2nd Sunday of Lent – Cycle A
Gen 12:1-4a, Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22, 2 Tim 1:8b-10, Gospel: Matt 17:1-9
The last time we spoke together was during Ordinary time and we were reflecting on the need to know the Law, and to use our conscience to decide how to act rightly in God’s eyes. The analogy that I used last time was that of climbing in the mountains, of having a Map (the Law) and a Compass (a Conscience).
When I am backpacking with a large group in the wilderness there can be times where there are too many of us to travel together, our groups become too big and unwieldy, and so what we do is we get together in the morning and split up into small groups. Before we set out for the day we establish a “rally point” – that is a destination where we will all meet up at the end of the day, then we head out and all make it as best we can through the day.
In a way, the readings today point us to a rally point, they teach us where we are going. The Church does this here in the second week of Lent because by now we have had enough of Lent to allow the enthusiasm for our spiritual disciplines to begin to wear thin, and we are beginning to realize that we are in this for the long haul. It is like climbing the second 1000 feet of a tall mountain, it is time to hunker down and climb, or give up and go home. This is the time during Lent when we begin to look for excuses to quit them and get back to life as “normal”. The readings point out to us the way that we are on, and the destination to which God is leading us. Let’s go through them and see how they can encourage us on our journey this Lent.
Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving should lead us to God’s love
The Lenten disciplines of Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving have the goal of helping us to grow closer to God, so that when Easter comes we can better appreciate, better celebrate God’s love. That is why we have the discipline of Lent – we are here to learn more about God’s love, to live God’s love and to share God’s love.
The thrust of the Lenten disciplines is to get us outside of ourselves, to help us to become more like Christ, to better imitate his actions and his spirituality in our own lives. Christ came and witnessed to us sacrificial love, it was a love founded in the truth of where our relationship is at, but a love that was always willing to be open to the other, to engage the other and invite the other back into a relationship with God and with the truth.
The readings today teach us that the three Lenten disciplines – Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving are designed to help us to better imitate the love of Christ.
The First Reading – Prayer – To Listen and to Act
The first reading is from the book of Genesis that is the first book of the Bible. In a certain sense the first reading takes us back to the beginning and shows us where we have come from because we are all sons and daughters of the hero of the first reading who is Abraham. Abraham is the Father of all of the faithful. In Genesis we meet Abraham before God has changed his name, and he is known as Abram. God calls Abram and leads him from the land of his family and lead him to a new land, a new place that God will show him. God also makes Abram a promise – if you do this you will become a source of blessing for the world. In essence God is saying to Abraham that I will bless the world through your family, through you.
Abram had to listen in prayer
What had to happen for Abraham to discover this gift that God wanted to give him? What did Abraham have to do to understand God’s will for him? He had to listen with prayer, Abram had to be willing to listen to hear the voice of God.
The first Lenten discipline is prayer – It is taking time to get to know God more deeply, more intimately during Lent. The goal of prayer is to draw us into a more intimate and loving friendship with God. We are invited by the Church to spend the next 4 weeks getting to know God better so that when Easter arrives, our celebration will be that much more filled with Joy and Thanksgiving at the wonder of God’s love.
We have many opportunities for prayer here in the parish this lent – for example, Adoration on Thursdays or praying the Stations of the Cross on Fridays. They are opportunities for us to enter into our relationship with God more deeply.
Prayer alone is not enough – I have to respond to God.
Those of us who have been married long enough are aware of a trap that ultimately stymies our relationships – I call it YesDearItis. It is when we hear our spouse, but we are not really listening to them. Our answers become automatic – we say “Yes Dear” hearing the words that are being said but not listening to the heart of our spouse. Does our prayer life suffer from “YesDearItis”?
When we are Faithful and Obedient we become the source of God’s Blessing to the World.
The reason why Abram is the Father of the Faithful, and the one through whom God pours out his blessings on us is not because he prayed, but because he listened in his heart to God and then responded to God with his actions. He was faithful to God, and Obedient to God. Obedience and faithfulness are the sources of God’s blessing in our lives and through our lives into the world.
We are created to be the vessels through which God pours out His blessing into the world.
- How willing are we to listen to God?
- How willing are we to be the channel of God’s blessing?
Prayer makes us aware of our disobedience and our unfaithfulness
We are able to be the channel of God’s blessing in as much as we are obedient and faithful to God.
- What are the areas of our lives that are disobedient?
- What are the areas of our lives that are unfaithful?
These are the areas of our life that interfere with God’s plan to show His love the world. Prayer is critical because makes us aware of the obstacles that we have that are obstacles to God’s love.
Confession is an honest dialog with God seeking His forgiveness
Confession not so much a “Get out of Hell Free” card, and more about having an honest and open dialog with God. In confession we recognize the problems in our relationship with God and receive the gift of God’s forgiveness and love. God’s graces help us to change so that we die to our sins and remove the obstructions in our lives to God’s love. In truth we are created for relationship with God and with one another, and in Confession we have the opportunity to address the problems in those areas, and to open ourselves up to be healed.
How do we address these obstacles?
- Confession and Penance
Fasting is not about needless suffering
Often times people remember that Lent is the season where we “give something up” – Why do we do that? Do we as Catholics believe that there is not enough suffering in the world, in our worlds, and so to help “balance” things out we need to add some more suffering of our own? Is that what is really going on here?
Lent is not about embracing needless suffering. It is not about giving up candy so you can gorge yourself at Easter – it is about taking up your cross daily and following after Christ.
Suffering is not punishment, Fasting is not punishment
It is very easy to fall into the trap that suffering means punishment. If we have this perspective then at its heart we have a fundamental hatred of self. It is coming from an attitude that I have done something wrong and I need to be punished for my actions. If we are approaching Lent with this attitude then I am here to challenge us to stop. God is a God of love, and he calls us, he invites us into a relationship of love. God is not sitting in heaven with his spiritual radar gun handing out fines for driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
There are two spiritual benefits to fasting; to imitate the love of Christ and to make space in our lives for Christ.
The first benefit of fasting is that it allows us to imitate the love of Christ, to love the other more than I love myself. The witness of the Crucifixion is that Christ loves me so much that he is willing to suffer, to endure hardship for me.
What have I given up for lent? Facebook? Chocolate? Coffee? Coca-cola? Ice cream? Computer Games?
How does my surrender to these things teach me about sacrificial love?
Fasting leads us to practice sacrificial love.
Fasting from things during Lent provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our relationships with one another. It is a way of resetting our spiritual life and pointing it back towards God. It is a way of reminding ourselves that God and our sisters and brothers are more important than what we have given up.
Fasting is a way of resetting my spiritual life and pointing it more closely towards God.
Fasting creates space for Spiritual Pursuits
The second benefit to fasting is that it creates space for spiritual pursuits. It does us no good to give up video games for Lent only to fill that time with movies, or work. Instead of facebooking I have time to visit with those in need, Instead of Call of Duty I have time to learn about God by reading scripture, or about the lives of the saints, in dealing with my cravings for ice-cream I can interceded for those in need, for those who are really suffering from loss – those who are divorced, widowed, who have suffered abuse.
Fasting teaches us to rely on God
A benefit of fasting is that it teaches us to depend on God, to rely on the strength to persevere in our fasting with the strength that comes from God. As St. Paul says to Timothy, “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” Fasting teaches us to rely on God rather than ourselves. In this way fasting serves as a stepping stone – if I can learn to rely on God in this simple fast, then how much more can I rely on God when I am in a bigger crisis?
Fasting Prepares us for a Holy Life
Fasting also prepares us for a holy life, as St. Paul says, the reason why we are Christians is that Christ has “saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design.” The secret to living a Holy life is not that I do it of my own free will, but rather that I cooperate with God’s grace. It is God’s desire that I lead a happy, holy life, do I seek to live out the Gospel? Do I seek to share the love of Christ with others?
Like the first reading Paul’s second letter to Timothy drives home the point that God has chosen us from the beginning of time to be the ones through whom God is bringing his salvation, the witness of His love into the world. Are we living our lives with this kind of idea in our hearts? How do we respond to the dismissal of the Mass – “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord!” Will we shy away, or will we take the lesson of fasting and rely on God’s grace to shine through our actions this week?
In the Gospel Christ Shares his Divinity with us through his humanity.
The Gospel today is one of those passages that reveals God’s generosity. The generosity that is revealed in the Gospel is the generosity of God’s love. Jesus wants to share with his three closest friends the heart of his nature – his divinity. The Lord wants to do this for many reasons, but there are two that I would like us to reflect on today, For Generosity and for Courage.
When Peter, James and John get to the top of the Mountain Christ’s divinity is revealed, and the Apostles develop an understanding of Christ that is beyond what they had imagined, their friend is God himself. Jesus is giving this gift to Peter, James and John because he know what is coming up, the passion and death and resurrection. He wants Peter, James and John to have this experience in the depths of their hearts as a touch-stone that they can come back to when they face difficulties in the years ahead.
How do we respond when God gives us a great gift?
When we are given a great gift we respond with thanksgiving, with action. Peter’s response to this profound reality is action – it is in Peter’s heart to act when he witnesses God’s presence. His suggestion is to make a memorial (“Let us make tents”) – to fix this experience in a physical way in his heart. Then God the Father speaks to Peter and tells him how to memorialize this day when he says “This is my beloved Son, listen to Him”.
Almsgiving – To Share in God’s Generosity
We respond to God’s generosity by imitating it, which is why we have the Lenten practice of Almsgiving. The goal of Almsgiving is to grow within our heart a generosity that imitates the generosity of God who was so generous as to enter into our lives and share them with us. My challenge to you is for the rest of Lent is to increase your almsgiving by 50%. What did you give to the poor last week? Is there a way that I can trim back some luxuries in my life for the next 4 weeks and give a little more. (If I was a salesman I would point out that I have already given you a 33% discount on this invitation by waiting until after the first 2 weeks of lent to propose it). Almsgiving is about learning to imitate the generosity of God, who gave everything to us so that we could share in his life.
Generosity / Almsgiving has the ability to open our hearts to an awareness of the gifts that God has given to us. Before you give alms, take a moment and consider the many good things that God has given to you – Health, Family, Friends, Faith, Stable Work, what ever. And then as a way of saying thank you – of sharing God’s blessings with others. It is not the act of writing a check, or of handing out cash – but rather the act of recognizing God’s blessings in our lives and then responding to His gifts.
The Gospel summarizes the Lenten Practices
The Gospel is really a summary of all of our Lenten practices. In the Gospel Christ discusses the cross (fasting) – sacrificial love with Moses and Elijah, He listens to the Father affirm his vocation, his mission (prayer), and he shares his divinity with Peter, James and John (almsgiving).
Imitate Christ and be a blessing for the world
Our challenge this week is to imitate Christ in the Gospel by pursuing our Lenten disciplines because in that way we become like Abraham – the ones through whom God is revealing his love to the world.