Saturday, February 19, 2005

Homily for Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9

On the First Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading called us to re-examine ourselves in the light of Christ, to strive anew against the power of temptation, to resist sin. At this point, although, a pertinent question comes up. Why should we battle against sin and temptation? Certainly, the society outside the Church doesn't quite understand what all the hubbub is about. If anything the message of our society is "Lighten up; it's not that important, is it?" On the Second Sunday of Lent, we are given the answer.

You can unfold the Transfiguration in various layers. They peel back to reveal a deeper reality than the surface might suggest. The first layer concerns the two fellows that appear in the midst of the Transfiguration: Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the fullness of the Law as God revealed it on Mount Sinai. This Law forged the people of Israel into a elected, covenental people of God. Elijah represents the fullness of prophecy, being the most important of all the prophets. While all the prophets enjoyed intimacy with God, only Elijah is swept away at the end of his life in a fiery chariot to be with God. These two pillars, Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, speak to the importance of this moment of transfiguration. You could even say, that this was the reason for which the Law and the Prophets existed, to see this moment. This leads to the next layer.

The second layer concerns the one who is transfigured. Jesus in this moment appears other-worldly. His face explodes with the divine radiance that is properly His. His clothing in even changed to that which no hand on earth could render so white. The divinity of Christ is revealed by placing this transfiguration side-by-side with Moses' own faded glories. When Moses stood in the presence of God, his face would glow. This effect so disturbed the people of Israel that they could not look on this reflected and fading glory. From where does the majestic transformation of Jesus derive? It comes from him: it streams out in every direction. Moses had to reflect; Jesus Christ is the Sun of Glory in human guise.

The third layer concerns the witnesses of the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John stand mute, struck dumb before the majesty of God manifested in their humble Master. It is most unexpected. But in this moment, in the presence of this apostolic inner circle, we see the beginnings of what the Church will be. In the light of the Transfiguration, Peter wants to stay, and I don't blame him. What every human heart and mind seeks, Peter sees. This inner circle are getting a little hint of what the Resurrection will be. That is what Peter will have to proclaim, and James live, and John write of. "...We saw his glory, the glory as of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14b). The Transfiguration then is not only an insight into the ministry and mission of Jesus, or even into the nature of the Trinity. In the Transfiguration, we see the whole made clear: everything has been arranged from the beginning to work to reveal the person of God and to guide all to salvation. Every event, every tree, every molecule exists so that God's glory made be made clear. And this is where the Transfiguration ensnares us.

Notice that the divine glory that shine forth from Jesus isn't hampered by His human body. It's quite the opposite. The human flesh is akin to a lens by which this light is focused into our world. This means that humanity is not somehow opposed to God. Rather, humanity was made to share in God's very essence. What Jesus Christ is by His nature, God, He wants all of us to share in by adoption and participation in His life. The radical destiny for man is deification, to exist by sharing in what God is by His very nature. Here's the hard part.

In my limited pastoral preaching experience, I have tried a lot of different ways to get this point across to people. I have tried nice ways and sneaky ways and indirect ways, and thus far, nothing's worked. The confessional lines are short; the communion line is long. So, I am left to say this the hard way. Every one of us sins. Sometimes we sin seriously, gravely, mortally. When we sin mortally, we don't just make a boo-boo; we kill the life of Grace in us. There is no Transfiguration for us.

When we sin mortally, we are spiritual zombies. We look alive but we are stone dead, and therefore, we are not eligible to receive the Sacraments. If we receive a Sacrament in the state of mortal sin, we multiply the wrong: we compound our previous sin with the Sin of Sacrilege. It is truly a Sacrilege to receive such a noble thing, like the Most Blessed Sacrament, in such a state -- to be so ... casual, so indifferent to what we are taking into our Hands. There is only one solution to mortal sin, and that is the Sacrament of Penance. The Sacrament of Penance is necessary because our sins affect not only us but others as well. Through the Sacrament of Penance, we can begin again because this Sacrament restores the life of Grace in us.

I am sorry that I have to say this in such a "not nice" manner, but it really isn't nice. But it is real. There is a real absence of Transfiguration in our world. I know that when I get up in the morning, the radiance of God's only begotten Son doesn't radiate from my sleep encrusted eyes. My bathrobe isn't shining white as no fuller could render it. So long as we wallow in sin, refusing to fight it, there can't be Transfiguration, for any of us.

So, here we have the answer to the question posed at the beginning. Why bother with avoiding temptation and sin? We avoid temptation and shun sin because we are made for Transfiguration. We are made sharers in the Divine Nature by the gift of Baptism. Now is the time to clear off the windows of the soul, through our true contrition and celebration of Penance, and let the light of Christ's grace pour forth from us.

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