Sunday Sermon for March 5, 2023, the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Gen: 12:1-4a; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9
In the readings today, there is a theme: a great good being granted after a time of difficulty. In the first reading, Abram is told by the Lord to leave his home and family and go to a place God would show him. In the end, there is a promise that God would make a great nation come from Abram and that all the communities of the earth would find blessing in him.
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that we are to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel. This is followed by the statement that God has called us to a holy life, not, however, according to the way we might think it should happen, but according to God’s way. Being human, most of us would like to be holy without any of the difficulties required to get there. This is why it has to be according to God’s design; by ourselves we would never get there.
In the Gospel, we hear about the three Apostles going up the mountain with our Lord. By itself, this was probably quite a struggle. When Moses and Elijah appeared and our Lord was transfigured, the bright cloud overshadowed the Apostles who heard the voice of God from the cloud and they were terrified. The great blessing of being able to behold the awesome mysteries required a level of purification and effort to prepare the Apostles to receive this grace.
In each of these examples, we can see the call of God, the need to let go of some, or all, of what we might be attached to, and the willingness to make a change in our life to do the will of God. I think most of us like the idea of doing the will of God, but when His will is inconvenient to us we tend to balk at it and choose our own will instead. But, as we have already seen, the pattern is that the great good we will receive from God comes only after we have chosen to take the narrow or difficult path of God’s holy will.
The question that might naturally rise in the minds of many is to wonder why we must go through these difficulties in order to receive what God wants to give us. On the surface, it almost seems like a game or, even worse, manipulative, that is, like parents bribing their children with dessert if they eat their vegetables. By now we know that whatever we see on the natural level is typically the opposite when seen from the spiritual perspective. In these cases, God is operating on the spiritual level, so we need to consider things from that point of view.
God’s desire for each of us is to be holy. Not only has He created us in His own image and likeness, but He has even told us: “Be holy for I, the Lord your God, Am holy.” Our attachments stand in the way of our growth in holiness. Of course, what is always the biggest problem standing in our way is selfishness. We all know God’s will is perfect and, because He loves us, He only wants what is best for us. However, in our selfishness, we want Him to give us everything we want, assuming that because we want it, it is somehow the best.
The struggles we see in the readings, and which we have all had to deal with in our own lives, come from the need we have to be purified. We have already mentioned our selfishness and our attachments which hold us down, but on the positive side, we must also grow in virtue. There are many virtues we need to develop, but all of the virtues fall under the three Theological Virtues: faith, hope, and charity. This is precisely what we see taking place in the readings today.
Abram must make an act of faith in God then, building on that faith, he must set out in hope to a place of which he is not even aware. In asking us to accept our share in the hardship required by the Gospel, St. Paul is asking us to act in love for God and neighbor. We see all three of these virtues being employed by the three Apostles who went up Mount Tabor with Jesus.
Now it is our turn. If we are willing to cooperate with God instead of rejecting the sufferings that come our way, we will be accepting our share in the hardships required by the Gospel. Faith in Jesus Christ crucified should tell us what we can expect, but it is always for a greater good. We will certainly grow in virtue, but the greatest good is to love God more now and, especially, for eternity!
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 www.thewandererpress.com.