March 10, 2017

Second Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis is the source of the first biblical reading for this weekend’s Mass. As its name implies, Genesis reveals the divine origin of life and God’s plan in the forming of the Hebrew race.

First and foremost, Genesis is a splendidly vivid revelation of God’s majesty and power, but also of the dignity of humanity and purpose of life. It is a great pity that this marvelous book has been so tortured and misconstrued by well-meaning but uninformed readers over the years. The message of Genesis is not just about the details of how creation occurred.

This weekend’s reading is about Abraham. Considered by scholars to have been an actual person and not a myth, Abraham is regarded as the father of the Jewish people.

The reading makes several points. God is active in human affairs, and humans and God communicate with each other.

Abraham has a strong faith. God rewards this faith by pledging that Abraham’s descendants will be God’s special people until the end of time. But it is not a dignity conferred without obligation. Abraham’s descendants must be faithful to God and reveal God to the world by their lives of faith.

For its second reading, this weekend’s liturgy presents a passage from St. Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy.

Timothy was a disciple of Paul. The Church venerates Timothy as a great saint who was important in the formation of Christianity. According to the New Testament, Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a devout Jewish mother. He was Paul’s secretary at one point and once was imprisoned with the Apostle, although eventually released. Tradition holds that Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus, then a major city, its present ruins being on the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey.

Paul encourages Timothy to be strong in his Christian faith despite difficulties and obstacles.

St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, ablaze with symbols of God with which any Jew instantly would have been familiar, as these images appear throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, which we know as the Old Testament.

In these Scriptures, brilliant light, mountaintops, and pure white all symbolized God. Finally, surrounding Jesus were Moses and Elijah, the great heroes of the Hebrew religious tradition.

This scene utterly contrasts with that of Calvary. Instead of shimmering clothes, Jesus is crucified after being stripped of his garments. Instead of glowing clouds and brilliant light, gloom and darkness surround the cross.

Reflection

Lent is little more than one week along, and already the Church is encouraging us and reinforcing our faith, just as Jesus strengthened the faith of the Apostles who stood trembling and in dismay when his divinity was manifested on the mountain.

The message is clear. Jesus is God, active and present among us.

In order to be saved, however, we must believe, and in our belief we must commit our very lives to Christ. So Abraham is critically a part of this weekend’s lesson as an example.

Nowhere in these readings is any account of the crucifixion, no reference to Calvary. Nevertheless, the event of the Lord’s death on the cross is essential to understanding fully this weekend’s message.

Calvary represents the world. It was for a moment, seemingly, the triumph of earthly power and human sin over good. Certainly, the enemies of Jesus saw the crucifixion as their victory. Jesus died, but then came the wonder of Easter.

Every human being can be tricked into assuming that earthly things or earthly satisfaction will bring them reward. Instead of reward, sin brings death. All around it is gloom and darkness.

So the Church counsels us to have faith, see beyond the gloom and rejoice in the light of Jesus. Remember his transfiguration, and remember Abraham, our model of absolute faith. Remember the true reward in life. †

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