March 6, 2020

Christ the Cornerstone

Listening to Jesus on the Way of the Cross

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard: This is my beloved Son, hear him” (Mt 17:5).

The Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent (Mt 17:1-9) invites us to recognize Jesus as God’s beloved Son. It also challenges us to listen carefully to the word of God, and to actually hear what Jesus has to say to us.

Perhaps more than any other time in human history, listening to God’s word, his self-communication to us, is difficult. We have so many distractions, so many competing voices transmitted through so many diverse media from the moment we wake up in the morning until we retire at the end of the day. “This is my beloved Son, hear him” (Mt 17:5) is a wake-up call telling us to pay attention to what Jesus is saying to us.

St. Matthew’s account of the transfiguration tells the story of an epiphany, a manifestation of the presence and power of God in the midst of the ordinary world. He tells us that “Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him” (Mt 17:1-3).

For humble Jewish fishermen like Peter, James and John, the appearance of Moses and Elijah, combined with the dramatic change in their Lord’s appearance and the divine voice commanding that they hear God’s beloved Son, is an extraordinarily powerful experience. No wonder Peter wants to capture this moment and enshrine it in three sacred memorials!

But this is not Jesus’ intention. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus tells them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Mt 17:9). He is not interested in calling attention to himself in this way. Jesus is not a celebrity or a political figure who craves adulation or fame. He is a messenger from God, the eternal Word of God, who has come into our world—as one of us—to communicate by his words, by his example and by the sacrificial gift of his own flesh and blood that God loves us and forgives us.

The Father’s command to Peter, James and John (and to all of us) is simple: Hear him.

Are we listening? Or are we too distracted by the busyness of our lives, by the competing messages we receive all day long, or by our preoccupation with self-centered thoughts, fears and desires?

In the second reading for this Sunday (2 Tm 1:8b–10), St. Paul tells us that living the Gospel is not easy: “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God ” (2 Tm 1:8).

The words of Jesus are challenging. We are told to abandon self-interest and follow Jesus on the Via Crucis, the Way of the Cross. Are we listening? Or do we find it easier, and much less threatening, to hear the voices that tell us to seek our own comfort, our own interests, rather than accept our share of hardship for the sake of the Gospel?

Paul reminds us that the Way of the Cross is the way to everlasting life. “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Tm 1:9-10).

The road to life—to Gospel joy—is not designed by us (the easier, softer way). It’s the way of hardships made bearable by the grace of God through Jesus who walks with us every step of the way.

Like Jesus’ closest followers, we are understandably afraid of the demands placed on us by the Father’s command.

If we listen closely to Jesus with open minds and hearts, we will be changed. We will experience our own form of epiphany—recognizing God’s presence in our lives and in our world. No doubt, we will react as Matthew tells us the disciples did. When the disciples heard this, he says, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid” (Mt 17:7).

This Lent, we have the opportunity to turn off at least some of the noise-making distractions in our lives so that we can listen closely to Jesus. May the Holy Spirit guide us as we accept our share of life’s hardships and follow the Way of the Cross to Easter joy. †

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