Second Sunday of Lent at Gethsemani Abbey
Scripture Readings: Gen 12:1-4; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Mt 17:1-9
Last Sunday Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert. Today, Jesus leads us and the entire Church to a high mountain. Our life as disciples of Jesus is lived in the desert but oriented to the mountain.
Our whole life, as Saint Benedict says to us monks, is a Lent, and as the liturgical season of Lent leads us to the glory and joy of Easter Sunday, so our life as discipleships, “bearing our share of hardships for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God,” issues in the glorious freedom of the Children of God. The goal is our own transfiguration, not in isolation but in communion, our lowly bodies transformed into images of his glorious body. This Easter of our own transformation in Christ: it is, as Paul so memorably says in our second reading, God’s design for us before time began, the reason for our being.
Brothers and sisters, we live a story, a history, a drama, that the cameras of CNN and the commentators of NPR and the columnists of the NYT can never in a million images, words, or years capture and explain. Ours is the story of the Gospel, which is the destruction of death and the revelation of life and immortality in grace and in mercy. Ours is, as Paul says so simply, a holy life, holy and gracious even in the long interval of the desert we inhabit as we go.
No monk can hear the call of Abraham in our first reading without thinking of Abba Paphnutius. He is the Abba of John Cassian’s third Conference. Paphnutius talks about the three renunciations monks make. These correspond to the call of Abraham to leave country, kinfolk, and father’s house. The three renunciations are of possessions, of behaviors, and of affections. Paphnutius says that the first two are fairly easy; it is the third that is the real challenge: a renunciation in body alone, and a mere change of behavior and even of attitude, will do you no good at all, he says, if you do not succeed in achieving a renunciation of heart. He does not mean to renounce the heart’s affections, but rather, positively, to redirect those affections to, in the words of the first reading, “the land that I will show you.” The monk as a consecrated body and heart lives now, while in the desert, yet in the world that is to come. Our conversatio, our citizenship, our life, says Paphnutius, is in heaven: we walk in the flesh but we are no longer at war with the Lord in the flesh.
You know you are achieving, by the grace of God, that love that casts out fear when pride, impatience, envy, and morbid self-absorption do not determine your waking consciousness and behavior; when you are ready to bear all things, and seek not what is good for you alone, but what is good for your brothers and sisters.
The glory of Easter resides behind the cloud of Lent. It is here, now, in Word and in Sacrament, in Mystery, and in the selfless love among us that those Things prompt us to and enable.
About the Lord’s transfiguration, Saint Leo the Great said, “The whole Body of Christ is to understand by it the kind of transformation it will receive as his gift, a share in that glory which blazes out in Christ our Head.”