An old cartoon shows two priests counting the meager Sunday collection, with the caption, “Well, I guess next week it’s back to the old vague generalities!” Part of the temptation for the presider at Sunday Mass is to play to the positive, and cultivate the good feelings of his audience. Good music, an affirming homily, a supportive community—all might encourage the congregation to stick around, to return next Sunday. But if he’s true to the Gospel, the pastor must also preach about the reality of the cross in our lives.
In Matthew’s Gospel, read on the Second Sunday of Lent, Jesus is on a mountaintop. There, in the presence of three of his disciples, he’s transformed into a vision of glory, and Moses and Elijah appear with him. Peter is so enraptured by the sight that he’s ready to camp out there on the mountaintop forever. But Jesus has to lead the disciples back down the mountain—and his road will take him to Calvary and the cross.
Each year, on the Second Sunday of Lent, Catholics hear this story of the “transfiguration”—for a good reason. The story can give us hope in the middle of Lent.
Perhaps at this point, we may feel discouraged by our lack of personal conversion. We may have failed to keep our Lenten observances. It’s easy to feel as though we’re slogging along the way of the cross. That is where the story can help.
We need a vision of what we, our Church and our world can be. We need to hear, along with Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We want to be “beloved,” to feel surrounded by God’s love.
My personal “mountaintop” experience this year came at the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress. Being in the midst of literally thousands of Catholics was an awesome feeling. They come every year to learn about their faith, to experience community, to be affirmed in their personal or communal mission.
Hearing our St. Anthony Messenger listeners and viewers say positive things about the media resources produced by our team here, affirms our mission. Meeting individuals, like my friend Bishop Gerry Barnes of San Bernardino, California, a devoted pastor to his people, reminds me that there is hope for the Church. Living in the energy of so many committed Christians tells me that there’s hope for our world, because God is present there.
But we cannot stay on the mountaintop, wrapped up in glory. We need to return to the real world, which also needs transformation—into a place of peace, justice, reverence for creation, a place where the rights of all can be affirmed.
Returning to my office, jet-lagged and fighting a cold, I longed to be back in the high energy of the L.A. Congress. It’s not easy to turn our backs on a vision of glory, much less face the cross. But that is the challenge of conversion to Christ!
Photo Credit: Catholic News Service/Gregory A. Shemitz