Sunday Sermon for March 8, 2020, the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Gen 12:1-4a; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9
In the second reading, St. Paul tells us we need to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel. This is not a popular message. Living in a society that abhors pain and hardship, to hear that anyone who believes in the Lord must bear hardship does not sit very well. We have tried to find ways to avoid the pain that is inescapable in life, why would we ever choose something that requires hardship? This is the first question every person needs to ask when considering our response of faith to God’s invitation.
Look at the first reading where we hear about Abram being called by God to leave the land of his kinfolk and his father’s house, and go to a place he will be shown. Not only did the Lord not tell Abram where he would be going, He did not even give a hint about the direction he would be traveling. Abram needed to make an act of faith and trust God. He was led forth without knowing where he was going or what hardships and difficulties would await him.
We have the advantage of knowing the story, so we know what Abram, and later, Abraham, had to endure. Faced with many very difficult situations, God gave Abram the strength to bear these hardships and demonstrate his faith. St. Paul says that we have been called by God to a holy life according to His grace given to us in Jesus. Moreover, St. Paul gives us the motivation for living this life: Jesus destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
We are called to live a holy life in this world so we can share in the eternal life God has promised to those who obey Him. If we are going to set out on this journey of holiness, we will find ourselves in a situation analogous to that of Abram. We have no idea where God will lead us, we have no idea what paths we will be led along, and we have no idea what kinds of problems we will encounter along the way. The lives of the Saints demonstrate to us that growth in holiness comes only by taking up the Cross and following the Lord.
The prayer life, it has been said, is the soul’s greatest privilege, its hardest work, and its purest joy. We like the first and last points, but the middle statement is one we might prefer to ignore. Many people begin the life of prayer, but the dryness, the darkness, and the purifications cause the majority to settle for less than a life of holiness.
When we look at the Gospel reading today, we hear about St. Peter, who was so wowed by the transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, that he wanted to build tents for them to remain. It was truly a “mountaintop” experience! The setting was impressive, the view was great, the company was heavenly; it was good for them to be there, as Peter exclaimed. But when the cloud overshadowed them and the voice was heard speaking from the cloud, the disciples fell prostrate and were afraid. Suddenly, it did not seem so good to be there.
God does not tell us what we should expect in the prayer life, because if He did, most of us would never even begin. But He gives the grace at every moment to handle whatever comes our way. In this, we are, again, like Abram: we have to act in faith and trust in God. Sometimes the purifications are so intense that the Saints tell us it feels like they have been abandoned by God. The struggles might not seem so bad if we knew we could just come to prayer and find consolation, but that is not the way it works most of the time.
God is looking for growth in holiness; He calls us to be saints! This means developing the virtues which, of course, develop only when they are tested (remember Abraham). This being the case, we must also realize that the purifications will not only come during prayer, but if we are going to grow in holiness, we will become less like the world and more like God, Whom the world has rejected. This means we, too, will experience some rejection and persecution from those who do not understand. God will use this to help us grow in holiness as well.
So, as we proceed through Lent, it really is good that we are here. It is also wonderful to know we have been called by God. During this holy season, we have a great opportunity to accept God’s invitation and step out in faith and trust on the path God will show us, the path of true holiness.
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.