Sunday, March 04, 2007

Our Town, and the Glory of God

(2nd Sunday of Lent-Year C; This homily was given on 3 & 4 March, 2007 at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; See Luke 9:28-36)

Our gospel for this weekend, the Transfiguration, is one of the more remarkable and visual gospels we find in the Lenten season. We can picture that scene as St. Luke describes it to us. Jesus goes to the top of that mountain, taking with Him Peter, James and John. He enters deeply into prayer with the Father, and then suddenly it happens:

His face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah…
—Luke 9:29-30

Imagine what Peter, James and John must have been thinking as those amazing events unfolded on that mountain! But, of course, we don’t have to imagine what they were thinking. St. Luke tells us what was going through their minds: absolutely nothing!

They were not thinking anything, because they “had been overcome by sleep” (Luke 9:32). They were out cold! One of the greatest events in their lives to that point, and they almost miss it entirely! Fortunately they wake up in time to catch the tail end of that great vision. It is Peter who tries to reach out and take hold of it with both hands. He says:

Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.
—Luke 9:33

It is a futile effort to hold on to an experience that has come so quickly, and just as quickly fades away. St. Luke even tells us that Peter is merely grasping, and that “he did not know what he was saying” (Luke 9:33).

This vivid gospel passage provides a great reflection for us on this Second Sunday of Lent. We can ask ourselves this weekend: Are we awake and alert in our spiritual lives, or do we find ourselves, perhaps, asleep like Peter, James, and John? Are we aware of the glory of God in our own midst, our own lives this Lent?

Because the glory of God will not come into our lives in the same way it did for those disciples. We will not see the face of Christ change in appearance, or His clothing turn dazzling white. But we will see His glory…if we are awake, if we are alert…

St. Irenaeus, one of the great Church Fathers, has a beautiful and oft quoted expression regarding the glory of God. He says, “The glory of God is man, fully alive” (Adversus Haereses, Book IV, Ch. 20, #7). What he means by that is that God is glorified when man and woman are fully alive in Christ. Like so many of the early Church Fathers, he talks about that “great exchange,” how the Son of God became the Son of Man so that man and woman could become sons and daughters of God. To have that life of Christ in us means to be fully alive. As Christ Himself tells us, in St. John’s Gospel, “I came so that that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

To have the abundant life is to be fully alive in Christ. To live abundantly in Christ is to allow the power and grace of God to so fill our souls and our lives that the glory of God shines through us. That will happen in our spiritual lives this Lent to the extent that we are able to heed the command of God the Father in our gospel this weekend:

This is my chosen Son; listen to him (Luke 9:35).

It is when we listen to Christ that we are most awake and most alive in God.

It is when we listen to Christ that we live most fully and most abundantly in Him.

It is when we listen to Christ that our lives take on new meaning, new purpose, and the life of joy God calls us to.

I would suggest this weekend that there are three ways God is calling us to listen to Christ this Lent:

Firstly, and obviously, He is calling us to listen to Christ in the Scriptures, to hear Him in the word of God. Each time we come to Mass we listen to that living and life giving word proclaimed, and we listen to Christ. Each time we open the Scriptures in our own life of devotion, we listen to Christ.

When I was in my early twenties, the priest in my home parish spoke one Sunday in Lent about what it means to observe the traditional Lenten practices. He said that it is obvious that we should be willing to make sacrifices, and we often give things up for that reason. But, we should also be willing to do things in our lives for Christ. He suggested works of charity or works of mercy, and reading the Scriptures.

I was intrigued by that. At the time, I was reading about one or two novels a week. I would read anything I could find; but I had never really read the Bible. I started with the New Testament, the Gospel of St. Matthew. Before I went half way through it, I already noticed my life beginning to change. It changed my relationship with my parents; it changed my relationships with the people I worked with. It changed the way I looked at my own life, and the way I looked at my relationship with God.

Within six months I felt that God was calling me to the priesthood. He had probably been calling me for years, but I had never heard Him. Now that I was listening to Christ in the Scriptures, I began to hear God more clearly in all the events of my life. That is what God wants to do in all our lives this Lent. It begins with listening to Christ in the Scriptures.

Secondly, we also listen to Christ in our own personal lives of prayer, spending time alone with God each day. The account of the Transfiguration has long been used as an illustration for our own experience of prayer with God, our time “on the mountain” with Him.

St. Leo the Great says that one of the reasons Christ reveals His glory to the disciples is to strengthen them for all that they will encounter in the days ahead. When they witness Christ arrested, beaten and condemned, when they experience the scandal of the cross, they will remember that day on the mountain and they will have the courage and strength to go on. In fact, they would even have the courage and strength to go to their own deaths for their unwavering faith in Christ.

And so it goes with us. We, too, are called to be strengthened in prayer so that we can follow Christ in our daily lives. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray” (CCC #2725). Are we able to listen closely to Christ in the way we pray, and in the way we live, this Lent?

Finally, we are called to listen to Christ in the events, and especially in the people, that God brings into our lives each day. If “the Glory of God is man fully alive,” then we should be able to recognize that glory in the people around us.

Just the other night I went to Trinity Rep. to see the play Our Town. You may have seen that play, or read it in high school. Written by Thornton Wilder, it is the delightful story of the quaint town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire.

The point that Wilder is making is that it doesn’t matter where we are born, or what period of time we live in. All of life matters; all of life is beautiful, and we should be able to recognize the powerful, and even painful, beauty of life right where we are. It could be anywhere, any-town. It could be Our Town, East Greenwich.

There is a haunting scene at the end of that play which takes place in a graveyard. Many of the characters of Our Town have passed on, and are now at rest there. Suddenly Emily, one of the main characters, who has just died, comes to join them. She tries to get acclimated to the place, and at one point asks if they are able to go back and relive some of the more special moments of life. The characters there try to dissuade her; they tell her that it is far too painful. She insists anyway, and returns to the time of her twelfth birthday.

As soon as she enters that moment, she is struck by how delightful every little detail is. She can’t take in everything fast enough. She comes down the stairs of her house and is overwhelmed by how beautiful and young everyone looks. She tries to get their attention but everyone is so busy, so occupied. It becomes more and more frustrating for her, and at one point she calls out to her mother:

“Just look at me one minute as though you really saw me.”

But, of course, her mother is doing all she can to get the family ready for the day. She tries her father, but again, to no avail. Finally she turns to the Stage Manager, in desperation, and says, “I can’t go on. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another.”

She asks to go back, once again, to her grave, saddened by the futility of her visit. As she is leaving she looks back and says, “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you.” And then she turns, again, to the Stage Manager, and says, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

The Stage Manager tells her no, that most of them do not…but, some of the saints do, and a few poets.

As we begin this second week of Lent, are we fully aware of all that God is doing right here in Our Town, East Greenwich? Are we alert and awake, listening to Christ in the Scriptures, in prayer, and in the everyday events of life?

If “The glory of God is man, fully alive,” where is God calling us to become more fully alive, more completely aware of Jesus Christ in our lives this Lent?