The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; 2 Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36) are the oldest we will hear during this holy season. Their use by the Church goes back nearly one thousand, seven hundred years. In the Fourth Century, the first Sunday of Lent was also the First Sunday of the Liturgical Year, so it is no surprise that they used these particular readings because in them we find the very heart of the Christian message, the core of why it is we gather together, what it is we hope for, where it is we are going, and how we might get there.
The first reading takes us back to the Book of Genesis after Adam and Eve had sinned. In cursing the serpent God declared that his head would be crushed by a descendant of Eve. It was God’s promise that He would send us a savior, a messiah. Today, in our first reading we find our father in faith, Abraham making his act of faith in God. In return God promises that he and his descendants will live in a land that God promises them.
In our Gospel reading we hear of Moses and Elijah. Moses, of course, led God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land, God’s kingdom. Elijah the most beloved of all the Jewish prophets is closely related to the future redemption of Israel and to God’s promised Messiah. In this Gospel account we find Jesus about to enter Jerusalem where, in fulfillment of God’s will, He will suffer and die while ushering in God’s heavenly kingdom, a kingdom transcending any earthly kingdom.
Note that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him up to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration. God the Father gave Moses the Ten Commandment on Mount Sinai, Jesus gave us His Beatitudes on the Mount of Beatitudes, and here on another mountain above our ordinary earth, God declares to Peter, James, and John telling them that the Jesus they knew is indeed the One in whom He is well pleased, the promised Messiah, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Adam and Eve as they were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
Jesus, in His passion, death, and resurrection, is about to usher in God’s kingdom here on earth. Peter, James, and John will be with Jesus on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemani as Jesus enters into His suffering, passion, and death.
Now, having gone through all of this, allow me to suggest that you and I are called to be Peter, James, and John to those around us. With them you and I, in our baptism and confirmation, are called by God to walk in the shoes of Peter, James, and John not just for our own salvation but for the salvation of those who will know us, observe us, and learn from our example of God’s kingdom. It is through our faith and our love that our relationships with others can carry God’s graces to them. God’s kingdom is realized, made real, in how we relate to those around us.
Listen now to the words of the Preface in the Mass for Christ the King. In that Preface we hear:
Father, all-powerful and ever-living God, we do well always and everywhere to give You thanks. You anointed Jesus Christ, Your only Son, with the oil of gladness, as the eternal priest and universal king.
As priest He offered His life on the altar of the cross and redeemed the human race by this one perfect sacrifice of peace. As king He claims dominion over all creation, that He may present to You, His almighty Father, an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace.
And so, with all the choirs of angels in heaven we proclaim Your glory and join in their unending hymn of praise.
Truth and life, holiness and grace, justice, love, and peace are not merely noble concepts, they are ways in which we live and act in relationships with those around us. When we pray The Lord’s Prayer we ask that God’s kingdom may come here on earth as it is in heaven not in some remote and distance future but here and now, in the way that we live and act with other people.
Here we are today in Lent, a time when the Church proposes prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to us. These traditional practices allow us to examine our spiritual lives, especially in times of meditation and prayer, those moments in which we try to listen to God and discern the movements of His Holy Spirit within us.
The also should cause us to focus on other people and how we are relating to them. Lent isn’t simply all about ourselves, it’s also about others and how we are treating them. Good works flow from faith, faith does not flow from good works. Faith comes first; our relationship with God comes first. Good works then follow. Our good works carry within them our faith. People should be able to see and encounter our faith in our good works. People who have no faith can good things, of course, but we do good things that are infused with our faith in order that others may be touched by the goodness of God.
The Church is concerned with truth and life, holiness and God’s grace, with justice, love and peace because Christ is our King and these things constitute God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
One day you and I will encounter our Father in heaven, the God who created us in love so that we might give Him our love and share our love with those around us. Hopefully on that day we will hear the same words we heard in today’s Gospel account: “You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” “You are my beloved daughter in whom I am well pleased.” Hopefully you and I are allowing us to be transformed into the persons He made us to be. Our transformation will be at the same time our transfiguration. Who could ask for anything more?
REVEREND CHARLES IRVIN, or “Father Charlie,” as he is known, was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on January 6, 1933. He was raised and educated there, graduating from the University of Michigan’s Law School. After a brief career as an attorney he entered the seminary and was ordained a priest in 1967. Shortly thereafter he began an eleven-year ministry at St. Mary’s Student Chapel in Ann Arbor. A rich variety of ministries followed including appointments to many advisory positions in the Church and three other pastorates. In the early 1970s he began writing columns for several Catholic newspapers in Michigan. In 1999 he was appointed founding editor of Faith magazine, published by the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. Today, the magazine serves seven dioceses.