2nd Sunday of Lent 2013
February 24, 2013
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church, Springfield, Va.
In today’s Gospel, as Jesus is Transfigured before Peter James and John,
and stands in the middle of Moses and Elijah,
Peter says something that is at once out of place,
and at the same time very profound.
Overwhelmed by the knowledge that he in the presence of the Christ,
revealed in his heavenly glory,
Peter wants to set up tents so they can stay there
—he never wants to leave.
And in awe he says: ““Master, it is good that we are here.”
During this season of Lent we have to ask ourselves:
do we say the same thing today?
First, do you say this as you come before our Lord in the Eucharist,
but more than that, do you say this as you live your day to day life
as members of the Catholic Church.
Do you believe that in this Church you are in His presence,
with Peter, and James and John, and Moses and Elijah,
and believe “it is good that I am here” in the Catholic Church?
Unfortunately, I think many people today would disagree with that
—even many self-proclaimed “practicing Catholics”.
Because it’s hard to be a Catholic
—to be in union with Jesus and Peter,
with the old testament prophets and the new testament apostles.
But it’s always been hard to be a Catholic.
After all, the Church has lots of very difficult teachings.
But the thing is, most of those difficult teachings
come directly from Jesus himself.
Of course, Jesus says a lot of wonderfully uplifting things,
but think of all the hard sayings of Jesus in scripture.
Let’s take a moment to consider just a few.
Regarding the moral life, he says:
–“love your enemies, bless those who persecute you”
–“love your neighbor as yourself.”
–“if you do not forgive men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
–”unless you …become like children,
you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
–“If you would enter [eternal] life, keep the commandments….
You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal,
You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother…”
–”everyone who is angry with his brother…and whoever says, ‘You fool!’
shall be liable to the hell of fire.”
–”whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery.”
–“everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has …committed adultery
…in his heart.…”
–“Depart from me…into the eternal fire prepared for the devil
…for I was hungry and you gave me no food…
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ …
as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’”
Consider what he says about the sacrifices we have to make:
–“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…
but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…’.
–“I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
….He who loves father or mother …[or] son or daughter
more than me is not worthy of me;”
–“they will lay their hands on you and persecute you,
…and you will be brought before kings and governors
for my name’s sake.”
–“pick up you cross, and follow me.”
Consider what he says about the sacraments:
–“unless a man be born of water and the Spirit,
he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
–“ Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved,
but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
–“unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you”
–“this is my body…this is my blood
–“He said…to [the apostles]: If you forgive the sins of any,
they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
And consider what he says about St. Peter the Church:
–“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! … I tell you, you are Peter [Rock],
and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
–“Jesus said to Simon Peter,
…‘Feed my lambs.’ ….’Tend my sheep.’ …’Feed my sheep.’”
And then of course perhaps the ultimate hard saying:
–“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
All these are hard sayings, but they’re the sayings of Jesus Christ.
And they’re not impossible sayings to live by,
especially when we remember that
with the grace of Christ, “all things are possible with God.”.
In fact, while they may be bring some hardship for a while,
they are really what it takes to be truly human,
so we can never be truly happy without them.
So what do you say?
Do you agree with Peter, “it is good that we are here”?
And again, I mean here with Jesus and Peter in the Catholic Church,
living every day committed to embracing these hard sayings.
Some might like to be somewhere else.
And wouldn’t be the first.
In today’s 2nd reading this is exactly what St. Paul is talking about
in his letter to the Philippians.
He tells faithful in Philippi,
“b[e] imitators of me…and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.”
And then he talks about those who have effectively left the Church
by not living the way St. Paul taught them:
“For many, as I …now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
It’s hard to be a Catholic.
In the early days, the 1st through 3rd centuries this made for a very small church.
Consider that even after 3 centuries,
in the year 313, only about 10% of the Roman Empire was Christian.
First of all you had the persecution and martyrdom
that Jesus not only warned about but, in a sense,
promised those who would follow him.
But the main reason was simply that it was so demanding
—all those hard sayings.
In the 4th century it got a little easier to be a Christian:
the Roman persecution stopped
and Emperor Constantine made Christianity
the official religion of the Empire.
For centuries after that Western culture was sort of built up around the Church,
shaped more and more by Christian principles,
so that the secular and religious world walked the same fundamental path.
And that cultural support helped make it somewhat easier
to stay inside the Church, and to follow Christ’s teaching.
Today, though, things are changing, or perhaps, have changed,
especially the Western Society of Europe and North and South America,
which is rooted in 16 centuries of Christian culture.
More and more the western world follows the way of the fallen away Christians
that St. Paul talks about today:
“Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”
But that is not the way of Jesus and his Church.
As St. Paul says: “But our citizenship is in heaven,
We are called to live in the world, but not be of the world.
To enjoy God’s good gifts
as they were meant to be enjoyed in a good way,
which Jesus knows better than we do.
Even so, many Catholics today seem to want to follow the way of the world.
We see this in a dramatic way with the resignation, or retirement,
of Pope Benedict XVI.
As we face the upcoming election his successor
we hear a lot of talk about changing the Church.
For example, in yesterday’s Post a headline read:
“Will the Catholic Church become its own relic?”
The article proceeded to repeat a lot of pathetic lies
about the Church’s teaching,
in effect saying bishops and popes made up all the really difficult stuff.
But what about all those hard sayings of Jesus?
The article, like so many others recently,
goes on to say, in effect, it’s too hard to be a Catholic today,
so the Church needs to change it’s hard teachings
apparently including some that come directly from Scripture, all in order to keep up with the changing world.
But this is the same error that happened with the Philippians,
as St. Paul wrote:
“many…conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ…
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven.”
What’s happening is that while we say the Church officially has 1.2 billion members,
many of those do not agree with Peter when he says:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”
We were a small church in the beginning, and grew only when the secular world
allowed itself to formed by the hard sayings of Christ.
But now as Western society and culture divorces itself from those teachings,
the Church seems, once again, to becoming a very much smaller church.
At least if we measure it not by those who merely claim to be Catholic,
but by those who actually embrace and try to follow
the hard sayings of Jesus
—including the one about Peter and the keys,
and his power to loose and bind.
For the last 8 years we’ve been blessed to have a successor of Peter
who thoroughly embraced that saying of St. Peter—Pope Benedict XVI.
And for 24 years before that we were blessed to have him,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
serve as Pope John Paul II’s chief defender of the doctrine of the Church.
Always teaching with kindness and gentleness, but never wavering in the truth. Always holding to his belief, in word and deed,
that it is good that we are here,
in the Catholic Church founded by Christ on the Rock of Peter.
But Benedict has also always recognized
that many do not agree with Peter’s saying,
so that the Church is really much smaller than it seems.
As far back as 1969 he wrote:
“The church will become small and will have to start afresh…”
But, this is no reason to lose hope, or think that Christ or His Church is a failure.
As Ratzinger continued:
“But when the trial of this sifting is past,
a great power will flow
from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.
Men … will discover the little flock of believers…
as a hope that is meant for them,
an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.”
Jesus Christ founded his Church
to gather all mankind in every century to himself.
And he entrusted to His Church his teaching about the truth,
and he gave the Church Peter and his successors, the Popes,
to protect that teaching and pass it on to every generation.
This week as Pope Benedict steps down from Chair of Peter,
we thank the good Lord for the gifts of
His teaching, the Church, the office of Pope,
and this particular pope, Benedict.
And as we continue the Lenten season
we ask ourselves, do we believe in the hard sayings of Christ,
and see them not as a stumbling block,
but as the bricks that pave of the road to happiness and to heaven?
Do we cling to the things of the world,
or to the words of the one who came down from heaven
to transform the world?
Do we want to change the teaching of Christ and His Church,
or do we join in proclaiming that teaching, by our words and actions,
to a world who is always searching for it.
Do we want to remain, now and forever,
as true and faithful members of that Catholic Church?
standing united with Peter, and his successors, and saying:
“Master, it is good that we are here.”