FEBRUARY 24 2002
During the week of Ash Wednesday it seemed that the front page and the headlines of the newspapers and the news on television dealt with matters of pastors being transferred. There was a furor about removing certain pastors who have made significant contributions to their parishes. Every successful pastor makes a lasting impact on the parish where he has pastured. What often occurs is that an “at home” feeling develops between pastor and parishioners.
We all become accustomed to one another. What is often forgotten is that initially there may have not been such a comfortable and compatible relationship. Yet in time pastor and parishioners grow used to one another. Often parishioners and pastor grow so used to one another they could not imagine ever being separated. Most humans do not deal with change or separation with ease. We like to cling to what we have grown used to.
That is precisely why we have this time called Lent. It is meant to be a time when we let go of what we have become used to. We enter into the disciplines of fasting not only to do without but also to make room for that which we have ignored or have been unaware of. If we are not concern about our enjoyment or comfort then we can make room for what God wants to call us. Fasting is an opportunity for what we have ignored and need to fill up our desires and thoughts.
Fasting helps us to make room for God in our lives. It moves us out of center stage and allows the Lord to be the focus of our thoughts and actions. Like pastors and parishes who have used to one another we do not always want to allow such changes into our way of acting. Growing used to a certain way of acting or certain people in place can be another way of being in a rut. We all have had the experience of being stuck in the snow. We spin our wheels and make the rut deeper and deeper and go nowhere.
Lent is a time to call us out of the comfortable and familiar. Through fasting we relinquish the center of our world to the Lord. It does not come easy but then again Lent is a time for renewal and new life. It is meant to move us from where we are to where God wants us to be.
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
It needs to be recalled that the word Genesis means the beginning. This first book of the Bible was never intended to describe scientifically how the world began. The beginning it was meant to describe is the beginning of our faith in God. It all began when God moved the soul of one man. We initially come across him as Abram. He will be later called Abraham. Any change in name in the Bible frequently indicates that God has entered into the life of this person. The land where Abram came from is present day Iran and the land that was promised to him and his descendants is the Holy Land what we call Israel. It should be noted that the Arabs and the Jews are the descendants of Abraham and as a consequence both have the legacy of God’s promise to Abram.
This second letter to Timothy comes out of a period when the early believers in Jesus are realizing the need for some organization. Whenever a movement takes hold it begins often when a certain few interested people get together and act out a belief. As time goes on and the movement grows there is need for some organization. This letter was intended to encourage those who were now assuming the leadership in the church community. They and we are reminded that all that will be done within the life of the church will come first from God. Human endeavor and effort are only reminders of what God has begun and is doing.
Three of the early communities so treasured this story of Jesus with his companions that they wanted to include it in their gospel. We listen to Matthew’s this week. The mountain tells of God’s place in the heights. The cloud reminds of the incense that was always present in the holy of holies in the temple. Elijah refers to the prophets and Moses the Law. Both are at home with Jesus. When it was all over and the voice had been heard there was only Jesus and for the disciples that was all that was necessary to calm their fears.
The story of Abram is the story of a 1400-mile trek from Iran to the Israel. Abram and his family and belongings without an airplane car or train made that journey. There was no Mapqwest to facilitate the travel. There were no Mc Donalds along the way. There was adversity. There was what seemed to be an endless desert. There were mountains and human dangers. All that Abram had to go on was a promise. He also was driven by the conviction that God had called him. His response was complete and it was based on trust in God’s word.
The great contribution that Abraham has made to us Catholics today is his willingness to trust in God. That is a wish that most of us have. We would love to be able to trust in God but trust does not come easy.
In many of our lives we have lived through situations where trust has been betrayed. All of us here today have been betrayed. Wives betray husbands and husbands betray wives. A life spent by parents loving and providing for their children only to experience children walking away and never calling or never visiting. Years spent at a company giving faithful service and dedication only to be told that one was no longer needed. The company was changing to get ready for the future and one was not part of the future. The headlines of the papers these days about the scandal of priests in the Boston area are another example. Many of us feel betrayed and are angered. We feel the terrible hurt and harm done to the children. I personally feel the terrible harm that has been done to good priests who are blamed with the sins of others. There is a sense of anger that this could have been allowed to happen. There are so many experiences that all of us have had that cause us to be very reluctant and maybe even adamant against trusting anyone.
Yet there is a danger that we allow the times that we have been betrayed to color the rest of our lives. We forget the times that others have been worthy of our trust. Think of the trust an infant has as we reach out to him or her and he or she smiles and rests in our arms. There have been the times we listened to a teacher or a coach who believed that we could make it. Their belief in us and our trust in their words allowed us to discover what we would have never suspected. We began by saying “ I cannot do this”. We ended by a smile beaming from our face over what was accomplished. When a child offers us a hand as we cross the street with them, when an employer kept a job opened for us, when a priest offered us the compassion of God’s mercy in the sacrament of reconciliation are all incidents of trust given and trust rewarded.
If we remember the betrayals we have to remember the times of trust respected. I have often thought that it is easier to be able to believe in God and his word if we have had experiences of human trust. Those who are cynical, suspicious and sarcastic are all that way because of how they have been treated or how they have interpreted how they have been treated.
I have frequently thought of the image of a turtle. The hard shell of the turtle protects the turtle from what is outside. A turtle can live its entire life with its head hidden under the shell. As humans many of us have put layers and layers of protective shields around us. We never take the risk of trusting.
Think of that incident from the Gospel when Jesus suggests to Peter, James and John to come away with him. What went through their minds? Where are we going? Is he angry with us? What is he going to ask of us? These are all the questions of the suspicious and mistrustful.
The fact that they were selected out from the others did not seem to delight them. What they experienced they did not understand. So much in our lives does not go the way that initially makes sense to us. We are fired. We fail out of school. We lose a job. We get jilted. We are devastated in what we consider failure, Like Peter we jump to conclusions. Lets build a tent so that we can stay here.
Much in life causes us to be afraid. We hide our heads in our fears and we close off from others and God. Then the disciples looked up and saw only Jesus. Seeing Jesus they also heard His reassurance “Do not be afraid”.
We all have had the moments of God’s presence in
our lives but those moments fade. We like the disciples come down from the
mountain. We are harried and insulted and deceived. Yet the wounds and
difficult experiences of life never take away the presence of God that is
always with us. God is the faithful one. We may not always trust or
believe. We both cause and are harmed in our dealings with others. Yet in
it all, through it all and at the end of all there is the Lord. We can see
only Jesus and his words are the same to us as they were to the disciples.
“Do not be afraid”.
Homily preached at the 5:00 Saturday and the 11:00 Sunday Liturgies February 23/24 2002
Reverend William D. Mannio