Sunday, February 21, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent (I think I'm going to make it this year)

Gn 15:5-12, 17-18
Ps 27
Phil 3:17-4:1
Lk 9:28b-36

The readings for this second Sunday in Lent include significant interpretive challenges beginning with the first reading.  The ritual described in Genesis is very odd, even bizarre.  It does not resonate with modern sensibilities.  It would send the domestic terrorist group known as PETA into spasms of indignation, though maybe Planned Parenthood could gather up the parts and sell them.

What does it mean to slice several animals in half and place the halves, along with some birds, on the ground opposite each other?  What about the passage describing the movement of a smoking pot and a torch between the pieces? 

The Jewish Study Bible puts things into both historical and covenantal contexts.  It notes in the commentary on this episode:  “The ritual of cutting animals in half and passing between them is found in both the Bible and in Mesopotamia. . . . It is likely that the meaning of this ritual is calling down a curse upon oneself such that those walking between the sacrifices will be like the dead animals if they violate the covenant.”  It is the ancient equivalent of the old playground invocation, "If I'm lying may God strike me dead."  Since the smoking fire pot and flaming torch symbolize the Lord, the Lord is invoking a self-curse should He violate the covenant.

Oddly enough, the reading says nothing about Abram’s obligations under the covenant.  This covenant is pure gift.  It is a reward for past loyalty.  There are no obligations placed on the recipient.  Abram—who had not yet been instructed to change his name to Abraham—is given two promises.

First, his progeny would outnumber the stars.

Second, he would possess the land.  

Thus, his question “How am I to know that I shall possess it” is answered in the starkest most definitive terms possible. 

Paul is emphatic when he writes that Jesus will change our lowly bodies to conform with His glorified body. This transformation cannot occur through a ritual or a magic incantation, or even through the modern secular liturgies of going to the gym or eating vegan. This transformation can only be effected through Jesus who first conformed His body--and His life--to ours.  Our lowly bodies can only be transformed through Jesus who was like us in all things but sin. 

Every year on the First Sunday of Lent the Church tells of Jesus' temptations in the desert.  She does so to remind us that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, is like us in all things but sin.  And every year on the Second Sunday of Lent we hear the narrative of the Transfiguration of Our Lord.

The Transfiguration appears in all three synoptic Gospels.  There are some minor differences across the three accounts but the main actors and the content are consistent.  Jesus’ Transfiguration both points us towards and draws us into a mystery.  It is a mystery beyond the reach of historical reconstruction.  It is beyond modern scientific explanation. There is no geographic specificity.  That is good because all of these factors are irrelevant.  Demanding that the Transfiguration fulfill criteria of modernity is simply a smokescreen to obscure one's lack of faith.

“While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”   Imagine the scene. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, standing and conversing with Jesus.  The apostles were confused and frightened.  To say that any of us would have acted differently would be absurd if not delusional.  Despite the vogue for apostle bashing in some theological circles, none of us would have responded any better than Peter.  Most likely, we would have acted worse, perhaps grabbing the Ancient Near East equivalent of a cell phone and snapping pictures, or taking a selfie with Elijah, to tweet to the rest of the apostles at the bottom of the mountain. 

As the tension mounted the voice of God the Father confirmed Jesus as the one who Peter brilliantly confessed him to be earlier in this same chapter of the Luke: The Christ of God.  The Anointed one.  Then, the apostles, and thus by extension each of us, received  a mandate:

"Listen to Him."
Interpreters do not agree on the specifics of God’s command to listen to His beloved Son.  Does it refer to Jesus' earlier prediction of his passion and death?  Does it refer to his teaching?  Today that mandate is unmistakably clear.  We know that Jesus suffered and died.  The historical reality removes any ambiguity.  We are to listen to his teaching through His words.  We are to learn through the teaching of His actions.  We are to pray and meditate on scripture and avail ourselves of the sacraments.  As we listen to Jesus, as we take His teaching to heart and allow those teachings to transform us, we move closer to the glory foreshadowed in the transfigured Jesus. 

"I think I'm going to make it this year."  No, it has nothing to do with not eating chocolate during Lent, which wasn't a "give-up" anyway.  It has to do with the desire to give a homily for every Sunday of Lent.  Every year since I've been ordained there has always been at least one Sunday during Lent when I was unable to celebrate Mass.  This year I think I have it nailed.  I won't be in the same place every Sunday.  Seeing as last week I was in Ljubljana that is a given.  In a few weeks I will be at Regina Laudis getting together the chanted prefaces etc. that I will have to learn for the Triduum.  


I you didn't hear the homily Father Paul Scalia gave at the funeral of his father Justice Antonin Scalia, find it on You Tube.  It is one of the best funeral homilies I've ever heard.  I was enthralled.  It was not long, no more than ten minutes, but it was powerful.  Indeed it proved that if one is careful with words and ideas a great deal can be included in a rather short homily.  


Got home from Slovenia on Tuesday night.  It was 24 hours between waking up in Ljubljana to get ready to go to airport (4:00 AM there, 10:00 PM EST)  and falling into bed here (10:00 PM).  The travel back home was as good as it could have possibly been.  It was a short flight from Ljubljana to Munich.  Munich is a much nicer airport than Frankfurt.  It was rather like being dropped down into the middle of a luxury mall.  I was drooling over a 36,000.00 Euro Rolex (I lust after very fine watches).  Had a very good breakfast.  It was an 8 hour layover.  If you must have a long layover in Germany go to Munich and not Frankfurt.  

Life got even better on the plane when I had both of the seats on the left side of the plane to myself.  Had three seats on which to stretch out on the trip over.  How did that happen twice?  It took an hour to get through passport control and customs (nothing to declare).  Even the T from the airport to BC was not bad.  The last thing I remember was crashing on the bed and pulling the blankets up around my shoulders.  That was it for the next seven plus hours.  


The last Saturday in Ljubljana was great.  We had rain Friday.  It turned to snow on Friday night.  Saturday turned into a brilliantly sunny day (for a while) with perhaps two inches of wet snow.  Grabbed camera at 8:30 and headed out.  

The first four photos are the Butcher's Bridge.  It is a new bridge either built or reconstructed  in 2010.  Shortly after it was opened lovers began to put padlocks on the cable supports in imitation of a bridge in Paris.  

And one taken at night.

The Ljubljana market early Saturday.  A few hours later when I was on the return trip (with a completely used battery.  Like a fool I forgot to put the backup in my coat) the area was parked.  The hill in the background leads up to the castle that overlooks the city.  I did not get up there with the camera for multiple reasons, most of which were weather related.

One of my favorite photographic subjects in Slovenia was the cobblestoned curving streets and alleys lined with stuccoed buildings.  The fading and flaking of the stucco adds to the texture and feel.  

The view from the Three Bridges in front of the Franciscan Church.  This is a very large plaza that is a crossroads.

Saturday was Valentine's Day Eve.  Valentine's Day is celebrated but it isn't the hysterical deal that it has become in the U.S.  That is refreshing.  One can only tolerate the sight of so many red hearts.   The young couple were walking under the train tracks to a large park. 

It was unlikely that this particular outdoor seating area in a cafe near the community was going to see any use that day.  It definitely did not get used on Valentine's Day as the rain was steady. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

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