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Friday, March 11, 2011

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:1-2, 5)

March 20, 2011
Second Sunday of Lent
Matthew 17:1-9 Reading Here
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Last June, an end-of-school year article in our local newspaper caught my attention as it described a very particular rite of passage we’ve all experienced. Entitled “Into the Wastebasket, Relics of Childhood,” the article detailed high school-bound eighth-graders cleaning out their middle school lockers on the last day of school. I share excerpts from that article:

“This is not just any trash. It was a year's worth of eighth-grade locker waste in that bin at Myers Middle School [in Albany, NY]. It was over in a few minutes, this goodbye to braces, awkward crushes, social studies homework and math workbooks.

“No one said they were nervous about moving on to Albany High School, a behemoth building by comparison, which has 2,300 students compared with Myers' 650. No one wants to admit it's scary to fall from the top of the school's pecking order to being a mere freshman.

“[A] Teacher watched students throw away a few blank homework sheets they had never completed. She was monitoring the bins for valuables. It's one of her favorite times of the year because all those lost books are suddenly unearthed. Still, some of the finds are less thrilling, like the 6-week-old lunch. ‘The smells are interesting,’ she said.

“Tomorrow they'll leave. Tomorrow they'll be in a graduation gown. Tomorrow you'll be dropping them off at college. Today, it's just trash. It's just middle school.” (Albany, NY, Times-Union, June 22, 2010)

Indeed, the anxiety-filled move to a new school is but one of life’s liminal experiences, those unique events that force us to come to terms with something or someone bigger and stronger than ourselves. And while surely the transition from middle school to high school is, for most young people, an event easily and successfully negotiated, it stands as a milestone in a young life, boosting one’s confidence as future and more demanding transitions lay just ahead. “I can do this,” we say to ourselves, as we remember past challenges met.

Of course, death is the epitome of liminal experiences, a reality we must come to terms with as, day be day, it gets closer. And, I think, it’s not so much the idea of being dead that scares us as does the journey towards death. “Will I have pain?” we might ask. “Will I be in my right mind? Will my faith support me?” There are no answers to these questions; we must just move into the experience trusting that God’s abiding love will sustain us.

But our faith invites us prepare for death. It even invites us to practice for the “big moment” as day by day we are urged to die a bit to ourselves by works of charity and self-denial. It’s a specific focus of the Lenten season we now observe. Yes, we are in training this very moment for the big day! All of our smaller experiences of “letting go” are but practice runs for the big “letting go.”

Indeed, life’s liminal experiences force us to come to terms with something or someone bigger and stronger than ourselves. It’s what the disciples experienced in the gospel passage we hear today. St. Matthew writes, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. A bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:1-2, 5)

Imagine the scene on that mountaintop! Jesus, the man who’d invited them to “follow me” had now beckoned them climb further and, breathless no doubt, they arrived at a summit where, looking out, they marveled at the roads they’d traveled with Jesus, the lives they’d witnessed him transform, the biting challenges he’d put to the religious leaders. Yes, the mountaintop offered the disciples a panoramic perspective of things they’d not much reflected on. But even more dazzling – terrifying! – was what happened to Jesus on that mountaintop. The disciples saw him anew – for the first time, really – as God’s beloved son, the son who would soon know betrayal, would soon suffer and die.

But would they remember who Jesus really was when these awful things occurred? Would they remember the brightness that blinded them, the heavenly voice that terrified them? When Jesus seemed like any other condemned man gasping for breath from a cross, would the disciples remember that this was assuredly not just any other condemned man? We know the answer. They didn’t remember, at least at first. It was only later, after the resurrection, that it dawned on them that this man Jesus was bigger and stronger than death. It only dawned on them later that God had claimed Jesus as his own beloved son.

The challenge for each of us today is to believe that this Jesus who has promised to be with us always really is bigger and stronger than death. He is bigger and stronger than whatever leaves us anxious and afraid. He is bigger and stronger – and we are forever wrapped in his love.

Those eighth graders cleaning out their middle school lockers in anticipation of the move to high school didn’t know it, but they were saying goodbye to more than “braces, awkward crushes, social studies homework and math workbooks.” Indeed, they were “letting go” in order that they might take hold of something bigger and better. Though they be scared, they trusted that something wonderful lay just ahead. Perhaps this very Lent is the time for us to clean out our own lockers in preparation for something wonderful just ahead
 

 



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