One week down, five more to go on our 40-day Lenten journey.
Our readings this week focus on the divine revelation of God’s covenant promise to His people and our response to it. Usually, our response is doubt and anxiety instead of belief and peace.
Life is a long journey. Sometimes we get lost along the way. Sometimes we experience doubts and anxiety about God’s promise to us about our destination. Many of us carry baggage of our sinfulness on this journey of life. Our creator and our Church want us to spend this Lent reflecting on our sinful baggage and take steps to leave it behind as we change our ways.
In the first reading, we find Abram (he’s not Abraham just yet) hearing from God that he won’t be without an heir. In fact, God tells him his descendants will be as numerous as the stars.
But that answer to the childless and old Abram is doubted. So he is told by God to offer the primitive covenant ritual.
As one bible scholar says, “Cutting the animal in two and walking between the separate pieces bound the parties in covenant. If they failed to keep the terms of the covenant, they were cursed to share the fate like that of the split animal.”
Abram’s response to God after this encounter is born of faith and in trusting God completely he is relieved of all doubts and anxieties.
Notice how Abram’s deep sleep is a prelude to a divine intervention, not too unlike the three disciples waking up to Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah.
In our second reading, we hear the words of St. Paul convincing the people of Philippi not to buy into the Roman culture or any of the strange teachings being presented by Jews and others who were trying to convince the Philippians that the only way to follow Christ was to be circumcised like the Jews.
The imperial Roman cult at the time was to worship Emperor Caesar as savior and Lord. St. Paul is reminding them to look to Jesus and follow Paul’s example.
For the Philippians, it means giving “their primary allegiance not to Rome, but to heaven, not to Caesar but to Jesus – and to trust that Jesus would in due time bring the life and rule of heaven to bear on the whole world.”
And he’s telling them to not be so worried about earthly things. Do we sometimes get caught up in worrying about earthly things? How much money is in my bank account or IRA? Can I buy that new car? Will I get that promotion at work? Do we sometimes show more allegiance to our favorite political candidate than to Jesus?
Then, there’s the Gospel of Luke. It’s the Transfiguration. God is showing the disciples something important. Jesus has just explained to the disciples his future Passion and that true discipleship means denying oneself and carrying one’s cross.
In the Transfiguration, God is “foreshadowing of the glorification of the resurrection.”
The Exodus Jesus, Moses and Elijah speak of is death.
This experience will help the early Christian community get its sea legs and pick up the pieces after Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection.
Death is such a hard topic. But we all will experience it sooner or later.
Life is a tough journey, one fraught with pain and suffering as we carry our own crosses toward our promised land, carry our own sinfulness. God wants us to let it go and return to Him with all our hearts and souls and to love each other as we love ourselves.
I’m reminded of another journey many Christians take that lasts about 40-days. The El Camino journey to Santiago de Campostella in Spain. Some in our parish have walked the Camino.
How many of you have seen the movie: “The Way?”
If you haven’t, and even if you have, it’s a great movie to watch as we venture on our Lenten journey. The movie is sort of a metaphor for life. We’re all on a journey. We all encounter people we don’t like along the way. We all have to learn to get along despite our differences. We each carry our crosses, our sinfulness. We all have to learn to share the journey together.
God is reminding us of His covenant promise to us in all of today’s readings. God is reminding us not to be filled with anxiety and despair, but peace and hope. God is telling us all to listen to His “chosen Son.” Are we listening?
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is when the four arrive at the highest point on the Camino de Santiago, what’s called “Cruz de Hierro” or the Iron Cross.
“Since the 11th century … the cross has been a key feature on the Camino de Santiago. Pilgrims traditionally carry a rock with them from the start of their journey, before leaving the rock at the foot of the cross. The rock symbolizes the sins that the pilgrim has committed, and the act of leaving the rock is supposed to absolve them of the sins.”
Many will say a prayer as they lay the rock on the stack of thousands of rocks leading up to the cross of Jesus. In the movie, one of the characters read the following prayer:
“Dear Lord: May this stone, a symbol of my efforts on the pilgrimage, that I lay at the feet of the cross of the savior, weigh the balance in favor of my good deeds that day when the deeds of all my life are judged, let it be so. Amen.”
What rock of our sinfulness do we need to lay down at the cross of our Savior? Pride? Judgment? Lust? Greed? What sin are you working on freeing yourself from on this 40-day Lenten journey?
My sisters and brothers, lay it down and be free. No need to carry around excess baggage on this journey we call life.
A few weeks ago, at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, we had a memorial service for a longtime homeless man who died recently on the streets.
His name was Rudy. He believed in Christ, but carried a heavy cross -- the cross of addiction, the cross of homelessness for over a decade, the cross of estrangement from his family.
About 50 of his friends, many of them homeless, gathered to say their goodbyes to Rudy. It was beautiful.
During the eulogy, we went around the room to hear his friends speak about their buddy. Rudy was loved by so many for his cantankerous attitude and his abundance of generosity.
It was a holy experience listening to them share their stories of Rudy.
During the service, ICOLPH School principal Kimberlie Kilroy and new music teacher Lindsey Hittmierer sang a number of songs, included was a magnificent acapella version of Ave Maria that brought down the house.
Yes, we don’t usually hear applause after a song in Church (only at the end of Mass sometimes). But our homeless friends don’t know that. And they were so appreciative of the beauty of the singing for their friend’s service that they responded in the only way they knew how -- by applause.
Jesus was present with us in the room that day, consoling Rudy’s friends and wiping away every tear with today’s covenant promise to us all. (Here's a link to Julie Muhlstein's article on Rudy's memorial in the Everett Herald)
As believers in Christ, we, too, hope to one day experience the glory of the risen Lord when we are raised up on that last day.
A good friend wrote this recently about the Transfiguration and the power of prayer:
“The prayer that empowers is not about persuading God about one’s own holiness, but about being open to receive the transforming Presence that reveals definitively the nature of God and who Jesus really is. It is the power that enables the transformation of the mind and heart that goes by the name “repentance.”
So, as you are on your journey, lighten your load this Lenten season. Spend some time in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and work on your relationship with our Lord and savior. Ask Jesus to help you carry your cross. Pray daily and don’t forget to give alms to those less fortunate that you.
I wish you a Buen Camino, a good journey.