Sunday Sermon for February 25, 2024, the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10

In the second reading today, St. Paul asks: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  This is absolutely true, but in our humanness, we tend to entertain doubts.  Perhaps we are not really sure that God is with us.  Sometimes we are concerned that my own lack of faith will cause God not to be with me.  Then we look at the first reading and see God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and we go into full panic mode, worried that He might ask something very difficult.

When we look more closely at the first reading, we are told this was to test Abraham.  We recall that Abraham had failed on a few occasions in the past, even questioning how God’s promise of a son would be fulfilled.  Against all natural possibility, God fulfilled that promise when the ninety-year-old Sarah was with child by her one hundred-year-old husband.  Abraham now had his heir, but God was going to test him to see if he trusted God completely.  When Abraham showed, by his actions, that he was willing to sacrifice even the child who was most important to him, God stopped him, not allowing him to carry through with the sacrifice of his own child.

As we know, the only way any virtue is going to grow is through being tested.  Therefore, if you and I are going to grow in holiness, our virtues must be tested.  Not only does this provide for growth in the virtues, but it also allows us to see how much virtue we actually have (or don’t have).  We tell God we will do anything He asks, but if He asks something we don’t like, we demonstrate that our good intentions do not necessarily translate into concrete actions.

Chances are that God is not going to ask anything as extreme as He did with Abraham.  The test of Abraham correlated with the promise God had made to him.  Also, St. Teresa of Avila reminds us that the length and depth of the purifications and the testing we must endure depends upon three things: the sins from which we need to be purified, the level of holiness to which God is calling us, and the number of people who will be influenced by us.  Think of the billions of people who look to Abraham as their father in faith.  This is why his test was so profound.

Of course, no person in history has impacted more people than Jesus.  He did not have any sins from which He needed to be purified, nor did He have any need to grow in holiness because He is God.  However, because of the number of people who would not only be influenced by Him, but would be saved and redeemed by Him, His suffering was the worst anyone has ever had to endure.  When we consider those who have suffered for many years or those who have endured horrific deaths, and then compare their suffering to the couple days of Jesus’ Passion and His three hours of agony on the Cross, we might be tempted to think others have had it worse than our Lord.

The suffering of these people is not questioned, but Jesus took on the weight of all the sins of the world.  He accepted the punishment that allows us to be purified and prepared for eternal life.  Without His sacrifice, the sufferings we endure could not take away our sins, so the purification brought about through our suffering would be relatively small.  Now, we can unite our suffering with His and it becomes a participation in the work of salvation.  The effect of our sacrifice is augmented to a level impossible for us to imagine.

This is truly amazing, but it does not stop there.  First of all, God did what He does not require of anyone else: He carried through with the sacrifice of His Son.  Many people have experienced the heartache of losing a child, but never did God ask the parents to sacrifice their child.  All our sufferings and sacrifices can bear great fruit if united with our Lord and offered to God, but they still remain a means to a far greater end.  As St. Paul says in the second reading: “Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God.”  Our sufferings and sacrifices prepare us for an eternal reward beyond our ability to imagine.

This is what Jesus showed His chosen Apostles when He was transfigured.  The passion brings one to glory.  God is with us, in our suffering and in the glory that follows.  Will we remain with Him, that is, will we suffer with Him and be glorified with Him?

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit