Second Sunday of Lent – Year A

Gary+N.+McCloskey%2C+O.S.A.+.jpg

Gary N. McCloskey, O.S.A. 
St. Thomas Monastery Villanova, Pennsylvania

Readings
Gn 12:1-4a
Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22.
2 Tm 1:8b-10
Mt 17:1-9

“Come Down, Peter, Come Down”

Homilists are often told to lead their homilies with a story as a means to connect their listeners to their message. This is part of a larger understanding of conveying any message. The internet and other means used by the media encourage all presenters nowadays to use stories to convey their messages.

In our Gospel today, Jesus’ life and experience have their own vivid story for us to hear his message. The Transfiguration account is so vivid that it can activate our imaginations and draw us into the Gospel message. Saint Ignatius Loyola in his spirituality encourages us to put ourselves into Scriptural accounts. The telling of the experience of the Transfiguration event lends itself to such Ignatian spirituality. We can put ourselves into the story Jesus gives us and see ourselves moving about on that mountain top. We can easily envision Moses and Elijah shining bright with Jesus. We can surely imagine ourselves with Saint Peter wanting to build the tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

However, Lent does not call us to stay on that mountain top. It calls us to continue to change our everyday lives. Saint Augustine of Hippo has a different look at this Gospel. In preaching on this message, Saint Augustine does not look to go into the story. Rather, he challenges Saint Peter to come out of the story and come down from the mountain top and transfigure our lives, transfigure our stories. As Saint Augustine says, Come down, Peter: You were eager to rest on the mountain; come down. (Sermon 78, 6) Augustine challenges Saint Peter with the words of the fourth chapter of the Second Letter to Timothy. We heard from the first chapter of that Letter in our second reading:

Preach the word, press on in season, out of season, censure, exhort, rebuke in all long-suffering and teaching (2 Tim 4:2).

Saint Augustine deepens the challenge to Saint Peter for transfiguration with these words:

Toil away, sweat it out, suffer some tortures, so that by means of the bright white clothing of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of right and good activity you may come to possess in love what is to be understood by the Lord’s bright garments.

In these words, Saint Augustine wants activity that makes the Lord’s bright garments present with us off the mountain top.

Like our second reading Augustine wants to see the impact, transfiguration of the Gospel “manifest” in our lives, in our stories. In the original Greek, the word for manifest in our second reading also gives us the word “epiphany.” Saint Augustine is wanting to see the bright garments of the mountain top having a manifest (epiphany), transfiguring impact in the difficulties of the valleys of our lives, that is, in our stories.

All of this is in an Augustinian sense not a call to the mountain top, but a call to deepen our vocation of “a holy life” that is spoken about in our second reading. It is even a call to “go forth” like Abram, in Genesis in our first reading, to live the call God has given to each of us personally. Abram in following God’s call to him became transfigured into Abraham, our father in faith. For us, it is a call to use this Lent as a time to make deeper progress in becoming truer to our Christian calls from God. Like Saint Augustine we need to see the brightness of the Lord in Scripture as active and transfiguring us in the difficulties of our lives, in our stories.

Each Lent we are called to engage in some form of Lenten practices. Traditionally it has meant giving things up. More recently there has been encouragement to do additional good works as Lenten practices. Many times, these practices can too easily become routines that we go through without seeing any transformation, transfiguration of who we are. They can become things we do until Lent is over and Easter has arrived, and then we return to who we were and what we did before Lent. If we are only getting our Lenten practices done, they are useless.

Our readings today should challenge us to examine the Lenten practices we are doing, or if we have not begun them, to start them up. We should be asking if they are changing us, like Abram, to be better in following our call from God. We should be asking ourselves if they are practices that will have lasting, transfiguring effect. We should be asking ourselves if they are practices that will help us live with the difficulties in the valleys of our lives as well on the mountain top.

Rather than staying in the stories we find in Scripture or from an eloquent homilist, we should be asking if our Lenten practices are changing, transfiguring the stories of the holy lives we have been called to live. Fundamentally, we should be asking, “Are my Lenten practices making me more evidently someone created in the image and likeness of God, especially during the difficult times in my life?”