenant given to Abram and he becomes the new Moses who leads the world to salvation. Jesus is the ultimate chosen one.

Abram cannot stay awake; nor can Peter, James, and John. They see the transfigured Jesus with Moses and Elijah only to realize a new covenant is being made through the person of Jesus. The glory of the Lord is able to shine through him. He becomes the burning, unconsumed bush that dialogued with Moses, once more showing that he is the greater one because he is the one who is speaking just as the bush spoke.

Peter, speaking for the others, declares he will make three tents, thus conjuring up images from the feast of Tabernacles, which brings to mind the Israelites temporary abodes in the Sinai desert. There is no mistake that the Exodus story is called to mind. A cloud comes to cast a shadow over them and they are terrified as they enter the cloud – that is, the mystery of God. Abram likewise is frightened as a deep terrifying darkness envelopes him. There is no mistake that this event brings to mind the giving of the covenant to Abram. Jesus stands alone as the gift of the new covenant to the Israelites.

We don’t carry the same proximate cultural heritage that the biblical people did because we have our own set of Christian cultural holidays. Our faith adapted to event we find meaningful in our societies. It is helpful for us to learn our Christian and Jewish traditions in order to understand the invisible backdrop that is not always obvious to us. When we do that, we become enriched and we seek more information. Education is key to our progress in all spheres of our lives.

These passages also teach us about the necessity to respect the unconscious world. Abram and the disciples of Jesus had revelations from God when they were in a semi-conscious state. To believe in these experiences is a matter of trust. A deeply spiritual person learns to pay attention to what the unconscious world says to them because it is the place where profound truths are communicated. It is a place where human logic does not interfere with the messages being conveyed. This is the place where the still small voice can be heard with utter clarity to the one who acknowledges its primacy of place.

Finally, these passages point us to the mystery of God. How is it that we behold that which we cannot understand? Abram certainly wrestled with accepting the friendship of God and living up to the commitments of the promise. Peter, James, and John wrestled with the supernatural nature of Jesus and the manifestation of God to them. The manifestation is not one-sided though. God reached out his arm and brought Abram to his side. The closest friends of Jesus see that God gives Jesus to them as a gift because of his great affection for them and the hope for mutual friendship. Jesus is certainly beloved of God. The gift always represents the giver. God chooses to give his most prized creation, the human Jesus, to those whom he loves most. Jesus is a great gift to accept because it reveals the friendship God continuously offers to us. Still today, God reaches out to us, places his arm warmly on our shoulders, and bring us to his side. The invitation will always be offered.


Themes for this Week’s Masses

First Reading: In Sirach, Wisdom is introduced as one who existed before all other created things. Wisdom is created by the Most High, the all-powerful creator king, through the Holy Spirit. Sirach then speaks to a young man: “Stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials. Trust in God and God will help you.” Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes those who seek her. He who loves her loves life; those who seek her will be embraced by the Lord. The young man is counseled to not rely upon wealth and the strength of his body or mind. He is not to delay in his conversion to the Lord, but must learn to trust in him. Wisdom can be a faithful friend. Learn to distinguish between those who are acquaintances and those who are friends. A faithful one is beyond price. The Lord made humans in his own image and put the law and knowledge before them so they could avoid evil. He made humans to delight in them as they act justly and with mercy – the way God would.

Gospel: As Jesus came down the mountain with Peter, James, and John, they spotted a large crowd who surrounded a boy seized by a mute spirit. The disciples tried to heal him but were unsuccessful. The boy’s father cried out to Jesus, “if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” He later shouted out, “I do believe, help my unbelief.” When they left there for Galilee, he taught his disciples, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him and three days after his death, he will rise again.” When they arrived at Capernaum, he took a child and set him before them and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” His disciples told him that they saw someone driving out demons in his name. Jesus told them it is all right because whoever is not against them is for them. Anyone who causes harm to the little ones will be given a cruel fate. One has to learn to be pruned from anything that causes him to sin. Jesus came back to Judea and met with Pharisees who questioned him on divorce. Jesus replied that human laws made divorce so people could modify their commitments as they would like. Jesus asks for stronger commitments. When the people brought children to Jesus, the disciples tried to stop them, but Jesus allowed them to come visit him.

Saints of the Week

March 1: Katherine Drexel (1858-1955), was from a wealthy Philadelphian banking family and she and her two sisters inherited a great sum of money when her parents died. She joined the Sisters of Mercy and wanted to found her own order called the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament to work among the African and Native Americans. Her inheritance funded schools and missions throughout the South and on reservations. A heart attack in 1935 sent her into retirement.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      Feb 24, 1637. The death of Francis Pavone. Inflamed by his words and holy example, sixty members of a class of philosophy that he taught and the entire class of poetry embraced the religious state.
·      Feb 25, 1558. St Aloysius Gonzaga received tonsure at the Lateran basilica. Within the next month he would receive the minor orders.
·      Feb 26, 1611. The death of Antonio Possevino, sent by Pope Gregory XIII on many important embassies to Sweden, Russia, Poland, and Germany. In addition to founding colleges and seminaries in Cracow, Olmutz, Prague, Braunsberg, and Vilna, he found time to write 24 books.
·      Feb 27, 1767. Charles III banished the Society from Spain and seized its property.
·      Feb 28, 1957. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps began.
·      Mar 1, 1549. At Gandia, the opening of a college of the Society founded by St Francis Borgia.
·      Mar 2, 1606. The martyrdom in the Tower of London of St Nicholas Owen, a brother nicknamed "Little John." For 26 years he constructed hiding places for priests in homes throughout England. Despite severe torture he never revealed the location of these safe places.