Lenten Sunday2 A (20 March 2011)
Homily of Fr. Paul Panaretos, S.J.
Art often depicts the scene of the Transfiguration as blinding the apostles with the light of divine glory. Without neglecting that and its accom-panying awe church Tradition appreciates the Transfiguration as an invitation to ponder God-become-flesh, who died and rose for us; and to unite ourselves with our Messiah suffering in all people who suffer as one pathway to sharing his glory. That’s why each Second Sunday of Lent offers us this scene.
Lent invites us to give closer attention to the Word of God [by actions and by] more ardent prayer.”1 To pray connects us with the Trinity: to God through Jesus in their Spirit as an ancient closing to prayer put it. To pray maintains our connection, deepening it and strengthening it. To pray shares in the divine glory and graciousness, which Jesus continually reveals. To pray admits that clouds of mystery surround our experience of God through Jesus in their Spirit. The Transfiguration vision assumes as true that the more real, heavenly world is hidden from human perception unless God takes the initiative to identify its messengers. To pray allows our Triune God to communicate with us in an ongoing way.
Prayer has been called conversation with God. By definition conversation has two mutual elements: one’s turn to speak; and one’s turn to listen, quietly attending to what a conversation partner offers. The gospels portray Peter as quick to speak; listening did not come easily to him. Peter jabbered during the moments Jesus was transfigured. Its initial moments of awe couldn’t make him shut up. The divine voice did that. Some of us may not yammer in our prayer as Peter did throughout the gospels. Others of us, though, may fear no one listens to us. A true incident may help us appreciate prayerful conversing with God.
A Russian Orthodox woman of many years and deep piety spoke to her priest after liturgy one day. She said, ‘Father, I have always prayed and do pray. I tell God everything. I ask God to help me and others. But in all my years I feel God does not hear me.’
Her priest looked tenderly at her before asking, ‘Do you ever listen and give God a chance to reply?’ Her face brightened. ‘Why no!’ she answered. ‘Pray as usual,’ said the priest, ‘and when you knit, quiet yourself and allow God to communicate to you.’ She soon reported his advice changed everything for her.2
Do we allow Messiah Jesus to speak or satisfied to accuse him of being silent? We are, the church reminds us, to cultivate an attentive attitude.3 We heed his voice with more than our ears. For “Christ...speaks when the Holy Scrip-tures are read in Church. He is present...when the Church prays and sings, for He promised: Where two or three are gathered together for my sake, I am there in the midst of them.”4 St. Augustine said that one is an empty proclaimer of God’s word, “who does not listen to it inwardly.”5 His teacher, St. Ambrose, said, “we speak to [God] when we pray, we hear him when we read the divine sayings,” for even alone Jesus promised us, I will never leave your orphaned.6
Messiah Jesus the Speaker: that image balances our understanding of prayer as conversation, calling us to be attentive. Abram’s attitude was attentive. The first reading can blow by our ears. Yet, when we consider Abram went to a place unknown to him, with people he did not know, we sense that God was working in him. Timothy reminded us that God saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began.
Lent allows us to refresh our attention to Jesus, to be attentive. Our acts of charity shape our prayer so we can grow more attentive, instead of being like St. Peter, who seemed immune to the awe and prophetic confirmation at Jesus’ transfiguration. Together our acts of charity and our more ardent prayer allow us to recognize the divine voice addressing us: Jesus is my beloved son. Listen to him. I hear the tone of the divine voice both pleading and com-manding: Be still! Hunker down and drink in the present moment. Attention like that to the present as it is authorizes us to speak for Jesus and for his Father.
We may be conditioned to think of Lent as our actions. That misses the point. Lenten actions seek to help us to dispose ourselves in a fresh way, above all, to notice God in Jesus by their Spirit at work in us. Noticing the Trinity giving themselves for us opens the ears of our inmost selves to welcome the Trinity giving our lives new direction. Noticing the Trinity giving themselves for us opens our hearts to allow the Trinity to work in others through us.
In your daily 15 minutes with Jesus this week, compose yourself in our triune God. Ask St. Peter, once so much like us, to present you to Jesus. Praise Jesus briefly for dying and rising for you. Ask Jesus for grace to calm your fears and help you notice all around you as if for the first time. Drink in that moment and savor new awareness. Close saying very slowly each word of the Lord’s Prayer. If a word causes you to notice something within you, stop and repeat that word with generous pauses between saying it.
- Constitution on the Liturgy, 109, of the Second Vatican Council.
- The Tablet some years ago. I recount here from memory.
- God our Father, in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son, you strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of your prophets, and show us the splendor of your beloved sons and daughters. As we listen to the voice of your Son, help us to become heirs to eternal life with him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. [Opening Prayer, Feast of the Transfiguration]
- Constitution on the Liturgy, 7, of the Second Vatican Council.
- Sermon 179, quoted in #25 of the same Constitution.
- On the Duties of Ministers I, quoted also in #25.