Second Sunday of Lent ⎪ March 16, 2014
Dear Brothers, Associates and Collaborators:
…then from the cloud came a voice that said,
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him. Mt 17:5
We are all familiar with today’s gospel story where we read that Jesus’ face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” Mt 17:20 Let’s each of us use our imagination and enter this scene for a few moments.
In the scene shortly before His transfiguration, we know that Jesus was questioning Peter and the disciples. A masterful teacher, Jesus starts with a question that they all can answer safely.
Who do people say that the Son of Man is? Mt 16:13
We hear the ebullient Peter blurt before any other disciple could say anything, “John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Next comes the more difficult question. Its answer will require more than a hearsay response. It is a pointed question. It implies a personal relationship.
But who do you say that I am? Mt 16:15
Peter’s response is spontaneous and forceful. To all present, it was a bold utterance, one the other disciples wanted to hear.
You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Mt 16:16
Jesus also thinks Peter’s response is pretty good and recognizes it as inspired of His Father, “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah. No one revealed this to you except my Father.” We also know how Peter reacted to Jesus’ prediction of His very terrible death. Peter did not want to hear it. He simply could not accept what He was saying. Peter’s response to Jesus is visceral, deeply personal and emotional.
God forbid, LORD. No such thing shall ever happen to you! Mt 16:22
Peter means, of course, “Not if I can help it!” As the scene continues, we see Jesus get upset with Peter’s lack of understanding. “Get behind me Satan.” We glance at Peter’s face. He is very confused by the rebuttal. What was really going on? In short, Jesus was preparing his closest disciples for His coming death, but they were just not ready to deal with it. After Jesus chides poor Peter, He goes on to tell them (and tells us) what is required of His followers. These are very hard words to accept.
Whoever wish to come after me must deny themselves, take up their crosses
and follow Me. For whoever wish to save their life will lose it,
whoever lose their life for my sake will find it. Mt: 16:24
Peter’s confusion becomes dismay. As the scene ends, the gospel just does not feel like “good news.”
As the story continues, it is a few days later. Jesus invites Peter, James and John, His closest disciples, to go to isolated mountain. They came to expect Jesus’ withdrawing to deserted places to reflect and pray. What happened next, however, completely unexpected, completely out of the ordinary. Jesus’ transfiguration. It is a powerful and overwhelming experience that takes the disciples off guard. What do they see—Jesus in magnificent glory along with Moses and Elijah. Peter’s emotional response is genuine, “LORD, it is good that we are here” Mt 17:4. The feeling of euphoria quickly turns to terror when the cloud overshadowed everyone and the voice proclaiming Jesus as God’s Son.
This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him. Mt 17:5
Jesus approaches the three disciples and puts his hand on their trembling shoulders telling them, “Do not be afraid.” When the disciples stand up, they see only Jesus.
Did they grasp this revelation of Jesus’ divinity, his being the Son of God? Did they do as the Father asked them, “Listen to Him?” The story goes on.
Even after the transfiguration, the disciples still had great difficulty accepting Jesus words, the second prediction of His death.
That the Son of Man is to be handed over to men,
and that they will kill him,
and He will be raised on the third day.
The disciples were overwhelmed with grief. Mt 17:23
What dispositions of heart are these verses asking me to turn away from in order to follow Christ wholeheartedly? What spiritual practices am I called to develop in order to truly love Christ and be a faithful follower? A number of words and phrases from the readings stay with me as I reflect on what Jesus is telling me in these passages.
Listen to Him.
My “personal rule of life” has been for many years a desire to center my life—personal feelings, aspirations, ups and downs, my relationship and my ministry—in Christ. Usually I spend time in the morning getting ready for the day by trying to center myself in Christ. Quite truthfully, I am challenged by the Father’s wish, “Listen to Him.” I do not always listen to the LORD. My reflection and prayer, while talking to Christ, often a cluttered with my agenda, be they my concerns, my desires for the congregation, my worries. I struggle with being quiet enough to empty my mind and feelings to truly listen to Christ in silence. So this is one of my practices for this Lent. To read the gospel and to listen in silence without words to what Christ is inviting me to.
…those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
When reading these words, I experience heavy feelings. I started to understand them better as a result of a homily I heard three years ago. It was the Saturday evening Mass. Mass was at the Cathedral of the Assumption in Louisville. It was the last Mass that Fr. William Fichteman would celebrate as pastor of the cathedral. He was retiring. Here is what he said: “Many of you have expressed your feelings about my retiring and leaving the cathedral. Many of you have asked me, ‘What are you going to do in retirement?’” Father simply stated, “I am going to prepare for death.” You could not hear a pin drop. The cavernous cathedral fell dead silent. He is a very youthful, active and healthy seventy year old. Obviously Father had our attention. He deftly went on to explain that he was going to dedicate himself to those spiritual practices that will prepare him for ultimate union with God. What Father talked about was not so much about physical death, but about dying to those aspects of our lives that keep us from loving, from being truly free to be the person God intended us to be.
Losing one’s life implies a growing awareness of those disposition that hold us back from living for God and God alone. Awareness of itself, however, is not enough. I (we) also have to be willing to deal with them. As part of my “personal rule of life,” I am working on my tendency toward perfectionism which can drive me to overwork, to want to do things perfectly my way and to be harsh in my judgment of others. I have been working on this tendency by a renewed effort to make prayer and meditation priorities before all else. In the evening I spend time reviewing how God is present to me in each person I meet during the day.
This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.
This reference takes me back to being retreat director for young people in Louisville. In a talk on the Obstacles to God’s Friendship, we asked them to look at those dispositions holding back from loving self, others, and God. The core message they heard repeated over and over is that God loves them just the way they are. Our young people still need to hear and to feel that message from us as Brothers, teachers, parents, and concerned adults. I read the above quote as “You are my beloved daughter or son in whom I am well pleased.”
In your name, I want to thank members of the Spirituality team for the wonderful reflections they have prepared for us, especially John and Chris. Know that you are in my personal prayer each day. My prayer is that during these days of Lent you feel in your heart that you are beloved of the Father. The Central Wish of learning to live for God and God alone is my hope for the Congregation. It is my prayer for us as a Congregation of Brothers, Associates, and Partners in Mission that we become more and more impelled by the love of Christ.