The Second Sunday of Lent is a liturgy of contrasts. The first reading relates God's covenant with Abraham, using fire, shining in the darkness. The gospel describes the glorious Transfiguration of Jesus, probably in the dark of night. In the second reading, there is the contrast of our lowly body with the glorified body of Christ and the promise of our own transformation.
The Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR) has been around now for 55 years. I have been involved with the CCR for 54 of those years, nearly all of them in leadership. Over the years, I have heard my share of criticisms of the movement. Some have been valid and worth taking seriously. One of the most unfair criticisms I've heard, however, is that the CCR is not really Catholic. The fact is, the Renewal has made some very significant contributions in the life of the Church and to the Catholic faithful. I have reflected on some of these in the past and would like to do so again here.
On this First Sunday of Lent, our thoughts naturally turn to fasting, sacrifice, "giving up" things we like. However, Lent is also a time for feasting...feasting on the word of God! And today's Scriptural fare is a great beginning for us.
Sometimes fruit may look good at first glance. Closer inspection, however, reveals that it's bruised or even...rotten! People can be the same way. But true character is usually revealed by a person's speech, especially unguarded speech.
Acting against our human inclinations is difficult, requiring a death to self. For example, it's natural and easy to love people who love you and treat you well, but not easy at all to love those who don't. That is the lesson in today's readings - David sparing the life of Saul, and Jesus' teaching on loving our enemies.
So, is it "Who do you trust?" or "Whom do you trust?" I know that whom is correct (objective case) but it seems that who is more and more commonly used (offending my grammatical ear). At any rate, that is the question before us today, "In whom do you put your trust?" Is our basic trust in the Lord or in other persons or things?
Have you ever felt unworthy to speak, write, or testify for the Lord? If so, join the club! Everybody is tempted to feel that way. We know what we are. St Paul says, "I am what I am." But we also know that God doesn't call the qualified, but rather he qualifies the called. Today we see examples of great men of God who felt unworthy of their mission - Isaiah, Paul, and Peter - and how God accepted them and used them in mighty ways.
"Behold the days are coming, says the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east, they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it" (Amos 8:11-12). There are certain Scripture passages that "chill my soul," that is to say, they are able penetrate my inner being and make a greater than usual impact within me. This is one of those passages.
It's not easy to preach or minister in your own home town among people who know your family well and remember when you were a little kid! (I have had that experience.) The gospel relates the rough reception Jesus received when he preached at the synagogue in Nazareth. Our first reading today is the account of Jeremiah's call to be a prophet in 628 BC. The Lord's call and anointing preceded Jeremiah's birth: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you."
How powerful is God's word? Well, consider that God created the entire universe and everything that exists by simply uttering his word! The Word of God took on flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and dwelt among us. The word of God is a manifestation of the power and authority of God himself. "The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword..." (Heb. 4:12). Today's readings help us appreciate the power of God's word.
Epiphany, Baptism, and now Cana - these are traditionally the three "manifestations" of Jesus the Messiah as he comes into the world for his mission and ministry. In today's gospel we hear about the first "sign" that Jesus worked, revealing his glory. The second reading concerns the gifts of the Holy Spirit - also "signs" of the Lord in our midst. The first reading describes Israel as "God's Delight" and the spouse of the Lord - yet another "sign" of God's glory.
"Christ's entire mission is summed up in this: to baptize us in the Holy Spirit..." (Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, January 13, 2008). The Son of God was sent to earth on a mission: to reconcile mankind to God and to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. Today we celebrate Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan River, when the heavens opened, the voice of the Father was heard, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. On this day, Jesus began his public ministry - his mission!
The birth of Jesus was first announced to Jewish shepherds, representing the people of Israel. The next people to seek and find him were "magi from the east," representing the Gentiles - all who are non-Jewish. As the Responsorial, Psalm 72 says, "Lord, every nation on earth will adore you. On this feast, sometimes called "little Christmas," the liturgy concerns the manifestation, the "shining forth" of Jesus to the Gentiles, for which we can truly rejoice and be thankful!
It's important to try to accurately read and interpret the signs of the times. In any situation, I try to ask two questions: 1) what is God doing and 2) what is the devil doing? Another question would be, "What is the Lord saying to us in these circumstances?"
Football teams aren't the only ones who run options! Today's liturgy offers a number of them: alternate possibilities for the first reading, responsorial psalm and second reading...even for the Alleluia Verse. Today, we honor and celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The readings contain instructions for Christian families as well. Because the traditional readings are so well suited to family life and the alternates less so, it is not completely clear why the options were even added.
Are you ready for Christmas? That's the question we hear a lot this week. Preparations need to be made for gifts, decorations, food, travel, etc. Likewise, in today's liturgy we anticipate the coming of our Savior, Shepherd, Messiah and King. The question is, are we ready to receive him when he comes?
It is no big secret as to what today's liturgy wants to communicate. Everything bespeaks joy, gladness, rejoicing and exultation. Today is, of course, Gaudete Sunday, from the Latin word for "rejoice." The celebrant has the option of wearing rose-colored vestments instead of violet. In the midst of so much bad news, we can and should rejoice at all the truly good news we celebrate - Christ has come, is now with us, and will come again!
Psalm 126, our Responsorial today, has inspired many sung versions, including the old standard "Bringing in the Sheaves," written in 1874. The psalm depicts the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon to their homeland in joy. It is symbolic of our life's journey in this "vale of tears" being transformed by God into eternal glory.
Has the Lord ever spoken to you through a road sign? I think that has happened to me. Once I was tempted to compare my ministry with some other people in ministry, wondering why mine didn't have the same scope and effectiveness that theirs did. (Not my finest moment, I admit!) I was thinking about this while driving across the Causeway Bridge - 24 miles over Lake Pontchartrain. There are road signs galore, but I kept noticing one in particular: "STAY IN YOUR LANE." Then it hit me - the Lord was saying that to me about the question I was pondering. In other words, "Drive where I have placed you and don't worry about what I've given others to do!"
"It's not like it's the end of the world," we often say when circumstances may seem unpleasant or unfortunate - yet not as bad as they could be. The "end of the world" seems to indicate the ultimate in "bad and unfortunate!" This First Sunday of Advent we hear about the actual "end of the world." Amidst the dire predictions - and they are dire - let's not overlook the note of hope and expectation at the Second Coming of the Lord.