Homily: The Inspiration to Move On
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18 Romans 8:31-34 Mark 9:2-10
This Second Sunday of Lent we continue with our parish theme of ‘Repent and Believe in the Gospel’. This Sunday, our theme is ‘Listen’.
The First Reading and the Gospel for our liturgy today present us with two other experiences of liturgy, in a way. In both, there is a going up, a preparation or calling together, a central act of faith, a “Word of God”, a surprising revelation of the “real presence of God, and a going onward.
We hear first of the story of Abraham’s being tested by God. He is called to take his only son, Isaac, to a distant place and sacrifice him by the knife and then burning him on an altar which Isaac would help build.
Abraham takes his son who helps carry the fire and the wood and off they go in a journey of trust. Upon arrival at a divinely-pointed-out hill, the overwhelming deed is set in motion, no questions asked, except by Isaac who asks about the lamb to be slain.
At the very point of Isaac about to be stabbed with the knife, who has been bound and placed on the altar, the voice of the Lord’s messenger calls to Abraham and saves his son. Abraham is named the ‘Father of Faith’ and a promise is then made that, as he continues living in faith, his descendants who will increase through this same Isaac, and will flourish and possess a land of blessing.
The Gospel presents us with the “Transfiguration”. Peter, James and John go up a hill course, themselves.
Jesus is glorified and transfigured. Moses and Elijah are present and the “voice” of Jesus’ baptism again ordains Him as “My beloved Son.” The terrified and bewildered trio is encouraged to “Listen to Him.”
Then, there they are, just the four of them again and nobody else, no other sounds. They leave with this experience and their questions about what all this was about. They are charged also not to speak about it until the “rising from the dead”, and they did not understand this either, but they kept on walking back down from this hill where they experienced such intimacy.
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Most of us Catholics orient our lives, in varying degrees, toward and away from the Eucharistic liturgy. We try also to be women and men who pray, even though that means different things to each of us. Abraham and Isaac have an extreme close call with God. Peter, James and John experience an unusual coming together and a communion. All five go off into the regular, back-down-the-hill living of their lives. Their faith seems to be strengthened, but at the same time their understanding seems to experience befuddlement. They would naturally be asking themselves about the “realness” of what had just happened.
In fact, for the disciples, the journey takes an abrupt turn, as Jesus, because of his vision, turns away from His ministry of healing in Galilee, and now goes immediately to Judea, Jerusalem and the Cross. That is often the real message; sometimes after prayer and interaction with God, we reevaluate of lives and course it is taking. Then we set out in another direction.
One of the great joys of human intimacy is that it goes beyond reason. I regularly ask couples whom I am preparing for marriage, “Why do you love him or her?” The relationships I trust the most are those who fumble around for words that might express some good reasons. Love is not reasonable. When there are many verbal reasons, I suspect this may be a transaction and not a transfiguration.
Devotion, prayer, liturgy are such calls to simple and honest closeness, that to try to figure it out flattens it out into a practice rather than a delight.
As with Abraham, Isaac, Peter, James and John, we go toward a time of being met by the Holy, given something special by the encouragement and comfort of God’s presence and then sent away, but always the little question, “Was that really real?” “Was I talking to myself, comforting myself, judging myself?” Intimacy does not lead to comprehending, but to the sending, the living, the transfiguring, or changing, because we are so loved.
I love celebrating the Eucharist; for so many reasons, but the very prime reason is that it defies adequate intellectual explanation and I love that freedom from the factual, the scientific, the demand of my arrogant mind. The Eucharist is more than a transfiguration; it is a total transformation from a something to a Somebody. And that Somebody changes the other somebodies who gather around the Holy Place in a way that is not only unexplainable, but real.
The more we allow Jesus to come closer to us and within us, the more we, individually and as a believing, serving community, are transfigured and re-presented to the world. The world cannot adequately explain our living as His New and Real Presence. We will never know if our prayer was real.
Abraham is our Father of Faith and our brothers of faith walked down that hill with questions, doubts and wonderings about what in Heaven’s Name all that was about?
Questions don’t dampen faith; they can spur us on to deeper answers, especially about the purpose of our life. Living the faith is the proof of intimacy, just as living out married love intensifies the leap of love. And both are risks well worth taking. Larry Gillick S.J. Creighton University