2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Here we are starting the second week of Lent and Jesus is taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain and transfiguring before them. Why? I mean, we're fasting and praying and giving alms, preparing ourselves for Easter, and we get the Gospel reading for the Transfiguration. Shouldn't we be hearing something about sacrifice or persecution or maybe even going out into the wilderness to be alone with God right about now? Where's the encouragement to persevere in our Lenten disciplines? Where's the exhortation to shed the Old Self in the desert and put on Christ at Easter? Where're the warnings not to succumb to the Devil's temptations? Yes, for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, we get the gospel for the Transfiguration and the story of Abraham and Isaac. Odd pairing. Unless you read them in light of the Father keeping His promises to His people. And what better encouragement can we get during Lent than two accounts of the Father's kept promises? Two accounts of how it all ends for His faithful? For his obedience, Abraham is given “descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore,” and the disciples are shown – in the transfigured Christ – what the faithful will be after their death and resurrection: glorified by God, utterly changed in His eternal presence. All in all, excellent readings for Lent!
What is the essential habit to practice to have a spiritually fruitful Lent? I can think of several good candidates: perseverance, fortitude, patience, hope. All of these require a certain amount of self-control and the virtue of happy-waiting. Maybe: prudence, selflessness, certainly humility. These bring us closer to God by denying the Self what it thinks is its central place in the universe. Also helpful: gratitude, surrender, and courage. All essential elements in our striving to grow in holiness. All good answers. But I think our OT and Gospel readings are pointing us toward a more fundamental habit necessary for a productive Lent; namely, obedience. Now, to most 21st c. American ears obedience sounds harsh, oppressive, freedom-denying, even fascistic. Robots and slaves are obedient. Tyrants want obedient subjects. We've spent the better part of the last 400 years in the West redefining concepts like freedom, liberty, choice so that they mean precisely what we need to mean. We've redefined obedience into an ugly external imposition on our ability to choose whatever we want. Obedience prevents us from becoming who we choose to be. With faith in God, trusting absolutely in His promises, and working toward our supernatural end with the HS – to be with Him eternally – obedience is the key to flourishing in this Lenten desert.
Abraham and Isaac go up Mt. Moriah. Jesus and the disciples go up Mt. Tabor. God has ordered Abraham under obedience to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Jesus, soon to be sacrificed on the Cross in obedience to his Father, reveals his glorified body to Peter, James, and John. Every one of these men is moved to obey b/c of their trust in God's promises. Abraham's obedience is rewarded with descendants as numerous as the stars. The disciples are rewarded with a vision of God's glory in heaven. Notice: they obey w/o knowing that their obedience will be rewarded. They freely choose to obey; that is, knowing that they each have a purpose to fulfill, they each willingly move themselves toward the Good, the Best for themselves – obeying God to be closer to God. Their obedience requires a host of helping-virtues: courage, patience, humility, surrender. But none of these will move them closer to God than obedience. Why? B/c moving ourselves as God wills requires us to trust Him, to hold firm in our hearts and minds that He will not will anything directly harmful or hurtful for us. Even though we cannot see the full consequences of our obedience to God's will, we trust that He will make the best possible Good flourish from our actions. We know that God is Love and that He wills only Love. Knowing this, believing this, obeying His will for us can only produce the love we need to thrive.
And we need to thrive during these Lenten days. If we choose to see our Lenten disciplines as movements toward God in trust, then how much better will they be for our growth in holiness? Rather than seeing fasting, prayer, and alms giving as punishments for sin or as deprivations from good things, choose to see them as ways of showing your trust in God's will for your good. We could spend days talking about how each of these disciplines is good for us. But it is far more productive to simply lay your trust on the altar and give it to God; place your faith at His feet and place yourself in His hands. This is not obedience out of fear. Obedience from coercion. Or obedience for reward. This is listening closely to the Word. Discerning your supernatural purpose in the Word. And moving your body and soul toward the Best our Father has waiting for you. At the end of Lent, obeying God as a loving son or daughter, you can emerge unburdened, freer than you have ever been, cleansed of all attachments, and struck in wonder at the freedom of it all. Easter is the ultimate fulfillment of God's promises. Make your Lent a daily exercise in obedience. Freely choose to take on His most holy will.