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February 15, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 8

COLUMNS

Believe as you Pray »

In Light of Faith »

photo: DN. Christopher Colville

believe as you pray

2nd Sunday of Lent

Gen 15:5-12, 17-18
Phil 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28b-36

In the Gospel reading for this Sunday we have the familiar story of the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John go up the mountain with Jesus to pray. They fall asleep and upon awakening see Jesus in his glory. I think this is a metaphor for our lives as Christians. God is always around us, always near to us, yet for most of us we fail to realize or acknowledge his presence.

Like Peter, James and John, we let things of this world overcome us and prevent us from experiencing the glory of God. We have moments of “transfiguration” in our lives and become fully aware of God, when we metaphorically awake from sleep and suddenly become fully aware of his presence. We have mountain top experiences: a College Encounter, Cursillo, Christian Awakening, Discovery, other retreat experiences, even ordination or consecration into religious life; yet we find it difficult to always be aware of God in our lives.

Recently I was reminded of Thomas Merton’s transfiguration moment. It didn’t happen in the monastery or chapel. He was standing on a corner in Louisville, Kentucky on his way to a doctor’s appointment and suddenly became aware of the glory of God that was around him. He wrote “There is no way of telling people they are walking around shining like the sun — the gate of heaven is everywhere.” He had become more fully aware than ever before of the presence of God in the world.

If God is ever-present, always with us, then we are presented with a challenge. This challenge is not to inject moments in our day when we experience God, rather it is to be transfigured, to see the glory of God present in our lives, every day, all day.

As Merton fully realized on that street corner, God is within us and all around us. We can turn from him, forget about him, and yet he is still there. We are called to be transformed and recognize God’s presence in our lives. Paul is doing this in his letter to the Philippians. He is exhorting them to be imitators of him and be Christ-like.

Paul’s conversion experience was so dramatic and his transformation so complete that he was convinced that it was Christ who lived in him. We all want this conversion and herein lies the problem. We want it now and fail to realize that, much like the conversion of an inquirer, it takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.

In the Rite of Acceptance, which my wife and I witnessed recently at Star of the Sea in Virginia Beach, we heard that the inquirer has encountered Jesus, begun to change his life and be transfigured into the life of Christ. We have all begun this transformation and must continue it.

The Apostles were called to conversion and saw the glory this conversion leads to in the Transfiguration. They needed to come down the mountain, continue their journey of conversion and experience that glory in their daily lives.

Jesus offers us the same life of glory and the realization this glory can be found in our daily lives. It takes time to recognize this and reach the point where, like Paul it is Christ who dwells in us, and like Merton we see the glory of God all around us. What can we do during Lent to be more Christ-like, see the glory of God all around us and share this glory with others?

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in light of faith

Priesthood of the Laity

Send flowers, not chocolates. We had barely washed the ashes off our forehead when temptation arrived in beautifully embossed heart-shaped boxes. What’s a person to do? It would seem rude not to indulge in at least one of those creamy delights from a well-intentioned giver. But can we eat just one? For some the answer is yes, but for others, tucking the box out of sight for the remaining days of Lent doesn’t necessarily verify, “out of sight out of mind.” Whether your Achilles heel is chocolate or some other means of instant gratification, some temptations are simply harder to resist than others. But if Lent was merely about giving up things we enjoy, we could either throw up our hands and surrender to enticement’s allure or don sack cloth and sit on an ash heap. Neither would be an appropriate choice.

While Valentine’s Day may seem at odds with the season of Lent, a more informed consideration proves otherwise. If the purpose of Valentine’s Day was only about hearts and flowers, candy or even diamonds, the day would be reduced to a celebration of consumerism. And while florist, jewelers and chocolatiers may benefit from the holiday, the real gift is the love that inspires the gift-giving.

Like anything that has a deeper meaning, subjecting Lent to an all or nothing mindset obscures the spiritual profundity of the season. The fact that Lent is inaugurated with a sign that marks our forehead as a reminder of our own mortality is a sobering thought. It invites us to examine our life in terms of Gospel values and to respond to the call to repent. It is the Church’s way of helping us create space in our life to better confront those areas where we fall short. In a spirit of repentance, we enter the desert of our heart to slay our inner demons with Scripture, prayer and fasting, much the way Jesus did when he was tempted. Consider that when Jesus emerged from the desert, he went to the synagogue where both he and his message were rejected. The same is bound to happen to us. So the real test is not about how we are treated but about how we treat others.

Experience has taught me that it is much easier to give up candy than to decide to love when I would rather judge or condemn the actions of those with whom I disagree. Therefore, remaining faithful to the spirit of Lent is not about whether or not we break a self-imposed fast from candy, alcohol or some other source of enjoyment, but about the way we treat the people with whom we share this world. Do we treat family members or co-workers with the same kind of respect that we afford people whom we choose as friends? And how about the poor, the marginalized, prisoners, refugees or victims of war? Although we may not come in close contact with them on a regular basis, do we help them carry their cross? This is where our sacrifices, small though they may be, take on a whole new dimension. When inspired by love and heart-felt concern, prayer becomes a leverage to help those who carry a cross much heavier than ours.

Those of us who have been blessed with a roof over our head and food in the pantry, ought to welcome the opportunity to write a check on behalf of those who lack life’s necessities, keeping in mind that more will be asked of those who receive more. But God’s abundance is never limited to temporal gifts. Being mindful that every moment is full of grace, elevates seemingly insignificant moments. Moments that include standing in line at the grocery store, folding clothes, walking to the car, pumping gas, the list goes on and on. Short phrases like, “My Lord and my God” spoken on behalf of those who turn away from God, or “My Jesus Mercy, save us from sin” for those who are victims and/ or perpetrators of violence become spiritual gifts for the world.

Like Christ who remained silent in the face of persecution and criticism, there may be times when no response is the best response. Holding our tongue when we are criticized, passing on dessert, refraining from a second helping at the dinner table, less dressing on a salad are small ways that when practiced regularly and united with the cross of Jesus lighten the burden of others and transforms the one who is doing the lifting. It is never about the magnitude of the sacrifice, but about the measure of love that unites it with the ongoing love on Calvary.

This is the priesthood of the laity at its finest. It is a vocation we were called to at our Baptism. Just as the ordained priest stands at the altar as mediator between God and the people, so each person is called by virtue of their baptism to stand as mediator between God and those we are called to serve in the marketplace of life, be that through prayer or sacrifice. It is what transforms giving up chocolate for Lent into a sacrifice worthy of our calling. Such sacrifices become small only when we allow them to become more important than the God who transforms them. The God who is working through us even when we give thanks by enjoying a piece of chocolate on Valentine’s Day.

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