The Second Sunday of Lent [A]

The Second Sunday of Lent [A]
Genesis 12:1-4  +  2 Timothy 1:8-10  +  Matthew 17:1-9

“And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.”

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references to the Catechism of the Catholic Church cited for this Sunday by the Vatican’s Homiletic Directory:

CCC 554-556, 568: the Transfiguration
CCC 59, 145-146, 2570-2571: the obedience of Abraham
CCC 706: God’s promise to Abraham fulfilled in Christ
CCC 2012-2014, 2028, 2813: the call to holiness

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Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church proclaims one of the Gospel passages recounting the Transfiguration.  This year we hear St. Matthew’s account.  To appreciate it, it helps to understand its place within St. Matthew’s entire Gospel account.  We should especially consider connections between the Transfiguration account and the passages before and after it.  Here, consider just the preceding passage.

In the eight verses immediately preceding this Sunday’s Gospel passage, “Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed”.  Not surprisingly, the newly minted “Peter” rebuked Jesus:  “‘God forbid, Lord!  This shall never happen to you.’”  But Jesus in turn rebukes Peter by referring to him with a very different name:  “‘Get behind me, Satan!  You are a hindrance to me.’”

Yet Jesus didn’t stop there.  To extend His point, He declared:  “‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’”

Those eight verses are key to understanding this Sunday’s Gospel Reading.  Of course, those preceding verses sound very Lenten:  a prediction of Jesus’ Passion and Death, and the admonition to follow Jesus by taking up one’s own cross.  In fact, those prior eight verses might seem to be a better choice for the Gospel Reading on the Second Sunday of Lent.  Why, then, does the Church focus upon the Transfiguration every year on this Sunday?

Lent—like one’s entire life on earth—is a pilgrimage.  It’s long and difficult.  The Christian shouldn’t expect or seek a bed of roses.  However, in the midst of any pilgrimage there ought to be stations of rest and relaxation.  In the spiritual life, there are bound to be moments of consolation.  Spiritual consolations can be man-made or can originate from God.

The spiritual consolations that God sends occur in the spiritual life according to God’s Providential Will.  When these consolations occur in connection with one of the sacraments, they are graces above and beyond those normally communicated by that sacrament.  However, God gives some consolations independently of the sacraments and private prayer.

Spiritual consolations can buoy the Christian amidst the tempestuous waves of discipleship.  However, there is a stark danger here.

The Christian may be tempted to seek or cling to spiritual consolations rather than accepting them as gifts given according to God’s Providential Will.  Not surprisingly, Peter shows us in this Sunday’s Gospel Reading what not to do when this occurs.  He responds to the vision of God’s glory by stating:  “‘Lord, it is good that we are here.  If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’”  Jesus does not even respond to Peter’s suggestion, perhaps hoping that His silence will be instructive.

One of the greatest teachers of Catholic spirituality is St. John of the Cross.  His doctrine about the authentic purpose as well as the dangers of spiritual consolations directly relates to Sunday’s Gospel Reading.  In his book Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John describes those who misunderstand the place of spiritual consolations:  “they prefer feeding and clothing their natural selves with spiritual feelings and consolations [than] to stripping themselves of all things, and denying themselves all things, for God’s sake.  For they think that it suffices to deny themselves worldly things without annihilating and purifying themselves of spiritual attachment” [Ascent II,7,5].

More pointedly, in his book Dark Night of the Soul St. John of the Cross writes an entire chapter about imperfections that arise from what he terms “spiritual gluttony”.  One example concerns the Most Blessed Sacrament and those who approach the Eucharist seeking consolations:  “they have not realized that the least of the benefits which come from this Most Holy Sacrament is that which concerns the senses, and that the invisible part of the grace that it bestows is much greater.  For in order that they may look at it with the eyes of faith, God often withholds from them these other consolations and sweetnesses of sense” [Dark Night I,6,5].

St. John of the Cross might be describing Peter in Sunday’s Gospel Reading, or us in our own spiritual lives, when he notes that “Christ is known very little by those who consider themselves His friends:  we see them seeking in Him their own pleasures and consolations because of their great love for themselves, but not loving His bitter trials and His death because of their great love for Him” [Ascent II,7,12].  What Jesus wants to give as utter gift we should respect in its “giftedness” and neither seek or expect it; instead desiring and seeking a share in Jesus’ Cross.

Lent 2-0A