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It is Good for Us to Be Here

February 28, 2021

A reflection for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year B. The readings are Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34 and Mark 9:2-10.

Transfiguration by Feofan Grek from Spaso-Preobrazhensky Cathedral in Pereslavl-Zalessky (15th c, Tretyakov gallery) Created: early-15th century.

“Rabbi, it is good for us to be here!” (Mark 9:5)

It is so good that we are here at Church. So many have not been able to be here and starting tomorrow, where we live, we will not be here again for a few more weeks. And so, it is so good that we are able to be here. But I can’t help but think that a year ago, maybe we would not have felt the same way. In fact, I also preached a year ago – second Sunday in Lent, Gospel about the Transfiguration; March 8, 2020. That was the last Sunday we had Mass before that first lockdown. Remember going into “self isolation” that first time?

After the year we’ve had, “it’s good that we are here” has a completely different meaning.

And that’s so often how it goes. We get used to things. We take things for granted. When things are good and we have what we need, we don’t feel we have to work at it. We have Mass. We’ve always had Mass. But I guess we never really thought about what that means, until we don’t have Mass anymore.

It may be a bit of a stretch, but I kind of think that it was the same for the apostles. They knew Jesus. They had been with Jesus about three years. I don’t know what they thought about him – they’d seen the miracles and heard his preaching; they’d seen the crowds. But what did they really think of Jesus? Peter had just told Jesus that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That’s exactly what happens right before this story, in the previous chapter (Mark 8:29). But I am not sure they knew what that meant. They definitely did not understand the cross, nor did they understand the Resurrection. How could they? And in order to help them understand and to help them prepare for what was to come, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and he gives them a little glimpse of what it’s going to be after the Resurrection; He gives them a little taste of what it will be in Heaven. But they still don’t understand. (At least they thought that it was good to be there.) But clearly they didn’t think of Jesus as God or as divine – because when they saw him transfigured, Scripture tells us that they were terrified.

I think it’s the same with us. Every Mass gives us a little glimpse what it’s going to be like after the Resurrection. At every Mass we get a little taste of what Heaven is like – but we don’t understand. How can we? And maybe sometimes we don’t even think that “it’s good to be here.” Sometimes we come to Mass because we feel we have to; because it’s our duty. Because it’s what we do as Catholics. I was reading a daily reflection recently and the author remembered his father asking him when he was a boy, what it meant to be a Christian. He said, “We go to Church on Sundays”. That’s what he thought made us Christians. But being a Christian is so much more.

Going to Mass is the bare minimum! We have to do so much more.

And so maybe it is good that it’s taken all away. Peter wanted to stay up on the mountain; “it is good that we are here, so let’s stay,” but they had to come back down. In order to understand, they had to go towards Jerusalem; towards the Cross. That’s sort of what is happening to Abraham in the first reading. I don’t know what Abraham thought about God. But maybe he wasn’t getting it quite right because God demands that he offer up his most precious thing, his only son; the one he loved, Isaac. He didn’t, but He could have. Abraham had to show that he was willing to give Isaac up. After the Transfiguration, Scripture tells us, Peter, James and John looked up and all they saw only Jesus. Sometimes what’s most precious to us has to be taken away so that we can see only Jesus.

For most of us the only thing that keeps us connected with Christ and the Church is Sunday Mass. And now that our bare minimum has been taken away, how do we stay connected to Christ? We do all the other things that we should have been doing all along. I could spend an hour giving you tons of suggestions, but Jesus’ Transfiguration story points to one suggestion that I’d like to offer today.

While Jesus is transfigured, two men appear and are talking with Jesus: Moses and Elijah. Why Moses and Elijah? Moses is the law-giver; he is also the one who gives us the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. And Elijah was the great prophet. So he represents all the prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Daniel and all the Minor Prophets (that we don’t even know because we never read them). So these two, represent the two branches of Hebrew Sacred Scriptures: the Law and the Prophets. When Jesus is seen speaking with Moses and Elijah, it means that he is connecting with the Hebrew Scriptures: the Law and the Prophets. We need to do the same.

We also have two branches: Scripture and Tradition. We have to connect with both.

Scripture: I’ve said this so many times, but it is so important. We need to read Scripture every day. Getting it once a week at Mass on Sundays is not enough. You have to read Scripture every day. And it’s good to do it with the Church. How to do that? Do the daily readings from Mass. Get a missal or find them online or get an app, so you can read the daily readings every day. That way you are reading Scripture but you are doing it in communion with the Church – because those are the same readings that everyone around the world is reading at Mass. But don’t just read the readings; get a commentary or reflections on the daily readings, so you understand what you are reading. Scriptures are given to us by the Church; they are like reading a family story. And if you’re reading a family story, you can’t understand it unless you are in the family. So find a family member, an elder, to help guide your reading. If you need suggestions where to start, ask. I’d happy to point you in the right direction.

Tradition: The other thing we should be reading every day is what we call spiritual reading(or spiritual classics). these are writings from the saints, the early Church Fathers, the Doctors of the Church and the Popes. Are you reading St. Augustine, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. John Chrysostom, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Francis de Sales, St. Bernard de Clairvaux… I bet the most of you don’t even know who some of these are. We need to be reading them. What these saints have written are part of the Teaching Body of the Church. Reading them will strengthen us and help us stay connected to the Church and when we stay connected to the Church, we stay connected to Christ. Again, if you want suggestions, ask. I’d be happy to point you in the right direction. (You can start by reading my recent Deacon-structing posts : they’re all about spiritual reading).

I think this is one of the blessings of this pandemic. We are so used to doing the bare minimum and now our bare minimum has been taken away. Some people will try to tune in and watch Mass online as much as they can, but eventually they will fall away – they will if that’s all they are doing. Others will work hard at finding other ways to stay connected- like reading more Scripture and adding Spiritual Reading to their daily prayer time. I urge you all to do the same. You will find that, not only will your Faith be strengthened during this pandemic, but you will find it easier and easier to “look up and see only Jesus”. 

And very soon, when we come back to church, we’ll really be able to say (and really mean it), “it is good that we are here.”

From → English, Reflections

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