Sunday Sermon for March 20, 2011, The Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
Readings: Gen 12:1-4a; 2Tim 1:8b-10; Mt 17:1-9
In the second reading today St. Paul tells Timothy that he has to bear his share of the hardship which the Gospel entails. These are not words most of us like to hear. The “Gospel of health and wealth,” “Jesus did all the suffering and He doesn’t want you to have to suffer,” “believe in Jesus and you have an easy life here and go straight to Heaven,” all sound better to most people than bearing your share of the hardships required by the Gospel.
Of course, we have to recall that the man writing this is the same one who said to the Galatians that if anyone preaches a Gospel other than the one we preached, let him be cursed. Those easy Gospels are clearly not the Gospel preached by our Lord, by St. Paul, by any of the Apostles or by the Church. This does not mean that if you believe in the Gospel that everything is going to be dark and painful. The Lord blesses those who love Him, but that blessing is in the form of both pleasant things and the Cross. We tend to see the pleasant things as the real blessings, but God sees the Cross as the only true blessing.
St. Paul reminds Timothy of our common call to a life of holiness. This means that we are called to grow closer to God and more like Him. This is a great gift; however, it should not take much reflection to realize just how far we have to go before we are really like the Lord. Once that realization takes place, then we can ask ourselves if it will be a simple and easy task to become like Him. I think we all know the answer. Therefore, we begin to understand that the hardships are necessary in order to conform us to Christ.
Like the Apostles in the Gospel reading today, we tend to fall prostrate and tremble with fear when we consider what it might require for us to become holy. It would be nice if God just told us what would have to happen, but there are two reasons why this will not occur. First of all, if we knew ahead of time what was coming, it would require neither faith nor trust on our part. Secondly, if we knew what was coming most of us probably would not be willing to do it. All you have to do is think about the many difficulties that have come up in the course of your work, marriage, family, or any other area of your life. We all know that there are going to be hard times, but if you knew beforehand what those would be, would you have moved forward anyway? For most people the answer would be in the negative.
The Church gives to us the example of Abram in the first reading. Like us, God called Abram to Himself. The Lord made promises to Abram and told him to leave the land of his ancestors and “go to the land I will show you.” Notice that God did not even tell Abram where he was going, let alone how to get there, what would be entailed in obtaining the land, or how many years it would be before he could even settle on the land. Abram set out without any knowledge of the details. He simply had to trust in God and walk according to faith. Reading the rest of the story helps us to understand what was mentioned above: if Abram was told what hardships were ahead of him, he might not have wanted to go.
No matter what happened in his life, Abram could always rest on the experience he had when he was called by God. The Apostles, too, had a similar understanding. St. Peter even speaks, in his Second Letter, about the transfiguration and the voice of the Father. With all of the troubles encountered by the early Church, this event anchored Peter, James and John and provided a firm foundation.
In the midst of our troubles and hardships, whether they be the areas we are working on during this holy season or any other problems in our lives, the promises of the Lord provide an unshakable foundation and the hope of glory keeps us moving forward. The transfiguration, of course, points to the resurrection, but is not the resurrection itself. So for us, when hardships arise, they help us to grow spiritually, they help conform us to the glorified Christ, but the fullness of that glory is still a long way in the future. In the present, to see the growth in patience, humility, charity, meekness, long-suffering, or any other virtue gives us hope and shows us that the way we fulfill our call to holiness is through bearing hardships for the sake of the Gospel.
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.