for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, Cycle C
March 4, 2007
Every year, on this Second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy invites us to follow Our Blessed Lord and His chosen companions, up to the top of Mount Tabor, there to witness the wondrous transfiguration of Jesus, His garments shining whiter than the whitest white, His face radiant with the inner splendor of His divinity.
It would be impossible, within the brief limits of a single homily to exhaust all the homiletic possibilities of this God-arranged event. We might, for example, choose to focus upon the significance of those two heavenly visitors and how large them loom in Jewish religious consciousness Ė Moses, personifying in himself the ancient law and the covenant between God and His chosen people and Elijah, the prophet, "the friend of God", scripture calls him, caught up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Or we could dwell on the intimate connection between the two mountains, Tabor and Calvary and Our Lordís motive in arranging this "peak experience" intended to firm up the faith of His apostles for the great test that lay ahead - the ordeal of His Passion and Death. Or, like the Apostle, Peter, in his second epistle, we might marvel again at the Voice speaking from the concealing cloud - the Heavenly Fatherís own witness to the divine identity of Jesus: "This is My Son, My Beloved."
But putting aside those possibilities, taking my cue from Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict and his homily for todayís liturgy, I find my focus in those further heaven spoken words - words meant not just for the three apostles but for us as well: "Listen to Him."
What does it mean: to listen to Our Lord? The dictionary defines the word - listen: "to hear with respectful attention" - to be alert to catch not only the sound but the meaning as well. In modern parlance, it means that we are sharply tuned to the same frequency so that we get the message, loud and clear. Obviously, we cannot claim to be really listening to Our Lord if our attention to Him is only occasional or divided and distracted by a thousand competing interests. To be attentive listeners to Jesus, we must render Him the reverence of our undivided attention, eager to grasp His words, echoing not only in our minds but in our hearts as well. We, all of us, need to ask ourselves: "Is this the kind of ardent attention which I give to Our Blessed Lord?"
"Listen to Him." - There is a wealth of meaning waiting our discovery in those three words. In the first place, it is not just a divine suggestion - not something to be heeded or ignored as suits our fancy. It is a Command - just as divinely mandated as any of the Ten Commandments Ė it is God telling us that this is something which we must do, to our great advantage if we obey - something fraught with eternal consequences, to be disregarded at our peril. Moreover, it is something which no one else can do for us. We do our own listening - our interest, our ears, our mind, our heart - our lives to be lived in accordance with what we hear from Jesus, Our Divine Lord.
But how does Jesus make Himself heard? In a variety of ways, if we are respectfully attentive. Recently I came across a book entitled: The Experience of God. That is really what we are concerned with here - not an audible voice from heaven, measurable in decibels and having certain pitch and timbre but rather the various ways in which Our Lord makes His Presence and His Power known and His will for us clear and compelling. The author enumerates several avenues of communication which are open to us in the measure of our interest and our willingness to be receptive to the divine guidance.
There is, in the first place, the Sacred Scriptures themselves, and especially the Gospels. St. Paul speaks of the Scriptures as "a two-edged sword"; St. John calls the Gospel "the word of life". The Vatican Council, speaking of Divine Revelation, tells us: "God is present in His word since it is He Himself Who speaks when the Holy Scriptures are read in the Church." Do we really believe that? Do we mean it when we conclude our readings: "This is the word of the Lord"? "This is the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ"? If our faith is alive and active, there will be times when what we hear or read suddenly resonates powerfully into our lives, to become for us in a very personal way, our "words to live by", pointing for us the way to a more intimate friendship with Our Lord so that He becomes more and more what St. Paul tells us He wants to be - "the secret center of our lives".
Another way in which Jesus makes His presence felt and His message personal is in the quiet time of prayer. Indeed, the contemporary spiritual writer, Fr. Henri Nouwen titled his excellent little book on prayer, very simply: "Listening" - listening to the Lord. We, all of us, need to take time for Our Lord, turning away from distracting interests, escaping from the noise outside and quieting down the noise within so that we can allow Him to get through to us. You would search in vain for any place in the gospel where we are told that Jesus "shouted" at anyone, except perhaps when He expelled the money-changers from the temple. He does not compel our attention... He asks for it gently and He welcomes it. We can always find time for the things we think are important to us. When we excuse our neglect: "I am too busy to pray.", are we not, in effect, saying: "I am too busy for the Lord."
Jesus speaks to us, not only in what St. Augustine calls "the sacred silence" of prayer, but also through human events, and especially our personal history. We call that the doctrine of Divine Providence. It means, simply, the Loving Watchfulness of Our Lord.. We believe that He really cares about us, not just occasionally, but all the time, in every circumstance in which we find ourselves. We believe that He is always making good on His Promise - His very last pledge to us just before His Ascension into Heaven: "Remember, I am with you always, even to the end of time." In times of trouble, when we feel overwhelmed and full of fear, He is there, reassuring us even as He did St. Paul: "Donít be afraid. My strength is sufficient for you."
And of course, we have Our Lordís own word for it that He speaks to us in the person of our lonely and hurting and hungry brother or sister. Perhaps it is here that we fail most often to recognize His voice but did not Jesus tell us: "Whatever you do for one of these, the least among you, you do it for me." No wonder Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta could sum up her whole ministry of mercy: "In every anguished cry, whether it be the weak whimper of a famished child or the moan of a helpless beggar, we must recognize the Voice of our Suffering Lord." Notice that she said not "I" but "we" - It is our sharpened hearing for which Our Lord is pleading.
One final way in which Jesus continues to speak to us is right here and right now in the language of our liturgy. It is His Words we hear in this Holy Mass, as He borrows the voice of the priest to make His Presence Real: "This is My Body, Given for you" - "This is The Cup of My Blood, shed for you. Do this in Memory of Me." This is our eucharistic listening time. Listening with the heart, we believe that Our Lord will make Himself heard and His Power and His Presence will light up our lives.