February 22, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis is the source of the first reading. It is a story about Abraham, whom the Jews regard as the father of their race. In addition, Abraham is seen as the spiritual father of all who know and honor the one God, hence he is a special figure in the religious traditions of Christians and Muslims.

Scholars believe that Abraham was an actual person. He is not the figment of imagination, nor a figure constructed in some literary effort. He actually lived.

Several points are important in hearing, or reading, this passage. The first is that God communicates with Abraham, so God is in Abraham’s world. God, however, is above and beyond Abraham’s world. So Abraham does not relate to God as if God were an equal.

Requiring Abraham to sacrifice an offering, God establishes both the divine distance from humans and the divine intimacy with humans. Humans must acknowledge God’s supremacy, and so they offer sacrifice. Yet, God is with them.

Abraham himself is human. He is vulnerable. The sun sets. He is terrified. Without God, he is at risk, powerless before the elements, helpless before whatever might come. Not only does God protect Abraham but gives him, and his descendants, the security of a land of their own when possession of land was the only genuine safeguard.

The second reading is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Philippi was one of those cities, Greek by background, its name honoring the father of Alexander the Great, in which a Christian community had formed. Paul wrote to these early Christians to give them direction and encouragement. His encouragement and guidance rested solely in Jesus, so he expanded the Philippians’ knowledge of Jesus. He challenged them to be more loyal and fervent disciples.

St. Paul says in this reading that human beings are imperfect, even without their willful sinning. Human bodies are “lowly,” the Apostle declares. Christ elevates and restores humans. In Jesus, by the grace of God, human beings never die if they earnestly follow the Lord.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading, Luke’s brilliant and powerful story of the Transfiguration, a story found also in Mark and Matthew. Certain terms were highly meaningful to the Jews who first heard this story. Brightness was a symbol of divinity. So was the cloud. Standing between the great prophets, Jesus appears thoroughly rooted in the long tradition of God’s care, direction and protection in relationship with the Chosen People.

It all signals the eternality and sublimity of God—now reposing in the Lord.

Peter, James and John were with Jesus. They knew Jesus. They interacted with Jesus. They certainly saw the human characteristics of Jesus. Yet in this situation, they saw the divinity of Jesus because the Lord showed them this divinity. On their own, they were unable to see it.

Reflection

We progress in Lent. The Church offers us several important lessons to strengthen us in our Lenten resolve, and ultimately in our Christian commitment.

Before truly learning anything about Jesus, before fully absorbing the meaning of the Transfiguration, we must come to the basic conclusion that we humans are limited, even though coming to this conviction is difficult. It is a flaw that settled upon human nature with Original Sin. In our human limitation, we are shortsighted, even blind very often. Ultimately, no human escapes the final limitation. We all shall die.

God does not leave us, as God never left Abraham. God is neither distant nor impersonal. He comes to us in Jesus. He loves us in Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is our only hope, our only access to true and eternal life. God reveals the wonder of divine love in Jesus.

Do we respond? Lent is the opportunity to ponder and to respond. †

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