Homily: Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle B
Genesis 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18; Psalms 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Romans 8:31B-34; Mark 9:2-10
My homily at the 10:00 Mass today at Holy Ghost Church.
Today’s readings bring us to two different MOUNTAINTOPS, away from the world to a place where God is encountered in a powerful and life-changing way.
The first reading is the well-known story of Abraham’s response to God’s call that he sacrifice his son Isaac as a holocaust offering to God. In spite of the fact that Abraham had waited his whole life to have a son from his barren wife Sarah, Abraham, who was 100 years old when Isaac was born, was willing to sacrifice his son as God requested. We can’t help but notice how Abraham is like God the Father who was willing to sacrifice his only begotten son for our salvation.
Some years after Isaac’s birth, Abraham and Isaac set out for a mountaintop with firewood and rope, which he would use to tie up his son and place him on top of the wood on an altar he built there. We can’t help but notice how this foreshadows the sacrifice of Christ as Isaac, the son, carries the firewood to his place of sacrifice, just as Jesus carried his cross to Mt. Calvary.
Thankfully, the sacrifice of Isaac never happens. God stops it at the last minute by telling Abraham not to do it. Instead he provides a ram for the sacrifice. God did not want Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, he only wanted him to be willing to do whatever he asked him to do, regardless of how difficult it might be. Abraham passed the test.
We are told that God promised Abraham abundant blessings for his faithfulness, his willingness to carry out this unthinkable task of sacrificing his precious son. Abraham is told that through Isaac he will have descendants as countless as the stars and the grains of sand on the seashore. This amazing encounter with God the Father all takes place on a mountaintop.
The second mountaintop in today’s gospel reading is traditionally understood to be Mt. Tabor where Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James and John. This takes place on their journey to Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, where Jesus will sacrifice his life on Mt. Calvary.
Jesus knows what lies ahead. He has been speaking clearly to his disciples, telling them that he must die and that he will rise from the dead three days later. In fact, just six days before his Transfiguration he rebuked Peter for his insistence that Jesus would not die. He clearly told his disciples that if anyone wishes to follow him they must be willing to take up their own cross and lose their life for his sake. Jesus clearly understood what would happen when he reached Jerusalem.
It was in this setting that the Transfiguration took place. He wanted to show Peter, James and John that everything that would happen to him was for a glorious purpose. He knew the disciples were struggling with understanding why Jesus kept talking about the fact that he would soon die. He knew that they couldn’t see what good could come of that. So took them to a mountaintop to give them a glimpse of his glorified body to encourage them and strengthen their faith when his hour came.
We also learn that Jesus was conversing with Moses and Elijah during his Transfiguration. While today’s account in Mark’s gospel doesn’t tell us what they spoke of, Luke tells us that they spoke of the exodus he would accomplish in Jerusalem. We can be sure that the conversation reassured Jesus that he was truly doing The Father’s will and that the fruit of his sacrifice would accomplish the salvation of the world. Jesus was being strengthened to endure the cross that would bring him so much pain and suffering in the week’s ahead.
The disciples also hear the voice of God the Father on this mountaintop, telling them “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Can you imagine the impact this must have had on them? Matthew’s account tells us that when the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
Very much afraid? I’m sure we can easily imagine that they were terrified! Yes, this experience certainly made a lasting impression…one they would never forget.
So what do we make of all this…of these miracles and these mountaintops? How can we apply these experiences to our own lives so we can grow closer to God and be strengthened in our faith? How can we better hear God’s voice speaking to us and calling us to a stronger faith in his promises? How can we come to believe with certainty Paul’s words in our second reading that: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”
I believe the answer is that we are each being called to journey to a mountaintop, to a place where we can freshly encounter God, perhaps even miraculously encounter him, so that when we return to our everyday lives we have new strength to carry our crosses and bear the weight of our suffering.
There are so many possible mountaintop experiences available to us, regardless of our means, our health or our state in life. Whatever you choose to do is not as important as is making the decision to GET AWAY WITH GOD somewhere you can encounter him without all the distractions of your daily routine.
Many people choose to go on retreat each year, a practice I strongly encourage. Some are blessed to be able to go on pilgrimage to Rome or the Holy Land.
Others may choose to participate in a day of reflection, somewhere in the diocese or elsewhere. There are many of these days available to us throughout the year. Still others choose to attend daily Mass during Lent and 15-45 minutes of Eucharistic adoration. Regardless of the mountaintop you choose, it’s so important for us to do more than our normal daily routine if we going enter into a deeper relationship with Jesus. What better time to resolve to go to the mountaintop than during the season of Lent?
I just so happen to have a suggestion for those of you who would like to take a few days to get away from the daily grind to encounter God in a special way. In the month of May there is a pilgrimage that is relatively inexpensive, close to home, and promises to be a wonderful mountaintop experience.
My dear friend Lisa Morris is leading a pilgrimage to EWTN in May. Many of you may remember Lisa from her role a few years ago as the organizer of the enthronement of our parish to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. This group is sure to have some amazing mountaintop experiences.
We will attend Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s live show as it airs on EWTN, and we will stay two nights at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama with the Benedictine monks. This is also the home of the amazing Grotto of Brother Joseph. I can tell you from a previous visit that the monks are wonderful hosts, great cooks, and that there will be plenty of time for prayer and reflection.
We’ll also be visiting and have Mass at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama where Mother Angelica is buried and is home to the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, the Franciscan community of cloistered nuns that Mother Angelica led for so many years.
This pilgrimage will surely provide a wonderful setting for to have a mountaintop experience. If you’re interested, see me outside at the back of the church after Mass and I can provide you with more details. My phone number is also listed on the front page of the bulletin and I’ll put a link to the details on our Holy Ghost Facebook page.
Today’s readings highlight the importance of getting away from our daily routine and having a mountaintop experience with Our Lord. I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully consider today what you might do to accomplish this. Whatever you decide is the best fit for your current state in life, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT to build your relationship with God!
There is NOTHING more important in life than encountering God and doing his will. Use the opportunity this Lenten season provides to discern what God is calling you to do to hear his voice more clearly. In doing so you will receive his grace and the strength you need to bear your daily crosses. God is calling each of us to take some time away with him on the mountaintop. Say “yes” to his call and follow him to that place where you will surely be transfigured.
God bless you.
Details of the May Pilgrimage to EWTN: May 9-11, 2018
For questions and additional information contact Lisa Morris at (865) 567-1245.