2ND SUNDAY OF LENT: A WHOLE NEW WORLD

On top of Sierra Mountain range, Gagayan, 2014

Every day we deal with a lot of stress, difficulties, anxieties and struggles. Because of the too much weight of the burdens in life, many times we become depressed and want to give up. During these down moments, what gives us hope? What gives us peace? What gives us strenght? Perhaps it is our dreams, aspirations, the vision that someday all these gloom will be overturned and a whole new world will dawn upon us. This glimpse of a new life and new world is what gives us strenght and hope to continue and not to give up.

An example of these inspiring moments is when we are on top of a mountain. I’ve always felt a certain spiritual even mystical aura when I am on top of a mountain. Suddenly, all my worries and fears disappear. It feels I’m so close to heaven and to God. I experience a reconnection and harmony with nature. The view from the top gives me a bird’s eye view of everything. The mountain gives me a new perspective. It refreshes me and inspire me to imagine a new world and new life. It gives peace and serenity to my mind and soul. It makes me new again.

This is the experience that Jesus led Peter James and John to in the gospel today. The gospel for today’s second Sunday of Lent (years A and B) always tells the story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. In today’s gospel from Matthew, we read

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.

Transfiguration Icon

The Greek word used for transfiguration is metamorphoo—this is the root of the English word, metamorphosis. We use the word metamorphosis more popularly today for the transformation of caterpillar to butterfly, likewise in the transformation of a maggot into an adult fly and the changing of a tadpole into a frog. These are some of the amazing wonders of nature that we can ever witness in our entire lives. It’s almost like a change from one creature to a totally different creature. Who would have imagine that a beautiful butterfly would come out of an ugly caterpillar? Indeed, metamorphosis is a reminder and a symbol from nature that something good can come out even from the messiest and ugliest reality of our lives. Change, even radical change is possible as nature have shown us.

This gives us the greatest hope and joy in anticipation of the transformation that will become of us and of God’s creation in the fullness of time. Jesus’ transfiguration was a foretaste of the metamorphosis that is to become of us at the end of time. This also happens to us everyday. We often have glimpses of glory: in a remarkable sunset, in the shining face of a delighted child, in the radiant joy of new parents. Like the transfiguration, these glimpses of glory encourage and strengthen us to continue the journey of life toward eternal glory.

The divine metamorphosis that occurred to the three disciples on the mountain top during the Transfiguration of the Lord will also happen to us and we will become “God-viewers.” Like them and all the Saints of the ages, God’s light will metamorphose our whole body and soul. We will achieve what is called Theosis (Deification) and shine as luminaries radiating the light of the knowledge of God. We will become partakers of the Divine Grace and communicants of God.

This is also true for our world, Jesus’ resurrection is a symbol of hope for the change that will happen in the world from injustice into integrity, from hatred into kindness and from violence into peace. This gives the utmost hope especially to those who have long been suffering and desperate. But as Jesus showed us, the only way to transfiguration and transformation is through suffering and ultimately dying to ourselves.  Change can only happen at the cost of ourselves.

This new vision that God will fulfill for us is articulated in the first reading today. In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, God promised to Abraham that God will transform God’s chosen people–Israel. God will bestow an abundant posterity and land to Israel. God sealed his promise through a covenant which God established with Abraham:

“I will make of you a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
so that you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you
and curse those who curse you.
All the communities of the earth
shall find blessing in you.”

All these musings call for a reorientation of Lent. Australian Redemptorist Fr. Kevin O’Shea suggests that we take a reverse journey during Lent. We begin in the end—the resurrection:

Suppose we could … do Lent backwards. Suppose, instead of Ash Wednesday, we started with Easter Sunday. Suppose we then thought what we would have liked to have done to make ourselves ready for our share in Jesus’ resurrection. It would be like a reverse Easter vigil, not for one night, but for 40 nights. Backwards.[1]

Lent begins with the profound belief that we are a redeemed people through the resurrection. This victorious reality is what we received from our baptism. Baptism endows our profound identity as a redeemed people through the resurrection of Jesus. That is why from the earliest history of the church, the church has set aside the whole 40 days of Lent as the preparation and training period of candidates for baptism, called catechumens. The catechumens are solemnly baptized at the end of the Lenten season on Easter Vigil. This worthy practice was revived by the church in recent years through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) program. Thus, in Lent, we re-evaluate our lives in the light of our baptismal promises and identity. Lent is an academy where once again we relearn the meaning and implications and appreciate the wonder of baptism.

Whilst rituals, penitence, fasting, prayer and almsgiving are important, they are not the primary goal of Lent. As we go through Lent each year, oftentimes, our focus is on the external rituals and acts of penitence.  In so doing, Lent becomes about us—our efforts, discipline, sacrifices and goals no longer about the victory of Jesus. When this happen the whole Lenten discipline becomes superficial, merely obligations that we have to go through but does not bring forth true change. Thus, come Easter, after all the observances in Lent, we become what we call in Tagalog, BSDU: balik sa dating ugali (back to old ways).

By returning to our victorious baptismal identity, Lent becomes a time for examining our participation in the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is pondering what “rising from the dead” means. The resurrection of Jesus gives us hope, that despite all our frailties and failures, our wickedness and weaknesses, God’s grace will redeem us over and over again. There is no human being, however evil or sinful, that is beyond redemption by Jesus’ resurrection. As nature have shown us, change, even radical change, is possible. This too gives us hope in a transformed world, that in the midst of too much suffering in the world around us and the seeming prevalence of evil in our world, goodness will triumph, Jesus will triumph, and we will reach our fullness and life’s fullness in God’s grace.

 

 

 


 

[1] Kevin O’ Shea, “Ash Wednesday,” cssr.org. Accessed 22/02/2018 at https://www.cssr.org.au/writings/dsp-default.cfm?loadref=2765

32ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME: IMAGINE THERE’S HEAVEN

adventure-clouds-dawn-906531
Photo by Mathew Thomas from Pexels

The opening lines to one of the most popular songs of John Lennon, Imagine, says, “Imagine there’s no heaven.”

Lennon invites us to imagine a world without a heaven or hell wherein he suggests that we make the best world we can here and now, since this is all this is or will be.

Indeed, many people in the ordinariness and busyness of everyday living, rarely think about either the end times or the existence of another world beyond death. For many, this is the only world and everything about life ends in the grave.

We Christians, however, imagine there is heaven which is a radically different world from which we live in. God will rise us all from the dead at the end of times to live in heaven. This is most profoundly the basis of our Christian hope and what gives purpose to our lives here on earth.

All categories and standards of this world will not apply in heaven as only God’s standards and values will apply in heaven. In the Gospel of today’s 32nd Sunday in ordinary time, Jesus describes the radical difference between life in this world and in heaven:

The children of this age marry and remarry;
but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age
and to the resurrection of the dead
neither marry nor are given in marriage.
They can no longer die,
for they are like angels;
and they are the children of God
because they are the ones who will rise.

Jesus is saying that heaven is not a prolongation of our present earthly life but an entirely new mode of existence, in which marriage and giving in marriage are unknown. Since in the new life there is no more death, there is no need for provision to perpetuate the human race.

In a profound way, Jesus invites the people of his time and all people of all times to imagine heaven which is the world that God has prepared and destined each one of us. It is a world where we shall all live again after death, in fact, there will no longer death, for we shall have eternal life. This is what we proclaim in our creed every Sunday:

I believe in …
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

We recite these words every Sunday but do we truly understand what these words mean?

I must confess that I don’t exactly and fully understand what these words mean. But Jesus’ call here is not so much to understand heaven and eternal life exactly and fully but more to hope and imagine. Jesus calls us to trust, hope and imagine a whole new world where all creation will be reunited with God. This calling is expressed beautifully in the penultimate chapter of the last book of the Bible, the book of revelation, chapter 21:

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people,
and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain,
for the old order of things has passed away.”

Despite all the pains and suffering, despite all the sadness and despair, despite all the wars and conflicts, despite all the evils in our world today, God invites us to imagine and hope of a place and time where and when there will be true peace, joy and prosperity for all forever.

Heaven is God’s pure gift; it will only come through the power and grace of God. Thus, heaven cannot come through our human efforts and abilities. Despite all the advances in science and technology, we cannot bring about heaven. We can, however, prepare ourselves to live in heaven by our life, our behaviours, our actions and attitudes here on earth. We can also prepare the world for the ultimate arrival of heaven by making the world a better place to reflect the values in heaven. As the song goes, “to make a little heaven down here”.

In other words, our readings today, calls us to re-imagine our lives with heaven on our minds. Imagine our lives that there is heaven. This calls for radical changes in our outlook, attitude and lifestyle. We cannot bring wealth, power and fame in heaven. We can, however, bring love, peace, gratitude, humility and joy in heaven. This also implies that we need to change our mindset that we are just pilgrims on earth, we are not permanent residents here on earth, we are just passing through. All of our lives is a preparation for eternal life.