Second Sunday of Lent 2015
MASS TO CELEBRATE RELIGIOUS COMMUNITIES IN THE PARISH
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Church of Saint Therese, Mount Merrion, 1st March 2015
“The Gospel of the first Sunday of Lent, which we heard last week, reminded us of the reality of evil, of how Jesus stood alone, face to face with Satan in the loneliness of the desert. It reminds us also of the on-going struggle between good and evil that exists in our own hearts and which underlies our Lenten combat against evil through prayer, fasting and works of charity.
This week there is a sharp contrast: the Gospel tells us once again about Jesus in a lonely place, this time on a high mountain, but now his appearance changes and we see him mirroring the radiant glory of his Father.
It is one of the very rare occasions in the Gospels in which we see the glory of Jesus appear directly. Normally the Gospel narratives tell us of his journey from village to village, preaching and healing, but recognisable outwardly only in human form, like any other preacher of prophet. Jesus was generally reluctant to make direct reference to his identity. He forbade the evil spirits who knew his identity from revealing it. Even in today’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed to the disciples in all his glory, but then he tells them not to tell others.
You can only imagine how much the three disciples who were with Jesus would have loved to tell others about the manifestation they had seen of Jesus’ glory. The fact is, however, that they would not have been able to explain what they had seen and would certainly have misrepresented it. They themselves did not fully understand what they had experienced. Nor does Jesus explain it to them, except to tell them to await his rising from the dead, words which they find even more mysterious.
What the disciples experience is a sort of “icon.” An icon is a form of religious painting which is not like a photograph which everyone can immediately see and understand. Icons present a message which has to be drawn out. It may require that you go back again and again to the same icon day by day as you deepen your understanding of it in the light of faith.
Let us look at some aspects of this “icon” in today’s Gospel. The event is full of links with the Jewish scriptures. Peter recognises Elijah and Moses, who represent in Jewish tradition the prophets and the law. He suggests that they build three tents: God in the Old Testament appeared in a tent; the cloud which overwhelms them reminds them of the way in which God appeared to his people in a cloud.
What is different are the words used. The words that are used are the same words that were heard at the baptism of Jesus. In the Old Testament, as he presented the commandments which would be the guide for the life of the people, God called out: “Listen Israel”. Now the Father says: “Listen to my beloved Son”. Jesus, the Word made flesh, has become the way and the truth and the life for all.
The disciple of Jesus is the one who listens to the word of God and ponders it in every circumstance of his or her life, knowing that the very moment in which I begin to open my heart to him, then it is God himself who leads me. God is not a projection of my own ideas and my desires, someone who is created by human thoughts. God is always “the other”, the totally different, the one we never fully understand, yet also the one who can truly change my desires and my aspirations. He can only be discovered by examining how he reveals himself in Jesus Christ and in the Word of the Scriptures, especially in the Gospels.
Faith is more about listening than about seeing. If we do not listen to the Word of God, we run the risk of seeing things wrong, of inventing false glories for ourselves which will be only those of the world. Our challenge as Christian believers is always to find ways to enter more deeply into the mystery of God through prayerful reading of the Word of God.
The media report the many striking phrases of Pope Francis. Rarely do we hear something that he says constantly especially when speaking to the people of his own diocese of Rome and that is: “read a short portion of the Gospel every day”. He tells people to get a small pocket edition which can be read anywhere and at any spare moment.
The Christian faith is not a negative ready-made rule-book telling us how not to live; it is a mysterious light which opens for us intimacy with God himself. Christians then must be people who reflect in the way they live that mysterious light of Jesus.
This morning we have come together to celebrate religious life and especially the members of the religious congregations – male and female and of secular institutes – who live and work in the parishes of Mount Merrion and Kilmacud. We want to express our gratitude to them and to sustain them in the work that they have done and the work that that they do in so many areas: education, health care, care of the elderly, catechetics, pastoral and social outreach and of course that hidden apostolate of prayer and detachment from the world.
The Christian life, as I have said just now, is about witnessing to that mysterious light which opens for us intimacy with God himself. Religious are called to a special mission, by virtue of their consecration, to witness to what intimacy with God means and how such intimacy can indicate a path to a more fulfilled life for all. Religious are called to witness not just through what they do, but through what they are in themselves and in their community life.
In a world where greed and wealth-seeking, self-promotion and pleasure can easily dominate, the austere witness of poverty, chastity and obedience is something counter-cultural. When we say counter-cultural we can be tempted to think that this is something which is valuable but just for some. Religious life, when it is lived authentically and with integrity, is counter-cultural in that it calls all of us to examine the fundamental values which drive us in our lives and in the culture and the society we sustain.
Religious life witness to the other worldly, but it is not simply other worldly. It is in fact the opposite. It challenges us to look at the values of our world in another way. We need reflection on society which is not just about being anti-something; we need constructive policies rather than sound-bites of self-congratulations; we need to look at the social needs of people directly in the face rather than just regurgitate economic dogmatism.
Religious life witnesses to the other worldly –not just some distant ultimate cause, but a God of love. That belief in a God who loves changes us and our world. We need a different vision, where we do not simply toss ideas around or criticise the ideas of others, but bring into play in our interaction with others and especially the most vulnerable gratuitousness and generosity, caring and sharing.
The message of Lent is a message about the struggle between good and evil. But today’s Gospel reminds us that the light will always triumph and that through listening to the word of God the Church can become more authentic in witnessing to God’s love, also in critical times like ours in which many are experiencing anxiety about their lives and their future.
Jesus appearance in today’s Gospel is a pre-taste of the glory that he will attain at his Resurrection at Easter. He asks his disciples not to speak yet about what they saw, because it is only at the moment of his Resurrection that they will understand that Jesus’ path to glory must pass through his self-giving sacrifice on the Cross. In Lent, through our prayer, penance and works of charity, we come closer to Jesus on this path of dying to ourselves with Jesus so that we can rise with him to new life.” ENDS