Sunday, 24 February 2013
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C, Shaftesbury
I've just come back from a little half-term break in Rome. I was supposed to be on a conference this week, it was cancelled, so I suggested to a priest friend of mine that we take the opportunity to go and stay at his friend's flat in Rome, just across the road from the Vatican. So off we went!
And as I was heading off I was struck by how excited and RELIEVED I was to going for a break, and was a little surprised to real just how much I clearly needed a break! And it struck me as a bit of a shame that I hadn't been looking FORWARD to it more. Because we all need things to look forward to in life. Having something to look forward to isn't just about enjoying the thing when it happens, but rather, when we look forward to something good I actually changes our experience of the present: It makes the present difficulties become more bearable.
The saints of the Church talk about this in terms of the passion and the virtue of 'hope' (St Thomas, ST I-II q40 a1; II-II q17). We can have natural hope about natural goods that we look forward to. And having our will set upon them, as I said, changes our experience of the present. But, the most important good to have our will set upon is not a natural good, but the supernatural good, God Himself, and our possession of Him in heaven.
I say this today in particular because our Scripture readings want to give us this supernatural orientation to the hope God has promised, and heaven is that ultimate good He has promised. We heard in our first reading (Gen 15:5-12, 17-18) of the Promise made to Abraham in the Old Testament, the promise of the Promised Land. In the new covenant it has been made clear that the ultimate Promised Land is heaven, and that is why our second reading reminded us that our TRUE "homeland is heaven"(Phil 3:20). And the vision of the transfiguration of Jesus that we heard about in the Gospel for today is a vision of what that glory will look like, where, as that reading from St Paul put it, "these wretched bodies of our will be transformed into copies of His glorious body"(Phil 3:21), that glorious body of His that was shown for a brief moment "brilliant as lightning"(Lk 9:29) in His transfiguration.
The account of the transfiguration is always given to us by the Church on this second Sunday of Lent. It is given to us because the Church knows from long experience that it is easy for us to get discouraged in our pursuit of the Christian life, and we need that vision of the end goal put before us to give us hope. In particular, in Lent, we can discouraged by our works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Maybe what you've given up for Lent feels like too much of struggle, maybe you've failed already in your Lenten resolutions. Maybe you're ready to give up, or maybe you've already given up. Well, the vision of the end goal can help us.
There are two things put before us here. First, there is the SIGHT of the end goal in seeing Christ's glory. Second, there is His words, thus our Collect (opening prayer) and that Gospel text told us to "LISTEN to Him"(Lk 9:35). And, what are we to listen to Him about? Well, in this case, we are being directed especially to listen to His promises, that they might give us hope.
If we have the eyes of our mind fixed on the Promise then we are able to have the hope in our heart fixed there too. To be people of hope, to know that there is something promised to those who are faithful -this gives us a REASON to be faithful. It gives us the ability to set our will steadfast through a difficulty, through a disappointment, through the trial of Lent. All that we are doing in this season is about that goal, and He has promised us not merely heaven hereafter but transfigured graces and life within NOW -this should be our hope, because we are set upon what He has Promised. "Listen to Him"