March 7, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18) Reading II (Philippians 3:17-4:1 )
Gospel (St. Luke 9:28b-36)
Today, the Church gives to us the reading about the Transfiguration of Our Blessed Lord. Every year in the Second Sunday of Lent, we have this same presentation of the Transfiguration. And the reason the Church gives us this reading at this point is to remind us of why we are enduring the various penances that we have taken on for Lent, that there is a purpose in this and it is to transform us to be able to help us live for something which is beyond this world. The Transfiguration also allows us to be able to look at life in a different way. If you think of it from the point of view of the Transfiguration giving off this brilliant light, it is as if the light from Our Lord shines across His Cross itself and makes a shadow. For the rest of His life, the Lord was living under the shadow of the Cross. Having told His disciples that He was going to have to suffer and die and be crucified, this glory of the Transfiguration was there giving hope but also casting that shadow.
Each one of us, then, is to live in this same way. But Saint Paul, two thousand years ago, could say (and he tells them that he has told them this before and now it is with tears that he tells them) that there are many who live in such a way that they show themselves to be enemies of the Cross of Christ. Well, if this is not what would characterize the typical American, I am not sure what else would. He tells us that we have our citizenship in heaven and therefore we are to be living as citizens of heaven. This is not the normal way that American people live. And he lays out for us exactly what this is, reminding us that God is going to take this lowly body of ours and transform it according to the image of His glorified body. So we need to look at our own selves and realize that all too often we live according to the senses, we live according to the desires of the flesh, and tragically we even become enslaved to these things.
We hear people tell jokes like “The last time I said ‘no’ was when someone asked if I’d had enough!” because if we keep giving into the desires of the flesh, then we never have enough. The more that you respond to what the flesh desires, the more it begins to scream at you, telling you that it wants more. We all know how that works. We decide, for instance, that we are going to limit some particular point, something that is not necessarily illicit but maybe something that is a little out of balance in our lives. We are going to, for instance, limit the intake of food. Well, then we feel a little bit of hunger and so we feed ourselves a little more than what we had decided. And as long as we did it once, the next time we feel a little hunger, the body is screaming at us: “Feed me!” We, of course, give in more quickly the second time than we did the first. So the next time there is even the slightest little pang of hunger, the body is screaming even louder and we tend to feed it even more. This pattern goes on and on. It does not matter what the situation is, whether it is with food, whether it is with something we drink, whether it is with the way things feel and that we like them nice and soft and warm and cushy and so on, or whether it is with completely illicit things. People look at things on the Internet that are completely sinful. As soon as you give in, you want more; and then, of course, it is not enough just to give it to the eyes, other elements of the body start to desire something more. And if we give in to that, then it only wants more and more.
The Cross of Christ shows us that the body, which shares in the dignity of the person, is consecrated to God. Yet the way that many of us use our bodies would be exactly the opposite. Giving into every little whim and desire, we indeed show ourselves to be enemies of the Cross of Christ, denying ourselves nothing. The only time, for some of us, that we would say “no” or where we would deny ourselves something is simply when it is not available or when we cannot afford it. It is not that we would have denied it to ourselves had we had the opportunity, but rather we simply could not get at it; therefore, we had to say “no” because it was not available, not because we did not want it or would not have given in had it been available.
When we look at our own selfishness, when we look at our own sensuality, these are the points that Saint Paul is trying to get at to help us understand that it is this body right here, this lowly body made from the elements the earth, that is going to be transformed and is going to share in the glory of the Resurrection, provided of course that the soul goes the right direction. We have to remember that no matter where we choose for eternity, our body is going to join our soul. We will be reunited body and soul for all eternity in only one of two possible places. In one, there will be the glory; in the other, an everlasting horror and disgrace, as the prophet Daniel tells us. Either way, the body will share in the choice that we have made. So we need to make that choice and we need to live it.
When we look at the first reading, for instance, we hear about Abram. God tells Abram what it is that He has intended for him, and we are told that Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness. But it was not enough just for him to believe generically; he had to act upon it. So God told him, as we hear in the first reading, that He was going to give him a land. Abram had to believe that, and he had to leave the home of his father and mother and go on a journey to a place that he did not even know, believing in God and living according to the way that God would lay out for him.
So we can look at our own selves and ask, “Do I believe in the resurrection of the body as I profess every single day in the Creed?” I trust and hope and pray that the answer in the hearts and on the lips of each of us is “yes”. Then we have to act upon it. It is not enough to sit back and gorge ourselves while saying, “You know what? This fat body is going to rise from the dead one day!” What good is that going to do us? If we are going to say that our bodies, being an integral part of who we are as human persons, share in the glory of our faith, share in every single choice that we make, then if we are going to make a choice for Jesus Christ, if we are going to share in His Passion and in His Death in order to share in His Resurrection, it is not enough just to sit back and say, “I believe.” If we are going to say that, we have to act upon it. We have to show ourselves no longer to be enemies of the Cross of Christ, but we have to show ourselves to be what Saint Louis de Montfort called “Friends of the Cross”.
We have to show ourselves to be united with Jesus Christ. Jesus took a human body to Himself, and a whole human nature. He showed us how we are to live in this world with our hearts set on the word to come, as Saint Paul says. If we have a citizenship in heaven, we are to live as citizens of heaven. In this world, we are merely sojourners. We are passing through. And while we are passing through, we have to make use of the things of this world, but we are not to be caught up in the things of this world. We are not to make them the priority, but rather our priority has to be what is spiritual not what is physical. And so as we continue through our Lenten journey, the Church reminds us early on of why we are doing this, because at about this time many of us are beginning to falter, beginning to wonder if we should really carry out this penance for the next four weeks. Maybe we have already fallen flat on our face. Maybe we have given up because the senses were screaming just a little more loudly than what we could stand.
Today, the Transfiguration stands for us not only as a reminder of why we have taken on these penances, but as an encouragement to continue on. That Transfiguration enlightens the Cross. And as we continue on our journey toward heaven, we walk then under the shadow of the Cross as a constant reminder to us that our body is going to go the way of all flesh. So the way that we should live in this world is the way that Jesus lived in this world. He set his eyes on the Cross, but He looked beyond the Cross to the glory which awaited Him on the other side. That is the way God is asking us to live our lives, knowing that what this world offers to us is death. We can choose the way that we are going to die: We can die with Christ on the Cross, or we can die as enemies of Christ by indulging ourselves and indulging all of the desires of the flesh. If we die with Christ on the Cross, putting to death in ourselves that which is of earth, then we are conformed to Christ not only in His death but in His Resurrection. If we show ourselves to be enemies of the Cross of Christ, then we show ourselves to be enemies of Christ Himself; and not only do we reject His Cross, but we will have no part of His Resurrection.
So it is not enough for us to give lip service to Christ and to His Cross. It is not enough for us to sit back and say, “I believe.” We must act upon that acknowledgment of faith. If we are going to say that we believe, we must live what it is that we profess, or at least strive to live in that way, so that we will show ourselves to be united with Christ in His life, as well as in His Passion and Death, so that our lowly bodies will be transformed to become like His in glory as we share in the glory of His Resurrection.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.