|From the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor|
23 February 2018
Second Sunday of Lent
In the afternoon of Ash Wednesday the nation was alerted to what became the most-deadly school shooting in US history in Parkland, Florida. There were so many tragic pictures and videos, many of them the result of almost everyone these days having a phone or tablet that can take pictures. Last weekend we prayed for both the survivors and those who were murdered at our weekend Masses, and we certainly need to keep that entire community in our thoughts and prayers.
In the hours and the days after the shooting, there were many suggestions on how to stop such a tragedy from happening in the future. Different suggestions included more gun control legislation and more help for the mentally ill, among others. I’m not here to endorse or reject any suggestion that was offered on news sites and television programs. But as we celebrate today the second Sunday of Lent, we are given a few reminders from God that are very poignant given what has happened in our country in the past couple of weeks.
In our first reading, we heard from Genesis about the well-known almost-sacrifice of Isaac. While child sacrifice sounds so foreign to us, it was not so foreign to Abraham, as it was practiced in many of the local, near-Eastern religions that surrounded Abraham in the land of Canaan. Abraham’s faith is tested by God, to see if Abraham is willing to give his most precious treasure up for God. But before the sacrifice, God stays Abraham’s hand, and provides a sacrifice in Isaac’s place. In God’s stopping Abraham, we see that God never wants any of His children to sacrifice their own children. Child sacrifice is condemned (as God will condemn it again and again when the Israelites re-settle in the land of Canaan, the Promised Land), but it also looks forward to when God will allow what He would not require of Abraham, the death of His Son, His “only one,” whom God loved above all. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading that God did not spare His own Son so that we could be raised from the dead and have our sins forgiven.
So many of the suggestions to put an end to school shootings, no matter how good they are, treat only the symptoms, and not the disease that has infected the body of society. The key to ending such horrors is to be transfigured by Christ. We, individually, and, as more and more individuals are, collectively, have to be transformed by Christ. Without this transformation, we will sadly see our past national carnage repeated again and again.
How can we be transfigured? By being open to the work of the Holy Spirit to become more like Jesus. That’s what the Sacraments are meant to do. That’s what going to Mass is meant to do. God wants to change us to be more like Jesus, and we need to be changed by God in order to find happiness and peace and wholeness, and therefore holiness. Being transfigured by God is the medicine that wipes out the virus, rather than simply treating the symptoms.
But to be transfigured a certain openness is required on our part. God will not transform us without our permission. St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the saints on our icons, said exactly that in Sermon 169: “God who created you without you, will not save you without you.” If we come to Mass simply to put a butt in a pew, without any desire to hear God’s Word, to be formed and change our lives, no matter how long it may take us, then we will not be transfigured. If we receive the Eucharist simply as something we were told to do since second grade, without first discerning if we should receive the Eucharist, then, as St. Paul says, we may be eating and drinking condemnation, not transformation, upon ourselves. We should want to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ each Mass, because that very food transforms us, as St. Augustine also says in Sermon 227, “If we receive the Eucharist worthily, we become what we receive.” But if we have committed a grave sin and have not gone to confession; if our marriage is not faithful to the teachings of Christ; if we’re chewing gum, reading the bulletin, checking email, or playing games during Mass, then we will not be transformed.
And if we do not take the graces that we receive in the sacraments, especially baptism, penance, the Eucharist, and holy matrimony, and live them in our day-to-day lives, in the choices we make in our family life, in our jobs, in our driving, in as many aspects of life that we can think of, then we will continue to see horrendous images continue to plague us.
How do we stop Parkland from happening again? Formed by God, filled with His grace through the Sacraments, love your spouse more than yourself; love your children enough to be their parent, not their friend, and say no to them and love them even more when they want something destructive; reach out to the people who have just lost a loved one and remind them how much you and God care for them; live and model a life that is based on the Word of God, not the changing ideas and trends of a culture that is based solely on pleasure and opinion. In short: be transfigured.