Hi everyone, this is my homily forMARCH 17, 2019 – the 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT. The readings for today’s Mass can be found HERE Thanks as always for reading; sharing this blog on your social media sites; and your feedback and comments. I appreciate it. Have a good week – God Bless – Fr Jim. Audio: Also you can get the audios of the homilies from iTunes as a Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fr-jim-cherns-homilies/id1440618142?mt=2
What makes you fully awake and frightened?
Friday afternoon – a group of members from Newman Catholic at Montclair State and I were driving back from an area of Appalachia in Eastern Kentucky where we had been on mission all week – helping an organization called Christian Appalachian Project in rebuilding homes for people struggling to make ends meet in one of the poorest, neediest areas of our entire nation. One (of many) blessings was the partial “social media” and “regular media” fast we were on. I don’t think any of us realize how the 24/7 news cycle with one horrific, outrageous, gross story after another – with people being able to amplify or share those things with their opinions – the effect that has on us mentally and spiritually. . . A week away from that was incredibly refreshing. But with 12 hours on the road in a van as we made our way back to New Jersey – very quickly we got all caught up from the week as we shared stories with each other: “Oh my God – there was a terrorist attack in New Zealand at a Mosque where 49 people were killed.” “Did you see this story about the scandal of how people got into college?” “Wait a minute… when was there a plane crash?” “Did you hear about this athlete, this celebrity who killed themselves…” So much senselessness, hatred and evil, So much sadness – so many things that can cause you to feel fully awake and frightened.
Throughout the week, as we would travel to our work sites with different volunteers from around the country and sometimes have lengthy times in the car to travel together and get to know each other- or in the evenings spending time with people from our individual campuses, all of us had a lot of time to share with one another some really personal challenges. Things that people might have wanted some distance from but weren’t able to: The illnesses of family and friends; the tensions and angers they have to deal with at home or at work or at school. You found that many of us have many things going on in our lives that keep us fully awake at night and frightened.
Truth be told, a week earlier leaving for the mission trip, I probably could’ve summed up my state of heart and mind in a similar condition. Fully awake and frightened. There were logistical concerns – I was worried about the safety of our drive to and from campus as well as our time there… I worry about our students on a normal day, so on a mission like this, that’s only intensified. Couple that with my own personal doubts, worries and concerns that I carried (or sadly, carry) with me – can I do what will be asked of me; my abilities and effectiveness, as a priest… being fully awake and frightened, it stinks.
Something tells me that’s not uncommon. People seem fully awake and frightened by any number of things. Real or imagined – – it can do a number on us…
Just hearing this Gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus – where the glory, the divinity of Jesus is revealed on this mountain top with his closest apostles – it struck me how of all the reactions that were possible for these three… again, his closest apostles… the Gospel describes them as “fully awake” and “frightened.” To be fair, seeing Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest of prophets from the Old Testament who had been dead hundreds of years, Jesus’ appearance becoming radiant and hearing the voice of God the Father, isn’t something that happened every day. But at the same time, He had been with them for some time. Preaching, teaching, healing in a multitude of ways. Why was this the reaction? And even more, when they recover from those feelings and then appreciate and enjoy the glory (so much so, they don’t even want to leave), why wasn’t this enough to prevent their becoming “fully awake and frightened” ever again… especially during Jesus’ passion and death… and while we’re at it, even more after Jesus would rise from the Dead and they witness His ascension into Heaven?
I think it’s because they are still susceptible to other voices. Voices of fear, of opportunism, of jealousy, of confusion would constantly grab their attention… distract them… cause them to forget this and all the other scenes where they had that clear vision of who Jesus was – and more importantly who and whose they were. Those other voices make them second guess, doubt their decisions to follow Jesus… to put their faith and trust in Him. Those other voices are so effective that some would even abandon Jesus: some for a short time, like Peter denying he knew Jesus during his trial, his passion and crucifixion; some even more consequentially – like Judas who after betraying Jesus is so overcome with despair he hangs himself.
That’s not to beat up on the apostles. Rather it’s a reminder to us of how common, how sadly ordinary and routine it is for humanity, because of sin, to continue to suffer with things that leave us fully awake and frightened. This moment of transfiguration – the encounters of the Resurrected Christ after Easter Sunday aren’t going to remove their free will. They will have to wake up every morning and make a decision whether or not to hear the words of God the Father saying “This is my chosen Son, Listen to Him.”
When they do, they find they are able to find the strength and courage they continue on and overcome their own personal trials, their own struggles. They will find the resources they need to preach, to teach, to go on mission to convert the world (rather than to be converted by it) When they fail, when they screw up… it’s in their remembrances of listening to Him speak words of reconciliation, of forgiveness that creates the path back for them.
So it is for us. We hear about this scene from the Gospel every year on the Second Sunday of Lent. That’s intentional in this time where we collectively as a Church journey together on an annual retreat of sorts to evaluate where we are in our relationship with Jesus Christ where we want to, or, need to move.
And when we do that, we begin to see that space between where we are – and where we want to be. How He is calling us into deeper intimacy, into deeper personal relationship with Him. Calling us into deeper faith and trust in Him to speak to our needs here and now – but even more importantly, that He wants us to spend all eternity with Him.
That was a reminder and one (of many) gifts that I received on our mission trip to Appalachia. Seeing, hearing and experiencing myself the difficulty of the physical labor of trying to assist in rebuilding these homes… recognizing how God hadn’t called us to fix everything or see ourselves as “the savior’s” to the people we were serving (As I fell off a ladder, and others struggled with other trials and challenges – whether it was just how to use a hammer or just how to be patient with someone else – we were most definitely humbled to know that wasn’t the case.) But we had recognized that Jesus had called us onto this mission and all of us were able to overcome various challenges and obstacles in order to respond to it. When we did, we met some of the most faithful, sincere, authentic people I’ve ever met. People who’s struggles, who’s problems, who’s worries are just as real as any of ours. Yet they didn’t seem fully awake and frightened by them. They knew Jesus would answer those prayers as He had so many times before. They were prayerful in constantly saying two of the most powerful words of prayer any human being can utter: “Thank You.” Whether it was little children who sincerely hugged a volunteer they just met a few days earlier or a woman who baked cookies in the shapes of an angel and gave it to other students for being “her angels” in fixing her home – the sincerity and genuineness was overwhelming. We were able to see and experience the glory of Christ in our midst in ways that left us somewhat speechless… and more than a few people saying “I don’t want to leave.”
But in order for that joy of encounter to continue, like the apostles, we had to leave and share our stories. To testify that these moments of encounter with Christ aren’t limited. That His glory isn’t just revealed in secretive moments for a select few. The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ which we’ve all been baptized into is meant to transfigure us. And in Lent, we’re invited to fix our eyes on Jesus more clearly and have our ears more open. Recognizing how Jesus remains with us. He continues to speak to everyone of us and God the Father commands us to Listen to Him.
Listen to Him in the Scriptures.
Listen to Him in the Eucharist – calling us to receive and become what we receive – Jesus Himself…
Listen to Him calling us to see past our own particular agendas, our own biases, our own ideologies.
Listen to Him who calls us to tremendous – albeit difficult and in fact revolutionary – love, which the world so often fails to embrace.
Listen to Him in the fears, the worries, the concerns that each and every human being carries – looking for our care, our concern, our attention to relieve the things that keep them fully awake and frightened.
Listen to Him calling us to the difficult work of reconciliation ourselves – between us and God and those we struggle to offer forgiveness to.
Listen to Him… those are the three words God the Father commanded the Apostles and in this proclamation for us to do. When they were spoken, St Luke describes the scene “Jesus was found alone.” If we obey the Father’s command, we’ll find, that’s all we ever truly need.