Skip to content

We Are Citizens of Heaven

March 17, 2019

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year C
The readings are Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1 and Luke 9:28b-36.

La Transfiguration by Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nancy, Lorraine, France.

I went out to dinner with an old friend the other night. We’ve known each other since we were in high school.  She doesn’t believe in God and undoubtedly the conversation turned to the Church and the sex abuse scandals. We spoke about how sex abuse happens everywhere where there is opportunity: in sports, in dance and gymnastics, in the film industry, healthcare, the army, schools, camps – most commonly in the family – it’s not just a church thing and certainly not just a Catholic Church issue (You may be interested in reading this article from Psychology Today).

We sadly agreed that it seems to be part of our human nature.

She expressed a bit of despair at the state of the world, with the Ethiopian plane crash that had just happened and so many issues that we have to deal with nowadays.

I looked at her and said, “There is a religious answer to this, you know.” She asked what it was. I said, “Our human nature is fallen.” And while this is not the most satisfactory answer and it certainly does not completely answer the question of human evil and suffering, it does in part. Our human nature is fallen; it’s broken. This is not what God designed. God’s design does not include shooters going into a mosque during Friday prayers and killing 49 people while streaming the whole thing on the internet.

That is not part of God’s original design.

But death and suffering is now part of our existence. And it’s hard to keep our eyes on where we are going. On Ash Wednesday I went to our high school and asked the students what they hoped for. I asked them not to give me the pious Christian answer; what do they really hope for? One student said, ‘a good future’. Another said, ‘happiness’. Another one said, ‘a good job. One said, ‘good grades.’ It’s true. Those are things that we hope for, that we want. And they are good.

Last week our pastor told us that Jesus’ in the desert shows us that we have to keep our eyes on the Father. There are many things in life that can be good: food, pleasure, prestige, honour, possessions – even power can be good.  But those things are not ends in themselves. Heaven is the goal. We have to keep our eyes on the Father, as Jesus, so that we can maneuver through the messiness of daily life.

St. Paul tells the Philippians that we are “preoccupied with earthly things, but our citizenship is in Heaven”. We have to remember that. And I know it’s hard – it’s hard to keep our eyes on Heaven when we have to worry about having a good job, getting good grades, getting through chemo treatments…

It’s easy to lose hope.

And even the disciples had to struggle with this. Jesus tells them that He has to suffer and die. How would you feel about that if you’ve been enjoying hanging out with the Messiah for the last 3 years? And so He takes Peter, James and John up to Mt. Tabor and gives them a little teaser, a preview of what’s to come – so that they can keep their eyes on the prize.

We can say the same about Abram. Abram was already in his 70s when God tells him to look up at the stars. He had probably already given up hope of ever having descendants. But God gave him a promise to hold on to. And then it was about another 25 years before Isaac was born – but Abraham had the promise to hold on to.

We also have a promise to hold on to: the promise of Heaven.

We have the promise that one day we too will have glorified bodies like the resurrected Jesus. St. Paul tells the Philippians that Jesus will “change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body”. That’s why the Church teaches in the resurrection of the body; not this earthly body; not this fallen body; but a perfected body; a completed body; a glorified body. Jesus gives Peter, James and John (and all of us) a glimpse of that in the Transfiguration.

And Peter, James and John not only saw Jesus transfigured, but they saw Moses and Elijah: Two Old Testament greats, who had every reason to despair, but who held on to a promise: Forty years in the desert? Moses never even made it to the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 32:48-52). And Elijah must’ve been terrified when fleeing from the evil queen Jezebel (1 Kings 19). Still, they kept their eyes on God. Scripture tells us that Elijah was taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11). Scripture tells us that Moses died but no one knows where he is buried (Deuteronomy 34:5-6. Actually there is a tradition that says that Moses didn’t die – that God took him to Heaven – which is why no one knows where he is buried). And now we see them here conversing with Jesus about his Exodus. Moses had an exodus from Egypt. Elijah had an exodus from Queen Jezebel. Jesus too had the exodus of his death, resurrection and ascension. And here the three of them are reminding us that we also have an exodus – and that’s necessary – suffering and death are part of it and that’s necessary – the suffering and death of Jesus are necessary, but we shouldn’t get stuck on that. That’s not the end.

We have to keep our eyes on the resurrection.

Today is the Feast of St. Patrick. I can imagine that St. Patrick also had to hold on to hope while he was living as a captive slave for six years in Ireland as a young man. He certainly had his eyes on Christ because after he was able to escape and return home, he decided to return to Ireland to bring them the Good News. And he did a pretty good job, I must say.

On Tuesday we also celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph. I can think that it must’ve been the same for St. Joseph. He had every reason to despair. Every time we see Joseph in scripture there is some crisis: his betrothed is pregnant and he is not the father; they have an inconvenient census while Mary is about to give birth; they have to find shelter in a stable so Mary can give birth; they have to flee to Egypt so that their son doesn’t get killed; they have to find the child Jesus when he was lost in Jerusalem…  But we can only imagine that Joseph kept his eyes on God; he kept his eyes on Heaven.

Lent is a time when we get rid of all those things that get in the way; we focus on penance, on abstinence, on forgiveness, on prayer and alms-giving so that we can focus more deeply on the resurrection. We still have four more weeks before Holy Week. As you journey through Lent, don’t just go about your “not-eating-chocolate” or whatever you’ve given up or “not-eating-meat-on-Fridays” – on  auto-pilot. Spend time in prayer and hold on to the promise of the Transfiguration – the promise of the Transubstantiation that takes place at every Mass – that’s where we are headed.

Keep your eyes on that.

Our citizenship is in Heaven. That is our hope.

From → English, Reflections

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: