2nd Sunday of Lent, March 16, 2014

March 16, 2014 Father De Celles Homily

Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Springfield, VA

It may seem a little strange to read the Gospel of the Transfiguration during Lent:
the joy of the Transfiguration seems to stand in stark contrast
to the sorrow that usually marks this season of penance.
But this Gospel really is a window into the true meaning of Lent,
which is a season about stark contrasts.
Like Peter James and John, during Lent we also go away with Christ
to be alone with him, and in the mystery of contrast we begin to
discover more about who he really is, and who we really are,
and who we have become, and who we can become.

See what happened on that mountain 2000 years ago.
The apostles saw, for the first time, just how different Christ really was from them
—and not just in appearance, but in their lives and hearts:
the start contrast between his holiness and their sinfulness.
They saw Jesus standing and talking to Moses,
—the giver of the Commandments of God.
And they saw Him standing with the prophet Elijah,
the greatest of all the prophets who called Israel to repent their sins
and promised a Redeemer who would save them from their sins.
And then they heard the voice from heaven say:
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
And suddenly, in the presence of the eternal God the Father and His only Son,
and reproached by giver of the Law of God
and the warnings of all the Prophets of God,
as “good as it was to be there,”
they “were very much afraid,”
as they came face to face with their own sinfulness.

Think of this contrast: Lent is a season of joy,
but it can only a season of true joy to the extent
that we allow it to first be a season of true sorrow.
A season of recognizing that, as the Prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus:
“he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins.”
The joy and glory of the resurrection
comes only through his contrasting suffering and death on the cross,
and the cross comes only because of our sins.

In short, what joy can be there if we don’t first feel sorrow for our sins? 2
The thing is, though…for a Christian, sorrow for sins
should never lead to hopelessness or despair,
rather it should the first step on the road to glory and the joy
of sharing in the love of Christ.

What is a sin, after all?
St. Augustine tells us that sin
is a turning away from the Creator toward the creature,
loving the things God created more than we love God himself.
To put it another way, sin is about not loving God the way we should.
That’s why the very first commandment is
“I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.”

But we do this all the time.
Sometimes we put things in front of God: money, power, popularity.
Sometimes we put people in front of God,
letting other people tell us what’s good or bad, right or wrong.

The most common person we put before God is ourselves.
So often we know what God tells in the Bible or the teaching of His Church;
that God says I shouldn’t do this or that,
but then we ignore all that, and do what we want:
I know better…THAN GOD.

Sometimes we hear people say, I love Jesus and my neighbor,
so the commandments aren’t that important.
But the thing is, Moses himself summed up the 10 Commandments by saying:
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, …soul, and …strength.”
And on the night before he died, Jesus himself said:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments….”
The commandments are not opposed to love,
they are God’s explanation of how to love.

And yet, everyday most of us break the commandments,
in large ways or small.
Remember, for example, we heard Jesus explain the 5th
“You have heard …it …said …., ‘You shall not kill…’
…But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother
… [or] whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be liable to the hell of fire..”

That person cuts you off in traffic, you don’t get angry?
Your friend somehow hurts your feelings, 3
and you don’t think or even say, “that fool” or worse?

We do this all the time—we fail to love: love contrasts with sin.

Most of the time it’s in small ways.
Sometimes though we sin in more serious ways.
Little Children hit their siblings, or scream at their parents,
or ignore other kids in school.
Teenagers lie to their parents,
or get all caught up in the vanity of how they look or dress,
or what other kids think of them
Parents spoil their children with every material thing they can afford,
or they neglect them by not showing affection, or giving them discipline,
or failing to give them the Catholic faith.

Spouses act like they’re married to their careers or hobbies,
they abuse each other with ugly words or actions.
And single adults
don’t even bother to call their parents even once in a while just to say hi;
and so often selfishness replaces commitment,
greed replaces charity, lust replaces love.

Older folks also… some allow loneliness to turn to bitterness,
or physical disability to lead them to selfishness or despair.

And priests…
some spend more time working on their golf game than their homilies.
They preach more about things that make parishioners feel good,
than the hard truth of the Gospel—including things like the reality of sin.
Not to mention, of course, the other terrible sins we’ve read about.

And that’s why Lent is so great:
in the light of the Cross and Resurrection
we’re able recognize the contrast between Christ’s love
and our failure to love.
Not to drag us into despair, but to lift us from sin to love.

Now, one of the hallmarks of Lent is the practice of acts of “penance,”
especially prayer, sacrifice and almsgiving.
But the question is: what do these actually have to do with sin?
Or put another way: how does giving up chocolate help me love God.

Before we get to chocolate, though, let’s begin with the penance of prayer. 4
Prayer is essentially a conversation with God,
or with someone whose loves for God is so perfect they are in heaven
—Mary, and the saints and angels.
Prayer makes us realize that God and our heavenly family
are actually and really there: always with us, always loving us.

In prayer we go to God in love, and count on His love to his help us.
We go to praise and thank him, and to tell him we’re sorry—all in love.
Prayer is the first essential step in knowing God’s love,
loving him back, and growing in love.

Second, almsgiving.
“Almsgiving” is just another word for “giving to those in need.”
So it’s not just giving money to charity or the poor.
Every day people come to you in need that has nothing to do with money.
Children, your parents come home from work tired:
they need you to help set the table, and not to fight with each other.
Parents, your kids need you to provide a roof and food,
but they also need you to take time to talk to them,
to teach the right from wrong, and to pray with them.
And your spouses need you, your adult parents need you,
and your friends at work need you—in large ways or small.
Think of all the people you know
who desperately need to know about the love of Christ.
Who might even need you to point out that sins are not loving.

When you respond to any these genuine needs you are giving alms.
And you are replacing sin with love, saying that loving God and neighbor
are more important than money or time and effort, or even pride.

And finally, sacrifices.
How does giving up chocolate help you love God?

First, like almsgiving, it helps us to love God by recognizing that nothing
is more important than God.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
every time I look at that piece of chocolate in Lent I say
“I love God more than this chocolate.”

Also like almsgiving, sacrifice helps you recognize the sufferings of others:
every time your stomach rumbles or you crave that piece of cake,
you remember all the people who go hungry or suffer in any way:
the poor, the lonely, the oppressed, the ignorant. 5
And you hear the voice of Christ saying:
“whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.”

Beyond that is the aspect of self-discipline:
in the same way an athlete practices and exercises relentlessly,
when we practice self-denial we exercise our will,
and strengthen our ability
to choose and do good even when it’s so difficult,
and to persevere against evil even when it’s so tempting.

Also, sacrifice helps us to recognize that our sins
are in fact worthy of punishment.
Christ pays ultimate redeeming price for our sins,
but acceptance of self-punishment helps us to
realize and express a true desire to make atonement,
and to recognize the depth of the wrong we have done.

Finally, and most importantly,
the penance of sacrifice helps us to identify with the sufferings of Christ.
Every small pain or hardship coming from our sacrifices
reminds us how much he loved us,
that he would endure so much more for us.

And so, again, we return to the core of Lent:
the glory of his love for us,
a love that lifts us up even when we have freely chosen to fall.

But in the end, no matter what acts of penance we do,
it’s all useless if they don’t open our hearts to the power of his love.
As St. Paul reminds us:
“He …called us to a holy life, not according to our works
but according to …the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus.”
And nowhere do we find this grace bestowed more clearly and powerfully
than in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance.

Every time we confess our sins in the sacrament of Penance,
the Precious Blood of Christ Crucified pours out on us,
washing away our sins, and strengthening us
to love him and one another just as he has loved us.
And washed clean in his love,
we go up the mountain with the Lord at every Mass,
not to see his glory shining in the light radiating from his transfigured face,
but to receive His Body sacrificed for us on the Cross, 6
and so to join our sacrifices to His,
and be taken up into his great and glorious love,
in Holy Communion.

During Lent we go away to be with the Lord
just as Peter, James and John once did,
and like them we are stunned by the contrast between
the magnificence of his love for us,
and the miserableness of our failure to love him.
In this holy season the Lord calls us to recognize our sinfulness,
not so that we will wallow in self-loathing,
but to move us to change our hearts
and open our lives to his infinite grace,
so that we may be transfigured, transformed, by love.

Today, in the presence of our Eucharist Lord,
we imitate the apostles and fall prostrate before his glory.
And though frightened by what our sinful choices have done to us,
we see the Lord coming to us and saying
“be not afraid” to accept and return his love.
And we thank the Lord for the gift of this Holy Season of Lent,
saying with St. Peter: “it is good that we are here.”