Second Week of Lent

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Continuing the Mission

Second Sunday of Lent (Year A)

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Matthew 17:1–3

This was not the first time that the Son of God spoke to Moses and Elijah on a high mountain. Recall that Moses was called up to Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) to be with the Lord for forty days and forty nights, during which time the finger of God inscribed the Law on tablets, given to Moses to give to the people. During that time, the Israelites, from the base of the mountain, saw the summit consumed in fire. Similarly, Elijah, the great prophet, was called up that same mountain to encounter the Lord. He entered a cave and waited. Elijah then encountered a strong and violent wind, an earthquake and a fire. But God was not in any of them. Then Elijah heard a light quiet sound, a whisper, and he hid his face out of reverence as the Lord spoke to him.

In the experience of the Transfiguration, which we ponder today, the Son of God, now in the flesh, allowed His glory to once again shine forth. As He did, He conversed with Moses and Elijah in the presence of three of His disciples. These disciples were in awe, just as Moses and Elijah had been during their first encounters with God on Mount Sinai. These two great Old Testament figures now stand as witnesses of God’s unfolding plan, revealing by their presence that Jesus is the fulfillment of all they had been entrusted to teach in their lifetime.

Moses’ encounter with God on the mountain provided the foundation of the Law for the people of Israel. This Law guided them for centuries and ultimately came to fulfillment in Jesus, Who transformed the Law and elevated it to a new level by grace and mercy. Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain gave him direction to anoint kings to lead the people and to anoint Elisha as the prophet to succeed him. Elijah and Elisha continually preached to the people, calling them back to fidelity to the covenant God had made with them.

On the Mount of the Transfiguration, Jesus prepared three new disciples to continue the mission He began through Moses and continued through Elijah. Jesus gave these disciples the New Law of grace and mercy that He came to institute. The disciples were also entrusted with the prophetic mission of Elijah to call people to repentance and to fidelity to the covenant.

Today, our Lord calls all of his faithful servants up a spiritual mountain with Him so as to entrust to them the ongoing mission given to these great servants of old. Through prayer, God will manifest His divine presence to each of us if we are willing to make that journey. As He does, He will entrust to us His New Law and inscribe it on our hearts. He will command us to embrace the perfection of the love of God and the bestowal of mercy on others. He will entrust us with the prophetic mission of calling others back to God and will empower us to fulfill that mission in accord with His perfect will.

Reflect, today, upon this glorious scene of the Transfiguration. This image teaches us about the entire plan of God throughout time. Prayerfully ponder the idea that Jesus is inviting you to make the arduous journey up the mountain of prayer, self-discipline, virtue and holiness. Pray that your eyes will be open to see His glory and that this experience will inspire you and strengthen you to continue to fulfill the mission of God started long ago, until it comes to completion when He returns at the end of time.

My Transfigured Lord, You spoke Your divine will to the great leaders of old on a high mountain. You also entrusted Your mission to the disciples on a holy mountain. Please give me the grace and determination I also need to journey with You up the mountain of prayer so that I will be entrusted with the mission You give to me. Jesus, I trust in You.

Glory Overshadowing the Cross

Second Sunday of Lent (Year B)

Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Mark 9:2–3

Just six days prior to this glorious event of the Transfiguration, Jesus spoke for the first time to His disciples about His pending crucifixion and death. He taught them that “the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mark 8:31). Recall that Peter had a difficult time accepting this teaching. Jesus went on to rebuke Peter for his refusal to accept this prophetic teaching and further explained that “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). These disciples then had six days to ponder this prophecy of our Lord before witnessing the Transfiguration.

In your life, is there something that God is trying to say to you that you have difficulty accepting? If so, it will most likely be related to God’s call to you to take up your cross and follow Him. The Cross of Christ comes in many forms throughout life. It might be experienced when we allow the passion of anger to die so that pure mercy can be offered to one who has hurt us. Or it might be that God is calling you to step out in faith to embrace some endeavor that requires courage and trust. Or it might be that God is calling you to accept some hardship in life that is difficult to accept, such as the loss of a loved one, an illness, the loss of a job or any other difficulty that you struggle to accept with love and trust. Bitterness, resentment, anger, fear and the like are often the most difficult crosses we are called to embrace and let die.

If this resonates with you, then this story of the Transfiguration is for you. After giving these disciples six days to ponder the difficult news of His coming Cross, Jesus gives them hope and inspiration through this sacred encounter. Though it lasted for only a short time, this manifestation of Jesus’ glory was all that these disciples needed to begin to accept Jesus’ prediction of His passion. On one hand, they feared what Jesus said was going to happen. But on the other hand, they saw His glory and majesty. By combining these two experiences, these disciples were given a new hope and strength to trust that whatever was to happen in the future, God was in control.

We also need the consoling revelation of our Lord’s glory to help us navigate the difficulties we will endure. For some, life is good, very good, and they walk with joy and ease with our Lord. But for others, life has taken a difficult turn and confusion has set in. If life is good for you right now, then rejoice that you are currently sharing a taste of the glory of the Transfiguration. Give thanks to God and tell Him with Saint Peter, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” Give thanks to him for the joy and consolation you currently experience. But if life is difficult for you right now, ponder those six days during which the disciples struggled with the prediction of the Lord’s passion. Think about their confusion, doubts and fear. As you do, turn your eyes up the mountain. Know that the glory of God awaits you and that He wants to free you from all fear and anxiety. The mountain is climbed by a firm faith that is grounded in prayer. Make that journey with our Lord through prayer.

Reflect, today, upon this holy mountain to which you are called. Know that as you climb it with perseverance and determination, hope and joy will be given to you. Pray for the ability to trust in the God Who not only died a cruel death but also is radiant in glory for all eternity. Trust Him, turn to Him and commit to the journey ahead.

My Transfigured Lord, You revealed Your glory to these disciples as a way of helping them accept Your Cross. Help me to also embrace Your Cross in my life and to see clearly the glory that results from its embrace. I trust in You, dear Lord; help me to trust You more. Jesus, I trust in You.

Becoming “Fully Awake”

Second Sunday of Lent (Year C) 

Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. Luke 9:32–33

As we are presented with this glorious event of the Transfiguration this Sunday, there are numerous lessons we can learn from it. The passage above presents us with two particular lessons. 

First, Peter and his companions were overcome by sleep while Jesus was transfigured in glory and conversing with Moses and Elijah. This line could suggest many things. It could mean that Peter was weak and more concerned with his human condition than he was with attentiveness to the important journey he was invited to take with our Lord. It could reveal a kind of spiritual sloth. It is easy in life to become weary of the journey and to become drowsy at the times that we should be most attentive to our Lord. For example, think about any time when you knew you should pray but instead, sat daydreaming or distracted, or chose to fill that time with something mindless. Peter and his companions, therefore, teach us that it is easy for us in our fallen human nature to “doze off” during those times when God wants to speak to us, especially while at Mass.

Another interpretation of this line comes from the Church Father, Saint Ambrose. He suggests that this sleep of Peter and his two companions was primarily a result of them encountering “the incomprehensible brightness of the Divine nature.” As Jesus was transfigured, the initial vision was too much for them to comprehend, and so this vision began with them asleep as a symbol of the fact that we are all incapable of seeing the glory of God in our weakened state. But then they became “fully awake,” which implies that it took time for them to open their eyes to see the glory of God. This lesson teaches us that we all must wake up and work to become fully awake if we are to see the glory of God as He reveals Himself to us.

After becoming fully awake and encountering the incomprehensible brightness of the divine nature, Peter says, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” The Gospel writer then goes on to say that Peter “did not know what he was saying.” Again, if we turn to Saint Ambrose, he points out that Peter’s experience is commendable because he not only had earnest feelings but also took the initiative of good deeds. He wanted to build three tents so that Jesus, Moses and Elijah would remain with them. But another Church father points out that Peter “did not know what he was saying” because he did not, at that time, realize that it was indeed his mission to build a dwelling place for Jesus, the Law and the Prophets. It was his mission to build the Church, which was to be the future dwelling place of God on earth and the place in which we will encounter God throughout life.

You, too, are entrusted with the responsibility of building up the structure of the Church on earth so that many may encounter the full glory of God. This will only happen if you continually seek to become fully awakened to the glory of God as He reveals Himself to you and, in the joy of that encounter, go forth to build up God’s Church by your earnest desire and intentional acts of charity.

Reflect, today, upon Peter and his two companions, James and John. Prayerfully ponder them asleep as Jesus was transfigured in glory. Reflect upon them waking up and beginning to realize what was taking place before them. Consider Peter’s excitement and amazement and the effect that had on him. And then ponder how these disciples eventually did go forth to build the Church, the house of God, so that they and many others would come to meet Christ. Pray that the witness of these disciples will inspire you to follow in their footsteps.

My Transfigured Lord, the glory that shone forth from Your divine face in radiance must have been beyond human description. Your true glory in Heaven is something that I hope to one day behold. Please instill in me a desire to more fully understand Your glory and to work tirelessly to be an instrument of that glory to all I meet. Jesus, I trust in You.

Mercy Goes Both Ways

Monday of the Second Week of Lent

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.”  Luke 6:36–37

Saint Ignatius of Loyola, in his guide for a thirty-day retreat, has the retreatant spend the first week of the retreat focusing upon sin, judgment, death and hell. At first, this can seem very uninspiring. But the wisdom of this approach is that after a week of these meditations, retreatants come to a deep realization of just how much they need the mercy and forgiveness of God. They see their need more clearly, and a deep humility is fostered within their soul as they see their guilt and turn to God for His mercy.

But mercy goes both ways. It is part of the very essence of mercy that it can only be received if it is also given. In the Gospel passage above, Jesus gives us a very clear command about judgment, condemnation, mercy and forgiveness. Essentially, if we want mercy and forgiveness, then we must offer mercy and forgiveness. If we are judgmental and condemning, then we will also be judged and condemned. These words are very clear.

Perhaps one of the reasons that many people struggle with being judgmental and condemning of others is because they lack a true awareness of their own sin and their own need for forgiveness. We live in a world that often rationalizes sin and downplays the seriousness of it. That’s why the teaching of Saint Ignatius is so important for us today. We need to rekindle a sense of the seriousness of our sin. This is not done simply to create guilt and shame. It’s done to foster a desire for mercy and forgiveness.

If you can grow in a deeper awareness of your own sin before God, one of the effects will be that it is then easier to be less judgmental and condemning of others. A person who sees his sin is more apt to be merciful to other sinners. But a person who struggles with self-righteousness will most certainly also struggle with being judgmental and condemning.

Reflect, today, upon your own sin. Spend time trying to understand how ugly sin is and try to grow in a healthy disdain for it. As you do, and as you beg our Lord for His mercy, pray also that you will be able to offer that same mercy you receive from God to others. As mercy flows from Heaven to your own soul, it must then also be shared. Share the mercy of God with those all around you and you will discover the true value and power of this Gospel teaching of our Lord.

My most merciful Jesus, I thank You for Your infinite mercy. Help me to see clearly my sin so that I, in turn, may see my need for Your mercy. As I do, dear Lord, I pray that my heart will be open to that mercy so that I can both receive it and share it with others. Make me a true instrument of Your divine grace. Jesus, I trust in You.

True Greatness

Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11–12

Do you want to be truly great? Do you want your life to truly make a difference in the lives of others? Deep down this desire for greatness is placed within us by our Lord, and it will never go away. Even those who live eternally in hell will hold on to this innate desire, which for them will be the cause of eternal pain, since that desire will never be fulfilled. And sometimes it’s useful to ponder that reality as a motivation to make sure that this is not the fate we encounter.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us one of the keys to greatness. “The greatest among you must be your servant.” Being a servant means that you put others before yourself. You elevate their needs rather than trying to get them to be attentive to your needs. And this is difficult to do.

It’s very easy in life to think of ourselves first. But the key is that we do put ourselves “first,” in a sense, when we practically put others before us. This is because the choice to put others first is not only good for them, it’s also exactly what is best for us. We were made for love. We were made to serve others. We were made for the purpose of giving of ourselves to others without counting the cost. But when we do this, we do not lose ourselves. On the contrary, it is in the act of giving of ourselves and seeing the other first that we actually discover who we are and become what we were created to be. We become love itself. And a person who loves is a person who is great…and a person who is great is a person whom God exalts.

Reflect, today, upon the great mystery and calling of humility. If you find it difficult to put others first and to act as their servant, do it anyway. Make the choice to humble yourself before everyone else. Elevate their concerns. Be attentive to their needs. Listen to what they say. Show them compassion and be ready and willing to do so to the fullest extent. If you do, that desire for greatness that lives deep within your heart will be fulfilled.

My humble Lord, thank You for the witness of Your humility. You chose to put all people first, even to the point of allowing Yourself to experience the suffering and death which was a consequence of our sins. Give me a heart that is humble, dear Lord, so that You can use me to share Your perfect love with others.  Jesus, I trust in You.

Facing the Cross with Courage and Love

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent

As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the Twelve disciples aside by themselves, and said to them on the way, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 20:17–19

What a conversation that must have been! As Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem with the Twelve just prior to the first Holy Week, Jesus spoke openly and clearly about what would be waiting for Him in Jerusalem. Imagine what the disciples would have thought. In many ways, it would have been too much for them to comprehend at the time. In many ways, the disciples probably preferred not to hear what Jesus had to say. But Jesus knew they needed to hear this difficult truth, especially as the moment of the Crucifixion drew near.

Oftentimes, the full message of the Gospel is difficult for us to accept. This is because the full message of the Gospel will always centrally point us to the sacrifice of the Cross. Sacrificial love and the full embrace of the Cross needs to be seen, understood, loved, fully embraced and confidently proclaimed. But how is this done? Let’s start with our Lord Himself.

Jesus was not afraid of the truth. He knew that His suffering and death was imminent, and He was ready and willing to accept this truth without hesitation. He didn’t see His Cross in a negative light. He did not look at it as a tragedy to be avoided. He didn’t allow fear to deter Him. Instead, Jesus looked at His imminent sufferings in the light of truth. He saw His suffering and death as a glorious act of love that He was soon to offer, and, therefore, He was not afraid to not only embrace these sufferings but also to speak of them with confidence and courage.

In our own lives, we are given the invitation to imitate Jesus’ courage and love every time we must face something difficult in life. When this happens, some of the most common temptations are to be angry about the difficulty, or to look for ways to avoid it, or to blame others, or to give into despair and the like. There are numerous coping mechanisms that kick in by which we tend to try and avoid the crosses that await us.

But what if we followed the example of our Lord instead? What if we faced any and every pending cross with love, courage and a willing embrace? What if instead of looking for a way out, we looked for a way in, so to speak? That is, we looked for a way to embrace our suffering in a sacrificial way, without hesitancy, in imitation of Jesus’ embrace of His cross. Every cross in life has the potential of becoming an instrument of much grace in our own lives and in the lives of others. Therefore, from the perspective of grace and eternity, crosses must be embraced, not avoided or cursed.

Reflect, today, upon any difficulty you are facing. Do you see it in the same way that Jesus sees it? Can you see every cross you are given as an opportunity for sacrificial love? Are you able to embrace it with hope and confidence, knowing that God can bring good out of it? Seek to imitate our Lord by joyfully embracing the difficulties you face and those crosses will ultimately share in the Resurrection with our Lord.

My suffering Lord, You freely embraced the injustice of the Cross with love and courage. You saw beyond the apparent scandal and suffering and transformed the evil done to You into the greatest act of love ever known. Give me the grace to imitate Your perfect love and to do so with the strength and confidence that You had. Jesus, I trust in You.

A Powerful Contrast

Thursday of the Second Week of Lent

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores.” Luke 16:19–21

One of the reasons this story is so powerful is because of the clear descriptive contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. The contrast is not only seen in the passage above, it is also seen in the final outcome of each of their lives.

In the first contrast, the rich man’s life seems much more desirable, at least on the surface. He is rich, has a home to live in, dresses in fine clothing and eats sumptuously every day. By contrast, Lazarus is poor, has no home, has no food, is covered with sores and even endures the humiliation of dogs licking his wounds. Which of these persons would you prefer to be?

Before you answer that question, consider the second contrast. When they both die, they experience very different eternal fates. When the poor man died, he was “carried away by angels.” And when the rich man died, he went to the netherworld, where there was ongoing torment. So again, which of these persons would you prefer to be?

One of the most seductive and deceptive realities in life is the lure of riches, luxury and the fine things in life. Though the material world is not bad in and of itself, there is great temptation that goes along with it. In fact, it is clear from this story and from the many other teachings of Jesus on this topic that the lure of riches and its effect on the soul cannot be ignored. Those who are rich in the things of this world are often tempted to live for themselves rather than living for others. When one has all the comforts this world has to offer, it’s easy to simply enjoy those comforts without concern for others. And that is clearly the unspoken contrast between these two men.

Though poor, it is clear that Lazarus is rich in the things that matter in life. This is evidenced by His eternal reward. It is clear that in his material poverty, he was rich in charity. The man who was rich in the things of this world was clearly poor in charity and, thus, upon losing his physical life, he had nothing to take with him. No eternal merit. No charity. Nothing.

Reflect, today, upon that which you desire in life. Too often, the deceptions of material wealth and worldly possessions dominate our desires. In fact, even those who have little can easily become consumed with these unhealthy desires. Seek, instead, to desire only that which is eternal. Desire love of God and love of neighbor. Make this your only goal in life and you, too, will be carried away by angels when your life is completed.

My Lord of true riches, You chose to be poor in this world as a sign to us that true riches come not with material wealth but with love. Help me to love You, my God, with all my being and to love others as You love them. May I be wise enough to make spiritual riches my single goal in life so that these riches will be enjoyed for all eternity. Jesus, I trust in You.

Building the Kingdom

Friday of the Second Week of Lent

“Therefore, I say to you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” Matthew 21:42

Are you among those from whom the Kingdom of God will be taken away? Or among those to whom it will be given so as to produce good fruit? This is an important question to sincerely answer.

The first grouping of people, those who will have the Kingdom of God taken away from them, are represented in this parable by the tenants of the vineyard. It is clear that one of their greatest sins is greed. They are selfish. They see the vineyard as a place through which they can enrich themselves and care little about the good of others. Sadly, this mind frame is easy to adopt in our own lives. It’s easy to see life as a series of opportunities for us to “get ahead.” It’s easy to approach life in a way that we are constantly looking out for ourselves rather than sincerely seeking the good of others.

The second grouping of people, those to whom the Kingdom of God will be given so that it will produce good fruit, are those who understand that the central purpose of life is not to simply enrich themselves but to share the love of God with others. These are the people who are constantly looking for ways that they can be a true blessing to others. It’s the difference between selfishness and generosity.

But the generosity to which we are primarily called is to build up the Kingdom of God. This is done through works of charity, but it must be a charity that is motivated by the Gospel and has the Gospel as its ultimate end. Caring for the needy, teaching, serving and the like are all good only when Christ is the motivation and end goal. Our lives must make Jesus more known and loved, more understood and followed. In fact, even if we were to feed a multitude of people in poverty, care for those who were sick, or visit those who were lonely, but did it for reasons other than to ultimately share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then our work would not produce the good fruit of building up the Kingdom of Heaven. In that case, we would only be philanthropists rather than missionaries of the love of God.

Reflect, today, upon the mission given to you by our Lord to produce an abundance of good fruit for the upbuilding of His Kingdom. Know that this can only be accomplished by prayerfully seeking out the way God is inspiring you to act. Seek to serve His will alone so that all you do will be for God’s glory and the salvation of souls.

My glorious King, I pray that Your Kingdom will grow and that many souls will come to know You as their Lord and God. Use me, dear Lord, for the upbuilding of that Kingdom and help all my actions in life to bear abundant and good fruit. Jesus, I trust in You.

Consolation for the Repentant Sinner

Saturday of the Second Week of Lent

“Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.” Luke 15:22–24

This was the reaction of the faithful son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Recall that after squandering his inheritance, the Prodigal Son returns home humiliated and poor, asking his father if he will take him back and treat him as if he were a hired hand. But the father surprises him and throws a huge party for the son to celebrate his return. But the father’s other son, the one who remained with him throughout the years, would not join in the celebration.

Was it fair that the father killed the fatted calf and threw this large party to celebrate his wayward son’s return? Was it fair that that same father apparently never even gave his faithful son a young goat to feast on with his friends? The right answer is that this is the wrong question.

It’s easy for us to live in such a way that we always want things to be “fair.” And when we perceive that another receives more than us, we can get angry and bitter. But asking whether or not this is fair is not the right question. When it comes to the mercy of God, God’s generosity and goodness far exceed what is perceived as fair. And if we are to share in the abundant mercy of God, we too must learn to rejoice in His superabundant mercy.

In this story, the act of mercy given to his wayward son was exactly what that son needed. He needed to know that no matter what he had done in the past, his father loved him and rejoiced in his return. Therefore, this son needed an abundance of mercy, partly to reassure him of his father’s love. He needed this extra consolation so as to become convinced that he made the right choice in returning.

The other son, the one who had remained faithful throughout the years, was not treated unfairly. Rather, his discontent came from the fact that he himself lacked the same abundant mercy present in the heart of his father. He failed to love his brother to the same extent and, therefore, failed to see the need to offer this consolation to his brother as a way of helping him understand he was forgiven and welcomed back. Mercy is very demanding and far exceeds what we may at first perceive as rational and just. But if we desire to receive mercy in abundance, we must be ready and willing to offer it to those who need it the most.

Reflect, today, upon how merciful and generous you are willing to be, especially toward those who do not appear to deserve it. Remind yourself that the life of grace is not about being fair; it’s about being generous to a shocking extent. Commit yourself to this depth of generosity toward all and look for ways that you can console another’s heart with the mercy of God. If you do, that generous love will also bless your heart in abundance.

My most generous Lord, You are compassionate beyond what I can fathom. Your mercy and goodness far exceed what any of us deserve. Help me to be eternally grateful for Your goodness and help me to offer that same depth of mercy to those in most need. Jesus, I trust in You.

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