19 March 2018

Homily - 18 March 2018 - The Fifth Sunday of Lent

The Fifth Sunday of the Lent (B)

We are, as it in were, in the midst of a slow liturgical death. On Ash Wednesday, the great song of Alleluia fell silent. Yesterday, the images of the Cross of the Lord and his saints were veiled to keep us more focused on the task at hand through a fasting even of the eyes. On Holy Thursday, the bells will fall silent, the altar will be stripped, and the holy water will be removed from the fonts. On Good Friday, even the Holy Mass is taken away. But then, suddenly, on Holy Saturday night, everything returns with what Saint Augustine called “the mother of all holy vigils,” the great Easter Vigil.[1] It is a slow, methodical, and intentional liturgical death, a dying culminating in the Resurrection of the Lord.

Each of these little deaths, each of these small sufferings which Mother Church offers to us, are a means of expressing something of what Jesus means when he says, “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” (John 12:24). This is a passage very dear to my heart, one I first discovered on my first Great River Teens Encounter Christ retreat more than twenty years ago, and one that will be proclaimed at my funeral. With this common and everyday analogy, Jesus reveals the mystery of his own life and the mystery of the Christian faith. Just as the grain of wheat must surrender and die in order to break through the shell and the soil to reach the sunlight, so, too, do we die to our liturgical senses to focus more on the heart of Christ and so be perfected.

In much the same way, whenever we suffer, there is a certain dying that takes place as we come to accept the reality that we, with our will and desires, are not in control of our lives. There is a greater will than ours governing our lives to which we are called to obey, for the Lord says to us, “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be” (John 12:26). This is why Saint Peter encourages us, saying, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (I Peter 4:12-13).

Following Jesus in this manner seems a daunting and risky proposition. Rather than accepting suffering as something good, our first instinct is often to do all we can to remove it. This, however, is not the example of our Lord who “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). He accepted the Cross as the will of the Father. He loved us to the end by giving his life for us, by allowing himself to be

like a grain of wheat that God the Father has sown in the world. Indeed, only in this way can a new humanity germinate and grow, free from the dominion of sin and able to live in brotherhood, as sons and daughters of the one Father who is in Heaven.[2]

Are we willing to accept the pain that comes with this growth? Are we willing to die to ourselves to allow the new growth, the new and full humanity, Christ yearns for us to have?

He calls us to imitate himself and to unite ourselves to his Cross, but what does it mean to be wheat? It means,

Letting oneself be permeated by the forces of the earth and from on high. Letting oneself be changed in them, letting oneself be decisively transformed by what comes to us as a challenge: by God’s trials, by his gifts, by yearning, by the good things and the difficult things that people give us to bear. And growing, becoming new in this maturation process.[3]

This is the task and the challenge of the Christian life, especially in these final days of Lent and the deliberate removal of various aspects of the liturgy can help us take up again the spiritual weapons of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to endure and triumph with Christ over the many trials that come to us.

He calls each of us to become like that grain and die to our selfish ambitions, desires, and sin in order to produce much fruit, both in our lives and in the lives of others. He calls us to unite our sufferings with his own for the salvation of the world. This is what we call redemptive suffering, a suffering that benefits others, a suffering that is not suffered in vain. This is what gives suffering its beauty, its power, and its grace. Like the grain of wheat, each of us must struggle to overcome our selfishness and live for Christ in order to bear his fruit in our lives, the fruits of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Those who produce these fruits will be with Jesus because they will have become like him.

If we desire to be with the Lord we must follow him; and whoever follows him must be his servant, so that we might be called, in the end, his friends (cf. John15:15). Therefore, whoever wishes to be with Jesus must follow him to the Cross. In a word, a Christian must be willing to suffer. This is, in effect, the response Jesus gives to those who said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21). Is this not the yearning of every heart, to see Jesus, to see him who is the fulfillment of our every desire? The Lord knows this, for he has placed it within our hearts.

It is curious to note that Jesus uses his analogy of the dying wheat after the request of the Greeks to see him. Whenever we say, “We wish to see you,” the Lord responds as he did in the Gospel: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23). It is as though he says, “The time has come for you to see my Cross. If you wish to see me, you must look to my Cross; if you wish to see me, look to your sufferings. In these you will see me and know my glory.”

When the voice of the Father was heard confirming all that Jesus had said, some in the crowd thought it only thunder. Why? They did not hear the truth because they remained in the crowd, outside the circle of Jesus’ friends; they were near him, but they were not close to him; they refused to enter into the mystery of Jesus Christ. The same is true with us. If we wish to remain merely as bystanders to the suffering of Jesus and to his Cross, we will not see his glory. But if we enter into his suffering, if we embrace his Cross in our lives, then we will see him and recognize his glory.

In these coming days, then, may we, like humble grains of wheat, so allow ourselves to be transformed by God’s challenges and gifts as to mature in faith, in hope, and in love. May we seek to become obedient to the Cross as it comes to us and so be perfected in the glory of Christ. And, having been perfected, may we see him face to Face. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 219.
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus Address, 29 March 2009.
[3] Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today. Michael J. Miller, trans. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 52.

13 March 2018

Homily - The Fourth Sunday of Lent - 11 March 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we approached the altar of the Lord this morning, we implored him for the grace of “prompt devotion and eager faith” (Collect). Just two Sundays ago, we considered what it means to be devoted, how being devoted means to be dedicated by a vow, to have sacrificed oneself, and to have made a promise in a solemn manner. How often are we prompt in our devotion to the Lord? How prompt are we to keep the vows made at our baptisms and to hold fast to the promise we received? How prompt are we to make a sacrifice of ourselves to God each day?

It sometimes happens that, by a sudden inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the notion pops into our head that we should pray the rosary, that we should pick up our Bible, or even that we should make a visit to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. After recognizing the goodness of this thought, we frequently decide there are more pressing matters requiring our attention and put off this holy inspiration. Sometimes we return to it, but more often we forget about it. At other times in our conversations with others, we realize we should say something about the goodness of the Lord and his action in our lives, but we become concerned about offending someone and remain silent. If we are honest with ourselves and with the Lord, we are not always very prompt in our devotion or eager in our faith.

Whenever we are not prompt in our devotion to the Lord and fail to keep our promises to him, we can be certain of one thing: we will grow distant from him and our love for him will fade. As the distance between us and the Lord grows, as the fire of our love for him dies down, our faith becomes weak and we risk separating ourselves from him. “How can this be?”, you might ask; “how can we be separated from God?”

There is a difference between saying. “God is with me.” and saying, “I am with God.” Reflecting back on his sinful past in his Confessions, Saint Augustine said to the Lord:

Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I have loved you. And see, you were within and I was in the external world and sought you there, and in my unlovely state I plunged into those lovely things which you made. You were with me, and I was not with you.”[1]

We see something of this in the reading from the Second Book of Chronicles in which the Israelites “added infidelity to infidelity, practicing all the abominations of the nations and polluting the Lord’s Temple which he had consecrated in Jerusalem” (II Chronicles 36:14). The Lord was with his people, but his people was not with the Lord.

In response to their repeated infidelities brought on by their lack of devotion, the Lord allowed them to fall under the power of the Babylonian Empire to shake them back to their senses. When their homes were destroyed and their possessions taken as spoils or war, they, too, were carted off to Babylon where they sat by the streams and wept, remembering Jerusalem and the Temple of the Lord that their conquerors destroyed (cf. Psalm 137:1). In their grief, they cried out, “May my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I place not Jerusalem ahead of my joy” (Psalm 137:6). The Lord allowed them to remain under the Babylonian Captivity until they again grew eager in their faith and renewed their devotion to God.

When they sang of placing Jerusalem ahead of their joy, what did they mean? Jerusalem was more than the capital city. Jerusalem was home to the Temple, to God’s dwelling among men. Jerusalem was, therefore, the location of contact with God, where praise was given to God, where sacrifices were made and sins forgiven, where God and Israel communed together. To place Jerusalem ahead of their joy meant to keep things in right order, to keep their relationship with God first and foremost in their thoughts and deeds.

The Lord Jesus Christ came among us “even when we were dead in our transgressions” and “brought us to life” by his Passion, Death, and Resurrection (Ephesians 2:5). In his Incarnation, we see that even “if, at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts … this is never the case with God! He constantly gives us a chance to begin loving anew.”[2] Even now, he calls us to keep the Heavenly Jerusalem ahead of our own joy – to keep our relationship with God first and foremost - so that his joy might be in us and our joy might be complete (cf. John 15:11).

Just as at the beginning of this Holy Mass we asked God for “prompt devotion and eager faith,” so, too, at the end of this Mass will we ask him to “sustain the weak” so we might “reach the highest good” (solemn blessing). It is impossible to reach the highest good apart from the Cross, for it was on the Cross that the highest Good – Christ Jesus - was himself lifted up “so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:15). He was lifted up upon the Cross to heal us and make us whole, and it is from his Cross that his light shines forth, beckoning all who turn to toward the light.

It is not hard to see that “people preferred darkness to light, because their works were [and are] evil” (John 3:19). So often we know our sin and yet we refuse to humble ourselves before the Lord to seek his mercy and receive his absolution. We hide from him, thinking somehow that if we stay in the darkness we will be at peace, but our experience proves this false. The more we hide from his light, the greater our pain becomes. It is only by stepping into his light, by seeking his forgiveness, that our hearts find peace.

Pope Benedict XVI once said, “In the heart of every man, begging for love, there is a thirst for love.”[3] Are we not all beggars for love? Saint Augustine said, “Only the lover sings.”[4] Given that both are true, let us not leave our harps on a tree in our anguish; let us not abandon or song of love. Let us, rather, look to the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and see there the depth of his great love so freely given and “sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1). Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 201.
[2] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2018.
[3] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 29 March 2007.
[4] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 336.

04 March 2018

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - March 2018

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2 March 2018

Islamic State in West Africa (formerly Boko Haram) Ongoing Updates - February 2018

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25 February 2018

02 March 2018

Homily for the Funeral of Eleanor Stribling - 28 February 2018

The Funeral Mass for Eleanor Stribling

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we gather today to bid farewell to Eleanor and to commend her to the mercy of God, we cannot deny that “there is an appointed time for everything, … a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2). Some may hear in this statement something of a sense of detachment or apathy. If there is a time to be born and a time to die, why do we weep and mourn today? Should we not have seen her death coming? Can we be grieved at the inevitable?

It is curious how we have come to view death as nothing more than a natural consequence of living and see death as simply a part of nature. From the vantage point of one without faith, this view seems true, but those who have faith know that death was not part of nature from the beginning; death is not a natural consequence of life, but rather an unnatural consequence of sin and of our rebellion against God. We cannot forget this, for it reveals to us something of God’s unrelenting love for us.

We can say that death is inevitable in that none of us can escape our physical death. We can also say that even when death is expected, still it catches us off guard, which somehow shows the unnaturalness of death. And we know that we grieve and mourn today because we love Eleanor, because we can no longer feel the warmth of her embrace or see the brightness of her smile. We grieve because of the unnaturalness of death, because it separates us and because we know we are meant to be together, bound together in Christ in whom we have been baptized.

When we were separated from him by sin and death, God sent his only begotten Son to take on our flesh, to die our death, and to rise triumphant over the grave, thereby breaking the bonds of death and restoring us to live. He could not forever abide our separation from him, but made himself the remedy and our reconciliation. His love is, indeed, stronger than death and breaks into time wherever he is present, most especially whenever the Eucharist – the everlasting memorial and re-presentation of his love - is celebrated (cf. Song of Songs 8:6).

If there is a time for everything, we must ask the obvious question, “What is time?” Our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine of Hippo, attempted an answer at this question in his Confessions:

What is time? Who can explain this easily and briefly? Who can comprehend this even in thought so as to articulate the answer in words? Yet what do we speak of, in our familiar everyday conversation, more than of time? We surely know what we mean when we speak of it. We also know what is meant when we hear someone else talking about it. What then is time? Provided that no one asks me, I know. If I want to explain it to an inquirer, I do not know. But I confidently affirm myself to know that if nothing passes away, there is no past time, and if nothing arrives, there is no future time, and if nothing existed there would be no present time. Take the two tenses, past and future. How can they “be” when the past is not now present and the future is not yet present? Yet if the present were always present, it would not pass into the past: it would not be time but eternity. If then, in order to be time at all, the present is so made that it passes into the past, how can we say that this present also “is”? The cause of its being is that it will cease to be. So indeed we cannot truly say that time exists except in the sense that it tends towards non-existence.[1]

This is all a bit heady, I know, but it serves to show that “although God made all things good, God did not give us knowledge of everything, but God did give us the ability to study.”[2] But if we think too much about time, we can easily become confused and bogged down by that which is not fundamentally important.

Like so many other things in life, if viewed improperly, this inability to understand everything as we would like can be used by the Evil One in his attempts to separate us from the love of Christ Jesus. This is why Saint Augustine also cautions us, saying, “Often vain curiosity about things which are unknowable … separates us from God, unless love triumphs. For love calls us to certain spiritual knowledge not by the vanity of external things but by an inner light.”[3] This is why Saint Paul is confident “that neither death nor life … will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord,” because “his love has been poured into our hearts” (Romans 8:38-39; 5:5). Can there be any doubt that the love of Christ triumphed in the life of Saint Paul? Just as the Apostle yielded to the power of Christ’s love throughout his life, and especially in his many sufferings and in his death, so, too, must we each yield to Jesus’ love throughout our lives; we must allow his love to triumph over all our desires and curiosities.

Without having had the benefit of having known her, I understand Eleanor’s love for Jesus was evident in the hospitality and friendship she extended to those who came into her life. She sought to show us what to do with this time between the day we are born and the day we die. We might say this was due to her desire to live out the Beatitudes, to conform herself ever more closely to Jesus, the true Man of Beatitude, to become clean of heart so as to receive the reward of seeing God face to Face (cf. Matthew 5:8 and 12).

Il Volto Santo / The Holy Face
To behold God is the end and purpose of all our loving activity. But it is the end by which we are to be perfected, not the end by which we come to nothing. Note that food is finished when it is consumed in eating. A garment is finished when it is completed in the weaving. Both are finished, but the former’s finish means destruction; the latter’s, perfection. Whatever we do, whatever good deeds we perform, whatever we strive to accomplish, whatever we laudably yearn for, whatever we blamelessly desire, we shall no longer be seeking any of those things when we reach the vision of God. Indeed, what would one search for when one has God before one’s eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God.[4]

As we give thanks to God, then for the gift of Eleanor and the impact she had on our lives, let us commend her to the mercy of God. May he cleanse her of her sins, perfect her, and make her heart like his own. May she see the Lord’s own Face and know the fullness of joy forever. Amen.

[1] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, XI.17. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 230-231.
[2] Saint Bonaventure, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, III.3. In Works of St. Bonaventure, Vol. VII: Commentary on Ecclesiastes, Robert J. Karris and Campion Murray, eds. (Saint Bonaventure, New York: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2005), 171.
[3] Saint Augustine of Hippo, On Romans, 58. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. VI: Romans, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, 1998), 234.
[4] Ibid., Sermon 53.6. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ia: Matthew 1-13, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois, 2001), 86.

28 February 2018

Why is heaven "up"?

In my reading into all things Tolkien, I repeatedly found references to a little book by C.S. Lewis titled, The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. The way the various authors mentioned this book intrigued me and so I looked for it in bookstores for more than a year, but never with success. Finally, I decided to simply order it online, and I am glad I did.

This book is a sort of summary of his introductory lectures on the mindset of medieval man, of how he looked upon the world. Lewis describes medieval man as
an organizer, a codifier, a builder of systems. He wanted 'a place for everything and everything in the right place'. Distinction, definition, tabulation were his delight.... There was nothing medieval people liked better, or did better, than sorting out and tidying up. Of all of our modern inventions I suspect that they would most have admired the card index [of happy memory] ([Cambridge University Press, 2013], 10).
It is an excellent and thought-provoking read that overturns the current common misconceptions of the medieval worldview. Take, for example, the medieval view of the universe.

It is a commonplace today to mock the medievals for speaking of heaven as "above" us and hell as "below" us. We find such a notion quaint and childish, altogether lacking in scientific reasoning, but Lewis demonstrates how this modern characterization is quite incorrect.

The medievals based their understanding of the universe on the understanding of the world as handed down by none other than Aristotle, no fool he. As Lewis summarizes:
So far as he could find out, the celestial bodies were permanent; they neither came into existence nor passed away [the first supernova was not observed until A.D. 185]. And the more you studied them, the more perfectly regular their movements seemed to be. Apparently, then, the universe was divided into two regions. The lower region of change and irregularity he called Nature. The upper he called Sky. Thus he can speak of 'Nature and Sky' as two things. But that very changeable phenomenon, the weather, made it clear that the realm of inconstant Nature extended some way above the surface of the Earth. 'Sky' must begin higher up. It seemed reasonable to suppose that regions which differed in every observable respect were made of different stuff. Nature was made of the four elements, earth, water, fire, and air. Air, then (and with air Nature, and with Nature inconstancy) must end before Sky began. Above the air, in true Sky, was a different substance, which he called aether. Thus 'the aether encompases the divine bodies, but immediately below the aetheral and divine nature comes that which is passible, mutable, perishable, and subject to death' [Metaphysics, 1072b]. By the word divine Aristotle introduces a religious element; and the placing of the important frontier (between Sky and Nature, Aether and Air) at the Moon's orbit is a minor detail. But the concept of such a frontier seems to arise far more in response to a scientific research than to a religious need (4-5).
From this conception of the universe, from their understanding of the world, this was  - and remains - a perfectly logical way of describing what was known.

Because this conception was all we could know for centuries, when we discovered more about the nature of the universe we simply continued speaking of heaven as being above us. We view such a notion as infantile only because we do not know medieval man as we should.

27 February 2018

Good News Stories, We Do What We Can Do

Yesterday I happily stumbled on two news stories that warmed my heart and reminded me why I enjoy working with young people, whose hearts - contrary to what is often bandied about in the media - are often very generous.

First, there is this story from my beloved hometown of the members of the St. Joseph of Arimathea Club at Quincy Notre Dame High School:
Quincy Notre Dame High School junior Harry Zhang refers to Scripture to help explain his motivation for serving others in a time of loss.
"In Bibles they said feed the hungry, clothe the naked, bury the dead," Zhang said. "We do what we can do."
When a family working with Duker and Haugh Funeral Home doesn't have people able to serve as pallbearers, students involved in QND's St. Joseph of Arimathea Society step into the role. 
"This is just a way to show our support and love and prayers to the family that is going through a hard time and show that they're not alone in this," QND senior Jenna Zanger said. "I just thought it was a great opportunity to share my faith with them."

"We do what we can do." I love that line! Can you imagine the impact we could have on the world if we all simply did what we can do, each in our seemingly small ways?
Second, there is this story from Edgewood, Illinois, just outside of Effingham where the organist at St. Anne parish began playing when she was just eleven years old:
Sunday morning, Cecilia Annable climbed into the choir loft of St. Anne Catholic Church and settled behind the organ. 
Cecilia, 14, has been playing organ for services at the church since she was eleven. She began playing the instrument with encouragement from her grandmother. 
“She got me taking lessons from a friend, and she taught me a lot of chords and how to play a melody with chords,” Cecilia said. 
Advocates for sacred music have warned that some congregations struggle to find organists. 
“It’s a sacred instrument, made for sacred music to praise a sacred God,” Cecilia said. “I took over (playing at St. Anne) when I was eleven, so I didn’t realize how much it meant, but I can’t really envision the place without me and my sister.”
She saw and a need and she stepped up to help. Let us follow her example!

25 February 2018

Homily - 25 February 2018 - The Second Sunday of Lent

The Second Sunday of Lent (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

What does it mean to be devoted to God? We heard a few moments ago how the Lord God called Abraham to “go to the land of Moriah” and how the Lord’s messenger said to him, “I know now how devoted you are to God” (Genesis 22:2, 12). To be devoted is to be dedicated by a vow, to have sacrificed oneself, and to promise solemnly.

Stjorn Manuscript, Arni Magnusson 227 fol., fol. 23v
It is not difficult to see how devoted Abraham was to God, even if it is difficult for us to understand his devotion.

Abraham trusts totally in God, to the point of being ready even to sacrifice his own son and, with his son the future, for without a child the promised land was as nothing, ends in nothing. And in sacrificing his son he is sacrificing himself, his whole future, the whole of the promise. It really is the most radical act of faith.[1]

It is the radicality of Abraham’s faith that gives us pause because our faith is not so radical; it is often more practical and pragmatic. We are devoted to God to a certain extent, but not fully; we are often unwilling to sacrifice everything to God and trust fully in his promise, his vow, to us.

God’s devotion to us is seen in that he “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all” (Romans 8:32). He held nothing back, but gave us everything. As Abraham was willing to offer Isaac to the Father, the Father willingly offered his Son – and the Son willingly offered himself – for us. What more could God have done for us? The depth of his love for us cannot be doubted because while we were in sin “he first loved us” (I John 4:19). How can we refuse to give everything to him in return? Seeing the death of his Son, and his Resurrection from the dead, how can we not see the depth of his love for us? How can we fail to trust I his love? If God did not withhold from us that which he loves, how can we withhold from God what we love?

God proves his love and care for us – he proves his devotion to us - in a truly heart-wrenching way. Christ Jesus called his brothers and sisters – he called us – to repent of our sins and live. As proof of the truth of his Gospel, he healed the sick, he cast out demons, he fed the hungry crowds, and he raised the dead. He entrusted his ministry of healing and reconciliation to his Apostles. And for all of this he was mocked, tortured, stripped, and lifted high on the Cross as a sign of contradiction before the world.

As he endured such unthinkable mistreatment, he cried out to God, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even before he was crucified, when the two brothers asked, “do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume” a village that refused to welcome him, Jesus did not permit it (Luke 9:54; cf. Luke 9:55). So great is his love for us, so great is his devotion to us. “If at times, the flame of charity seems to die in our own hearts, know that this is never the case in the heart of God!”[2]

The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we gladly abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent, or whether we do so with a grumble. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we spend time in prayer each day, or only for a short time on Sundays. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we participate in the Holy Mass every Sunday and holy day, or whether we do so when it is convenient for us. The strength of our devotion to him is seen in whether we speak the truth in love, or simply say whatever is easiest in the moment. There are many times each day that the Lord’s messenger can see how devoted we are to God; what does he see?

In his Message for Lent 2018, His Holiness Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life.”[3] In other words, Lent summons us to a deeper devotion to the Lord and enables our love to be full. There are signs when our love is not what it should be, signs indicating our devotion to God is strong enough: “selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”[4]

When the zeal and devotion of the Apostles began to diminish, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up Mount Tabor to reveal to them his glory. He had just told them “that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). This was too much for them; they were grieved at the thought of losing their Master and Friend and so Peter said to Jesus, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). Peter meant well, of course, but he did not understand or trust the promise of the Lord. Jesus allowed himself to be transfigured before them to give them a glimpse of his Resurrection, to give them a glimpse of his divinity and strengthen their devotion to him.

NAF 4515, fol. 34r.
In his description of how Jesus appeared during his Transfiguration, Saint Matthew includes a detail omitted by Saint Mark, namely that “his face shone like the sun” (Matthew 17:2). It was an answer to that great cry of every human heart voiced by the Psalmist: “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9). In that moment, the Lord Jesus allowed his Apostles to see him as he is; he allowed them to see “that Face which in the coming days of the Passion we shall contemplate disfigured by human sins, indifference, and ingratitude; that Face, radiant with light and dazzling with glory that will shine out at dawn on Easter Day.”[5]

Saint Augustine of Hippo called the Face of Jesus “the sun to the eyes of the heart.”[6] By this curious phrase, he indicated that the light of Jesus’ face illumines our hearts, shedding light upon our shadows and darkness that we would rather conceal. The more we allow the light of his Face to shine upon us, the more like him we become, which, of course, is the very purpose of Lent.

“Let us,” then, “keep our hearts and minds fixed on the Face of Christ” so our devotion to him may deepen.[7] By contemplating the beauty of his Face, let us hold fast to the promises we made in Baptism and learn to trust in the promise of the Lord’s own love. By contemplating his devotion to us in the mystery of the Cross, may he find us devoted to him in return and bring us to the full vision of his glory. Amen.

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, 4 March 2012.
[2] Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2018.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, ibid.
[6] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Sermon 78.2. In Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament Vol. Ib: Matthew 14-28, Thomas C. Oden, et al, eds. (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter Varsity Press, 2002), 54.
[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, ibid.