Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, 2017
Reflection by S. Luce Marie Dionne, OSB
Readings: Genesis 12:1-4a,
2 Timothy 1: 8b-10,
Matthew 17: 1-9,
Rise, Mountains of Transfiguration
On the second Sunday of Lent, the first reading in Genesis reminds us of God’s call and our response to the invitation. “The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you… Abram went as the LORD directed him.” (Gen. 12:1-4a) The Jerome Commentary gives three requirements for this transition to God’s call: First, the invitation comes from God, and not from us; second, a certain detachment from the past is required; third, the migration, mission and movement, is God’s choosing. We do not know how Abram first reacted to God’s request; except that he indeed left Ur geographically, wandered until he came to the land God had chosen for his descendants.
For those of us who have experienced an invitation, I am sure it has been as awesome, strange, and daunting as Abram first encountered it. Today, some of us have come from across the nation and neighboring countries. For some communities, members have come from across the world. In a variety of ways, we’ve all had to struggle, to leave behind parts of our past, to wander in the land, or even if ever we will understand the reality of a consecrated life and its mission. God does what God does and… it is a mystery.
However, the Jerome Commentary gives us a fourth requirement. God offers us ‘Blessings’ to enhance our journey. It is through God’s blessings that Abram perseveres. Three kinds are mentioned: To Abram God says: 1. “I will bless you”; that is the direct action of God giving a holy gift, a special divine favor, the grace of mercy and protection. 2. “You will be a blessing.” Like Abram, we in turn become “Blessed” consecrated holy beings; and 3. You will become a blessing to others and they will find blessings in you. (Gen. 12:1-4a) This is especially true for Benedictines for as we know, St. Benedict’s name actually means “Blessed” and the Rule continually invites us to these numerous graces.
And yet, at times it can be a fearful thing to get or to be a blessing, because it can be wounding. We hear in the second reading of Timothy: “Beloved, bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He 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 (2 Timothy 1:8b-9) The Jerome Commentary remarks that “Timothy must have been a timid person”. I admit, I can relate to Timothy. It is no easy task to respond and take on the responsibility in our joy and in our “wounded-ness”.
At the same time, we are also intertwined with the external calls to the historical challenges today.
Lately, the deeper discussions have been about the immense uncertainties in the world which have created “voids” and which no one knows how to address, how to solve, or how to fill. Whether these voids are social, religious, political, or economic, they are real and they could cause much more suffering to many people. Totalitarianism, consumerism, and technology are fast filling these voids. Some people want to fill them with their own agendas for the purpose of luring others to racism, vandalism, and desecrations of our faiths.
We have also been exposed to proposed solutions on the surface for fear of going deeper into the abyss to address the real underlying problems. Others have become isolationists who want to protect their boundaries from facing the realities and risks that are required to engage in dialogue to find those solutions. And it is within these vacuums which oftentimes refugees, immigrants, victims of trafficking, and the most marginalized are caught.
Therefore, I asked myself the deeper meaning of the word “void” – of a complete empty space. The term is unsettling, describing dark nothingness, a space without substance. The void was mentioned in the Genesis story at the beginning, when Earth was without form. Like the macrocosmic dark space without stars and galaxies, and the microcosmic pours without atoms or matter, the word also reminds me of black holes sucking up everything in its path. On earth, the word “void” declares meanings of socially hollowed, politically annulled, legally invalid, economically drained, and spiritually absent. Then I began to think about our own personal voids. Certainly, we know we can begin with ourselves and fill our hearts with God’s abundant blessings.
In the third reading of the Transfiguration, we hear “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying “Rise, and do not be afraid” (Matthew 17:5b- 7). Foreshadowing his own exodus to the cross, this is Christ Jesus touching us ever so gently, picking us up, nudging us, and holding us during our own exodus journey. This is the Blessing we need; the touch of a merciful God. With Christ, we can rise from our fears. Furthermore, the psalmist of Psalm 33 directs us to ask “Lord let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in you.”
We need to trust God who is really interested in us, and will want to see us through with this, even in the midst of all the uncertainties. Our task then as consecrated holy beings is to accept our personal differences, our diverse perspectives, our multiplicity of calls individually and communally, and to show others that we can do this mercifully in community, without falling into those dark voids. We are also asked to do this in solidarity with all the marginalized, against the powers of those who choose to oppress. God is the grace that can fill our earthly purgatorial voids. Jesus, incarnate Son of God, is the gift of the Paschal Mystery inviting us during this Lenten season to the paradox of the Cross. Jesus Christ, who “emptied himself” completely, becomes the ultimate void and at the same time, the ultimate fullness of God. Christ on the cross is this paradoxical point of our salvation.
To make the sign of the cross is in fact a blessing; gift, protection, and mercy for our journey. We may not see the fruits of our response, our migration, or our missions. But think: although he never saw this in his own lifetime, Abram, through God’s blessing, eventually became Abraham, the father of three major spiritual faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. We are already blessed Benedictines in all our variety becoming all the more without knowing, like the light of stars and galaxies of the universe. And we are blessed disciples of God’s fullness of life, now, on earth, in Christ ”who brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Timothy 1:8b-9).