Sunday, February 24, 2013

2nd Week of Lent

Here is the homily I preached  this weekend. For the sake of full disclosure, parts of Benedict XVI story are as reported by the Baltimore Sun in April 26, 2005

Gospel Lk 9:28b-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen. 

The week after Pope Benedict was elected to the Chair of Peter, he had his very first audience with a group of German pilgrims, to whom he told this story. During the conclave, as the trend in the ballots slowly made him realize that, to use his own words “the guillotine was going to fall on him”; he started to feel quite dizzy. In his mind he was convinced that his life's work was done and that now he could live out his last days in peace.
          He recalled that in prayer he had told the Lord “Don't do this to me. You have younger and better candidates who could take up this great task with a totally different energy and with different strength.”
         As the secret deliberations continued, a fellow cardinal wrote him a note, reminding him of the sermon he had delivered during the funeral Mass for Pope John Paul II.
        The note said “If the Lord should now tell you, "Follow me," then remember what you preached. Do not refuse. Be obedient.”  Benedict recalled that this note touched his heart and made him realize that, and here he gave us one of his most memorable quotes. “The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness” And so, he decided to accept the Papacy if elected, of course we know the rest of the story.
          I mention this anecdote because today’s reading remind of Benedict’s words.  In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus taking some of his apostles to a mountain, not to rest or to enjoy themselves but to prepare for what was going to come in Jerusalem. In this mountain he transfigures, he shows himself in all of his glory, as the Son of God. Moses and Elisha appear to him and they discuss what it is to happen in the coming days.  Peter, seen all this, instead of asking Jesus “How can we also prepare for the days ahead?” Focuses on how good it is to be with Jesus transformed in this way and offers him…comfort, offers to make three tents: one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elisha. You see, Jesus knew very well that the ways of The Father are never comfortable; this is why he went to the mountain to pray. Peter on the other hand wants to hold the moment for as long as he can; why go down of the mountain to the struggle of ordinary life, when we can stay with Jesus, Moses and Elisha? Peter does not understand what Benedict realized that day when the cardinals elected him Pope: the ways of God are always challenging, they get us out of our “comfort zone” so that we can find the reason why God called each one of us into existence, so that we can find the greatness he created us for.
        My brothers and sisters, the temptation for comfort, for things that are familiar, and safe, is a constant in our lives, mostly because we live in a culture completely oriented towards providing us with the most pleasure and comfort possible. This is why during lent the church encourages us to get out of our comfort zones, by fasting, prayers and alms giving. These things do not come out of a desire to punish us, but to help us refocus in what is important. Too much comfort in our lives make us, content, satisfied of the way things are, and it deprives us from reaching the true greatness God desires for all of us.
       I’m not saying we as people do not need time for relaxation and rest, after all this is why God ordered us to rest on the seventh day of the week. Relaxation and rest are important, but when we make this the only goal of our lives, we lose sight of the greatness God is expecting from each one of us.
      Two weeks ago Pope Benedict announced his resignation. There has been much speculation about why he made this decision. I believe that Benedict, once again, realizes what is God’s plan for him, how to reach greatness. The last 8 years have not been easy for our Pope, because he has always been a voice for truth against the storm of relativism, and public opinion. He has shown us what greatness is, he has shown that when we sacrifice our comfort for the good of the kingdom, we can achieve great things.  And now, by resigning, in his last act as Pope, Benedict has shown that all this time, it has not been about him. It takes a great man to realize that the time has come for more capable hands to do the job that needs to be done. He could have taken the easy road and “Retire in place” by letting others run the Church for him. But that is not the way of greatness; that is the way of comfort. So… as we continue our observation of lent may the memory of Benedict’s last actions as Leader of our Church be a source of inspiration and strength to help each one of us reach the greatness God is expecting from each one of us. Amen.