Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15-19
Last weekend we began a three-week reflection on Pope Francis’ Lenten Message for this year, which focuses particularly on the aspect of indifference or coldness in our hearts. Looking through the lens of baptism, we saw how our being brought into the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, interconnects us with every other baptized individual in the world and as such we have certain obligations to pray for them in their time of need and they for us in ours. The second point of the Pope’s message is that the reality of our ties with the larger community also applies to the local community.
When we were baptized, in addition to being made members of the Body of Christ, we each received special gifts of the Holy Spirit. When we were first created by God He gave every single one of us particular gifts and talents to profit ourselves and to be used in service of the larger community. He desired certain of us to be teachers, musicians, artists, workers of the land, and so on, giving each of us those gifts. But in baptism we received the life of God that helps to make those things even more fruitful and adds supernatural power to what was already there. When we think of this, we often call to mind the invitation to be involved in the Church parish – to help with the Mass, with ministries, catechism, and the many other parts of parish life. While we indeed should be putting our gifts to use in the parish, Pope Francis is inviting us to recognize to take some time to look outside the visible Church.
In the Gospel we hear St. Peter happily exclaiming, “Lord, it is good that we are here! Let us build three tents – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!” in response to the glorious vision of the transfigured Christ. It makes sense, really. Who among us wouldn’t be thrilled by such a vision that we wouldn’t want to set up camp and stay there for a good while? And that’s exactly the point. When Christ is transfigured, it is an experience that is so beautiful that St. Peter wants to stay there and not go back down the mountain because what awaits them down there is the Cross. It’s hard days, sleepless nights, little food, lots of walking, and difficult teachings. Simply put, the transfigured glory of Christ is a place of incredible comfort and this is why it doesn’t last very long for the disciples.
Earlier this week I went to a prayer breakfast and when I arrived I recognized the St. Ann’s parishioners present but as I looked around I saw a number of other faces that were unknown to me. They were the faces of the pastors of the other local religious communities. It struck me that I’ve been here for 8 months and yet I’ve never laid eyes on most of them. Why? Because I was focused on things here at St. Ann’s. I don’t see it as a great fault of mine, being as I’m trying to learn the parish and know you the parishioners, but it did raise my mind to the need to branch out a bit and connect with other ministers in the community. And that’s what we’re being invited to do in this time by Pope Francis: to branch out and see something, someone, new. This is admittedly difficult because we like our patterns. When I worked the morning shift as a cashier at my parents’ grocery store, I would line up cigarette packs on the counter in order: 2 packs Marlboro red, 2 packs Marlboro light, a pack of Kools, etc. The reason was that the customers were so predictable that I knew exactly what order they would arrive in the mornings, what they were going to buy, and how much it would cost. We like our patterns and can easily get tunnel vision on the things that interest us or affect us most directly. But when we do this we sometimes miss the exact person or circumstance through which God wants to speak to us.
This week Pope Francis is inviting us to look outside the comfortable place of the church walls around us and to seek God’s face in a new way and to serve Him in a new person. First, he says, we must look to the Church in Heaven, the Church Triumphant who have already finished the race and won their eternal crown. We look to them and ask for their prayers for us to be able to run our race well as they have already. And then we must look to the world around us. Think of it as a divine game of Where’s Waldo, as we go through our days looking to serve someone we might normally pass by, pray with someone we might normally leave to themselves, or share faith with someone who isn’t Catholic or isn’t practicing. It’s a matter of seeking in our hearts and asking ourselves where we have tunnel vision. Who are we looking past? Where is the Christ in our midst that we haven’t found yet? Where is the Lord in need, waiting for us to provide?
I want to conclude today with a poem by G.A. Studdert Kennedy that speaks directly to this point of Pope Francis, loving Christ in our midst. It’s entitled ‘Indifference’:
When Jesus came to Golgatha,
They hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands
and feet, And made a Calvary.
They crowned Him with a crown of
thorns, Red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days,
And human flesh was cheap !
When Jesus came to Birmingham,
They simply passed Him by,
They never hurt a hair of Him,
They only let Him die;
For men have grown more tender,
And they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street,
And left Him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them,
For they know not what they do!"
And still it rained the winter rain
That drenched Him through and through;
The crowd went home and left the streets, Without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall
And cried for Calvary.