Second Sunday of Lent
Scripture Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10
The human condition is marred by the bondage of self. We were made to be free of self-concern so we can pursue the good of others. That is the kingdom of heaven.Because we have taken to ourselves the knowledge of good and evil, rather than receiving it from the Creator, we have become selfish and self-centered. We each determine our own definition of good and evil. We do it largely by comparison with others (pride & envy) and this leads us to suffering the bondage of self. We long to be free, to rise above self, to be entirely for something else. But we lack the power.
Humanity’s relationship with God was ruptured. Immediately God planned to restore it. He sent His son and the Son sent St. Paul to tell us how to receive this restoration of our right relationship, our justification. This is the key to our freedom from the bondage of self. The way to God is travelled by unburdening oneself.
Last Sunday we began Lent when we saw Jesus tempted to betray His “beloved son” experience at His baptism. Satan tried turning Him in on Himself and away from trust in the Father and from His mission for others. Today, in His experience of Transfiguration, Jesus is again given that deep inner experience that assures Him that the Father is with Him in His impending passion. This will be a source of strength for Him when He gets to Gethsemane and is again tempted by the bondage of self.
Two months ago we remembered His incarnation when “He emptied Himself.” Now in this Lenten season we remember that “He humbled Himself.” The emptying and the humbling were a two-step downward movement that contrasts with the upward mobility so highly valued by secular society then and now. During Lent, and all the time after that, we are called to follow the pattern of that downward movement.
Christ emptied Himself when He became human. He did not divest Himself of His divinity. Similarly, we participate in divinity by being made in the image of God. That image is our capacity for free choice. When we follow the pattern of Christ we do not divest ourselves of free choice; we use it in service to the Father through conformity to Christ. That conformity takes this pattern: “Although He was in the form of God, He did not deem equality with God something to exploit, but He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave… and being found in human form He humbled Himself, becoming obedient…”
The key words here are “although,” “not,” and “but.” Although [a status], not selfishness, butselflessness. We apply it to our lives this way: “Although one possesses a certain status, one does not exploit it for selfish gain, but acts for the good of others.” This is the pattern of Christ that we are to follow.
Though we have a pre-existing status that gives us rights and privileges, we freely choose not to exercise those rights and privileges, but rather to give and spend self for the good of others. That status may be a job title, a vocational status such as marital or monastic, or a certainty that one deserves better, or it may be something else. Conforming to the pattern of Christ crucified, one freely chooses to renounce the status out of love, i.e. concern for the good of God and neighbor. This is called “cruciformity.” Cruciformity is having the mind of Christ crucified; total obedience of faith freely given out of love. Cruciformity is not something we do; it happens to us. It takes four fundamental patterns:
First, as we’ve just seen, is cruciform faith shown in faithful obedience. Second, is cruciform love, the voluntary self-giving for the good of others. Third is cruciform power. We noticed our lack of power earlier and that cruciformity happens to us. The weakness of our bondage of self is transformed to power for the good of others. And finally there is the pattern of cruciform hope. Hope is faith for the future, that the suffering will lead to resurrection and exaltation as it did for Christ.
We may experience this as demanding, but only because living under the bondage of self (self pre- occupation) is so familiar to us. The pattern of Christ, crucified and raised, frees us from the bondage of self. And the difference is what the gospels call “Life!” Moses and Elijah symbolize this to Jesus and the Father confirms it when He tells us “This is my beloved son, listen to Him.”
And the Letter to the Romans assures us that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” We all know this, but we often forget it. Benedict’s steps of humility show us how to be mindful of it and thus be free. The Transfiguration reminded Jesus of this. He was reminded of His status as the Father’s son and this gave Him the security needed to “humble Himself even unto death on a cross.”
Second Sunday of Lent
[Scripture Readings: Gen. 12: 1-4a; 2Tim. 1: 8b-10; Mt. 17: 1-9 ]
By now Vatican Council II’s teaching that God’s call to holiness is given to all Christians and begins at baptism is familiar. As with most things that become familiar, there is a danger that we will take it for granted and not give it much thought. For reasons that are not clear to me, the theme of God’s universal call to holiness has been in and out of the forefront of my awareness recently.
One of the implications of the Council’s teaching is that our call to holiness is a journey that begins with baptism, which for most of us happened when we were infants; and continues throughout life. However subtle God’s voice may be, each day we are being called to move a little further away from what is familiar and take a few steps further into God’s plan for each one of us, and for the body of Christ as a whole.
When I reflect on Lent in this context, Lent becomes more than a time for giving up. Each Lent is another stage in our journey into the new life which God has prepared for us. This does not deny the value of whatever particular Lenten practices we may have decided upon. However, it does call us to ask. “Why have I decided to give up this or that particular thing?” Or, “Why have I decided to add something to my usual religious practices?” Since holiness is ultimately the fullness of life in Christ, I need to ask if my practice of Lent this year is nurturing life. We cannot give life to ourselves. Life comes from God, who creates from what does not yet exist. Answering God’s call is always a journey into the unknown. That does not deny the value of our plans and expectations. It does mean that we will be missing an opportunity for life if we stubbornly cling to our own plans and expectations when God is calling us to something that is truly new.
This morning’s gospel is a dramatic presentation of what is happening to us every day. We are members of Christ’s body, each one of us, and in the power of the Spirit Christ’s body is being transformed from glory to glory day by day. We may on occasion be given brief glimpses of the Spirit’s work in us. But they will not last and it would be a mistake to try to hold onto them. They come and go in God’s freedom and for God’s purposes. For the most part we walk in faith, believing that God is at work in our everyday experiences. Sometimes, as during Lent, we will be more aware of dying to our selfish tendencies. At other times the Easter proclamation of the triumph of life over death will predominate. In either case, we are always being called to enter into the full cycle of Christ’s paschal mystery: both the dying and the rising. Without the dying there is no rising. Without the rising the dying is absurd.
New life is God’s gift. Our contribution is our willingness to leave behind what is familiar and comfortable, as God calls us and enables us, and be transformed in Christ by following in his footsteps. This is his promise to us. Are we willing to listen to him?