2nd Sunday of Lent
March 17, 2019
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Today the Gospel tells us that:
“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray.”
Prayer, of course, is one of the 3 traditional forms of doing penance during Lent,
the others being almsgiving—or acts of charity—and sacrifice—or fasting.
If there were one thing I could improve about our prayer lives
—yours and mine—
this Lent it would be this:
that we would learn how to more devoutly and perfectly
pray the greatest prayer of the Church:
this prayer we’re doing right now: the Holy Mass.
Now, most people don’t think of Mass as a prayer.
Some think of it as something we do simply because we have to.
For these people the Mass often becomes an empty meaningless ritual.
Some think of it as sort of a series of prayers the priest says.
For these people the Mass becomes something they just sort of come to watch,
something that doesn’t really include them.
Still others think of the Mass something that should make them feel good,
For these people, Mass becomes a form of entertainment,
so that when it’s quiet, or the music isn’t to their liking,
or when the preacher isn’t funny enough,
or he challenges them in an uncomfortable way,
maybe, God-forbid, talking about sin and or morality,
they go away either bored, disappointed or even angry.
And still others think Mass is sort of performance or task to be done.
And they think if they are not physically active in the Mass in some notable way,
maybe serving, or lecturing, or distributing Communion,
or somehow moving around, or for some, even dancing,
they don’t feel like they’ve “done” Mass.
But Mass is a prayer—
a magnificent prayer that involves all of us and each of us,
from beginning to end,
Although there are various different prayers in the Mass,
they all come together to form one prayer
—and when we understand that one prayer
and the meaning of that one prayer,
it becomes not only intensely personal and practical,
but profoundly meaningful and life-changing.
Again, let’s go back and look at the Gospel.
Why does Jesus take His disciples up the mountain to pray?
Can’t they pray wherever they’re at?
Besides, wasn’t Jesus in constant prayer, constantly talking to the Father?
While Jesus is God, He’s also a man, and can be distracted like all men.
And so He takes Himself and His very human apostles, Peter, James and John,
and takes them away to be alone to pray.
People often tell me they don’t need to come to Mass to pray
—they can pray anywhere.
And that’s true—just like Jesus.
But also like Jesus, and the apostles, to pray without distraction,
we also all need to go away to a quiet place where no one will distract us
—where no one will interrupt us and cell phones won’t find us,
someplace like a church.
But also, and most importantly we come to church to pray
for the same reason the apostles went up the mountain:
to be in the place where Jesus was.
Some say, but isn’t Jesus everywhere, spiritually speaking?
But He has chosen to make Himself really and truly present in the church,
especially at Mass,
promising that the Eucharist would be His true presence among us:
taking bread and saying, “this is my body.”
So we come here to be in Christ’s true presence.
So….Peter, James and John go up the mountain
to be with Jesus and to pray with Him.
And what happens?
St. Matthew tells us:
“Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep.”
They went to pray, but got bored and distracted and fell asleep?
How many of us have ever been at Mass and gotten bored or distracted
and fallen asleep?
Maybe physically taking a nap,
or maybe just mentally, letting our mind wander and daydream.
And what happens when the apostles fall asleep?
St. Matthew tells us a great miracle happens:
“[Jesus’] face changed in appearance
and His clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with Him, Moses and Elijah.”
And all the while the apostles are asleep!
What happens when we fall asleep in Mass, physically or mentally?
A great miracle happens: Jesus appears on the altar,
and with Him, not only Moses and Elijah,
but the whole company of heaven—all the angels and saints, and Mary!
And we don’t even notice it, because we’ve let ourselves drift away.
Fortunately for the apostles they woke up before the transfiguration ended,
and they saw Jesus in his glory.
And they realized that in spite of the fact that “all” they were doing was praying,
this was no boring place and time,
this was a wondrous and momentous occasion!
So Peter doesn’t whine, “can we go yet?”
but rather gasps:
“Master, it is good that we are here;
And he doesn’t race to get away like so many do at the end of Mass,
but rather says:
“let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses,
and one for Elijah.”
In other words, he doesn’t want to leave!
You might say, well if Jesus appeared transfigured before us at Mass
we wouldn’t be bored or want to leave either!
But the thing is, He does!
He appears here just as surely as He appeared on Mt. Tabor,
the mount of Transfiguration.
Only here He appears transfigured not in glory, but in humility
—He is transfigured or transubstantiated
into the appearance of a piece of bread and a cup of wine.
Maybe not as glorious in appearance, but just as astounding and wondrous.
Of course there’s even more to the story
—the story of the transfiguration and the story of the Mass.
It’s interesting that Peter is the only apostle to speak in today’s Gospel,
while James and John remain silent.
Even so we know they must have been just as overwhelmed as Peter.
Which reminds us that it’s not only the ones who have, if you will,
active speaking roles that are involved in the miracle
—of both Tabor and the Mass.
Think particularly of St. John—the one called “the beloved disciple.”
Think of how all this affected this very young man
who became the great mystic and theologian of the apostles.
Imagine what he was thinking just a few weeks later when
he, John, stood on a different mount miles away
—not Mt. Tabor, but Mt. Calvary.
There he also stood looking up at Jesus.
And there he also saw Jesus with 2 other men, one on either side of Him.
But now Christ was no longer in transfigured in glory,
but in suffering and humility.
And the 2 men at His sides were not Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the prophet,
but 2 criminals.
Even so, with the same eyes that saw His glory on Mt. Tabor,
and with the same ears that heard His Father say from the cloud:
““This is my beloved Son; listen to him”
John began to understand what Jesus had meant when He had said:
“when I am lifted up from the earth, then will draw all men to myself.”
And he remembered how at Tabor, as we read today:
“Moses and Elijah…spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
And on Calvary, as he looked up at the blood flowing from Jesus’ hands and feet
staining the wood of the Cross,
John remembers that that very day—Good Friday—
was the anniversary of the exodus of Moses out of Egypt
–the Passover, when the Hebrews were freed
by the blood of the Lamb
staining, not the wood of a cross,
but the wood of their door posts!
He remembers how St. John the Baptist had called Jesus
the Lamb of God who would save his people.
He remembers how
before Moses, Abraham himself had offered sacrifice for his people,
and how after Moses the prophet Elijah had also offered sacrifice
to save his people,
and that just the night before Jesus had said that his body
would also be sacrificed, or “given up,” for his people.
And on Calvary John sees the 2 thieves
taking the place of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ sides,
showing how sin seems to have conquered
the promises of the law and the prophets;
but then he hears one of the thieves repent, and Jesus say to him:
“today you will be with me in paradise”
and John understands that the love of the Cross conquers sin,
and offers the glory of heaven to every man.
Today we stand in the shoes of St. John at Calvary
beholding both the suffering of Christ and his glory.
We see his bloody sacrifice of the Cross transfigured before us,
into the unbloody appearance of bread and wine.
But like John we look beyond what we seem to see
and with the eyes of faith we see what is truly present:
we see the glory and wonder of the love of Christ offering himself
on the Cross for our sins,
and through our Holy Communion
with His Crucified and glorified Body
transfiguring or transforming us to share in his glory.
Or as St. Paul says in today’s second reading:
“He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.”
Who could ever think this is
an empty ritual, or that it doesn’t include us?
Who could ever be disappointed or bored, or even angry?
We could, and often do and are.
We who come to Mass and are so easy distracted because,
as St. Paul says:
“Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”
But my friends, Paul also reminds us:
“our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Now, as we continue this Holy Mass,
let us go up the Mountain with Peter, James and John, and Moses and Elijah,
and with Mary and Joseph and Raymond
all the saints and angels of heaven
to pray with Christ.
Let us remember that
by the blood of Christ
we have become citizens of heaven
and for a few precious minutes
not let ourselves be bound by earthly ways of thinking.
Let us awake from sleep to see the magnificent miracle not of transfiguration,
Let us see in what seems to be bread
the true glory of the Body of Christ Crucified for our sins.
Let us enter into the heavenly prayer of our Glorious Lord and his Church,
the Holy Mass.
Let us pray, and understand how truly “good it is that we are here.”