Preparing for the homily this week, I was struck by the words of the Gospel in terms of their personal meaning for us. In fact, I was more than struck; it was as if I had been hit between the eyes. Because today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration is not just the story of the events that happened on that beautiful day but they also carry a personal message to each of us.
On Ash Wednesday, I talked to you about the need for a deep introspection, the need for an honest and deep recognition that many of the actions we take and the words that we utter are not Christ-like. Last Sunday, I offered a prescription for the Christian life — “Living Jesus”. Evaluating our actions and our words against the standard of whether we were Living Jesus.
Now I don’t know about you. But there are many reasons North Americans, Canadians and Europeans come to Panama. Some come because their savings will last longer in Panama. Some come because they are escaping something in their lives. Others come because they no longer believe in their governments. Others come because they seek a fresh start. Regardless of the reason, we have come to this gentle and beautiful country because we have the opportunity to start anew. Whether it’s to start anew the last chapter in our lives or whether it’s to start fresh as a younger person in a life that we dream or hope for. Whatever the reason, each of us, as we start something new, has the opportunity – if we choose to take it – to be transformed – to be changed – or, if you want to use the theme of today’s readings to see ourselves transfigured by shedding those things from our past that hold us back from Living Jesus.
There are some powerful lessons given in the readings of today as to how we can live that life. The first is obedience to the calling and the will of God. Abraham did not understand why he was being asked to sacrifice his son but he was prepared to. And so must we. Obedience to God is not blind but it is recognizing that we have been told how to live our lives and if, our love for God is great, then we strive every day to be obedient to his commands.
The second example lies in our second reading and the Gospel. Think about it for a moment. God spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, but he did not spare his own Son, instead he left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption. Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. “The Son of Man must suffer,” he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord’s response was instant and severe, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do” (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. No matter how dark the hour, we must have faith that whatever has occurred or will occur is not only God’s will but is done for a higher purpose. That is especially hard when we lose a loved one but our personal grief and loss must be eclipsed by the knowledge that the radiant love of God shines upon the one who has joined him and that person now knows a life that is the perfect peace, the perfect love. I am reminded of a story I once read. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Germany an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.
The third example lies in the love that God has for us. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in this morning’s second reading, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that second reading, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ Paul is declaring that if God’s love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.
And what is the essence of that love? Let’s turn to The Catechism of the Catholic Church. It teaches that charity is a theological virtue that is supernatural in origin, a gift of God’s grace, “by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” Charity, then, rooted in faith in Christ, is the love that comes from him, proceeds from the Holy Spirit, and takes root in our interior life, our heart (Rom 5:5). That love coming from God, who first loved us by pouring himself out for us in the cross of Christ, should open our heart to the love of all men and women, desiring for them the same divine good, the same eternal life. If my actions toward my neighbor are animated and inspired by love, we can understand why “the love of Christ compels us (to love our neighbor), because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore, all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who, for their sake, died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:14-15).
Thus, today’s readings give us another message of Lent – another message of preparing us so that we can be Living Jesus. Fist to be obedient the words of God; second, that we must believe and have faith that, in all things, the love of God will ultimately prevail whether we can see it today or not and finally that our love of God and gratitude for that son should be exemplified by our daily living of charity. We must love our neighbor as we love our God – that our neighbor’s needs are our needs, that we do not live for ourselves any more, we live for Him who dies for us, and His blood and His suffering should wash over us to teach us that our lives must be lived for Him and not for us By living our lives for Him, we too can be transfigured into the children of God that He wants for all of us.