Last Wednesday I attended a conference at Molloy College on the Pope’s encyclical, Laudato Si Signore. This is his letter on our responsibility to care for God’s creation. One of the panelists was a young woman who teaches at a local university. She is very convinced about climate change is upon us. She and others see this as the major threat for us and future generations. While I am not as convinced about that as she is, I perked up when she said she lives in West Long Beach and used Superstorm Sandy as linked to another storm as proof that already the danger of climate change was upon us.
That got me to thinking about Sandy and about you. I remember coming here after the terrible devastation of Sandy, walking the streets, seeing the houses, talking to people and offering Mass with you in the Hall. I saw what you had suffered. I heard the stories you told me. And my heart was with you. As a pastor I placed all the Church had to help. But I saw something else beyond the suffering and the loss. I saw you reach out to one another. I saw the clothing exchange, the neighborly greetings, the hugs, the smiles through tears, the woman who asked me to bless a house that was no longer there, the couple who asked that our Long Island Catholic school re-open as fast as possible. I saw faith leading to hope and expressed in practical deeds of love that gave you all the strength to re-build. You knew and I know, that God was ever present. Mary and her Son, our Lord, were protecting you and bringing you out of disaster.
Today I am thinking of that precisely because it is the image I want you to keep in this Second Sunday of Lent. On Ash Wednesday we all received ashes as a sign that we willingly enter Lent and take on some acts of penance for the next forty days. Many of us do so joyfully; others not so much; a few of us with dread. Yet we do it because the Lord asks us to. We also know that the Lord wants this to be a benefit for us, a way for us to be freed from our own faults, a road that makes us ready to observe Holy Thursday and Good Friday to celebrate Easter Sunday.
Still many of us are thinking :Can I really do it all!” But that should not be the case! And that is why every Second Sunday of Lent he Church has us hear again the story of the Transfiguration!
Look at Peter and James and John. They are trudging up the mountain with Jesus with no idea what it is all about. Can you hear them whispering to one another. “Here we go again. What does he have us doing now?”
And look what did happen. THEY SAW HIS GLORY! They heard the voice of God who said: THIS IS MY CHOSEN ONE; LISTEN TO HIM! After Peter babbled a little bit, they fell silent because they knew that they had had a glimpse of who Jesus is. While they could not figure it out, they knew something tremendous and awesome had occurred. There was an experience of God that only later they would be able to understand. They first had to continue the journey that leads ultimately to salvation.
And that, my friends, is why we today recount that moment when Jesus was transfigured before his closest disciples. His promise to them is his promise to us. And our journey of Lent is the same as their journey up the mountain and back on the road, the road to Jerusalem, the road to his passion and death and the road, not to Emmaus, but to the Upper Room where we will find the Risen Christ on Easter and rejoice in his Resurrection, our promise of life eternal.
What does that mean for us this Lent? It depends. It depends on you and on me, on each of us personally and all of us as a community of faith. The Lord does not ask us to make Lent a personal crucifixion. He does ask us to pray a little bit more for one another. He does ask us to mortify ourselves which means checking up to see that nothing we enjoy we let take over our lives; nothing we enjoy become more important than our own self control. He does ask us to take a look around and see if there are others who are having a hard time, struggling almost alone, feeling abandoned or just lonely. If we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, then they are our brothers and sisters. They may need a helping hand, your hand; they may need a word of encouragement, your word; they may need some concrete help; and you are the one to offer it.
In this Year of Mercy, I love a quote from St. Augustine about this very Gospel. He says If you want to obtain God’s mercy, be merciful yourself…God does not need anything from you but you, though, need everything from God….Let us commend ourselves to God by works of mercy.
That is how I remember all of you after Sandy. That is what God asks of you during our shared pilgrimage to Jerusalem this Lent. I will leave our friend from West Long Beach to her concerns with my prayers and my best wishes. However, I believe you and I would agree that Sandy and any other natural disasters pale in comparison with the real challenges of human life and faithful living. And the answer to the real challenges of life today can best be answered by acts of kindness. Kindness is what you must practice. There is no other road, no other practice by which we can reach Him, God the Father. He is the faithful one who rewarded Abraham. He is the faithful one who sent His Son. He is the one who, Paul reminds us, brings all things into subjection to Himself and makes our lowly bodies to conform to his glorified body so long as we stand firm in the Lord whose glory remains forever and ever. Amen