Sunday, March 4, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent

Losing a child is about the worst thing that could ever happen to anyone. It is every parent's worst nightmare. Parents who experience such a tragedy tell us that for many years afterward they continue to struggle with grief, anger and guilt over losing their child. Even when they are able to accept the loss and find some measure of peace, the thought of their child is always on their mind. And tears are never far away.

All of us experience death and loss in our own lives. We will never know why some people suffer more tragedies than others. What we do know is that we have a choice as to how we will react. We can either turn inward and grow bitter. Or we can reach out to help others and find some measure of serenity in our grief.

Today's first reading presents us with a man who is faced with the imminent death of his son. What was going through Abraham's mind when God told him that he was to sacrifice his only son Isaac on Mount Moriah? Was he angry that God would ask so much of him? Did he wonder what good killing the boy could possibly do? If these thoughts were going through his mind, the Scripture does not tell us. Just as shocking as God's request is Abraham's determination to obey God's command. And God rewards Abraham's heroic faith and obedience by sparing his son and declaring that he will be the father of many nations.

We might think that God is cruel for requiring so much of Abraham. But have any of us ever thought that, while God spared Isaac by having Abraham substitute a ram in his place, he did not spare his own Son, Jesus, but gave him up to death for us? What we most fear - the death of a child - is exactly the price God was willing to pay to save us from our sins and to hold out for us the gift of everlasting life. God loved us so much, that he was willing to do the unthinkable to ransom us from the power of death.

It is very tempting for us to think that Jesus' death was not traumatic for God the Father because he knew that Jesus would rise from the dead within a few days. And since God the Father and God the Son are one, they can never be separated, even by death. But the Bible tells us that God has compassion on all his creatures and that he has a special love for the poor and the suffering. If God the Father can be moved by our suffering, how much more was he troubled by the suffering of his Beloved Son? It was no easier for God to experience the death of Jesus than it was for Abraham to think about sacrificing Isaac or for any parent to lose a child. And yet he allowed it to happen out of love for us.

If it is hard for us to relate to what God the Father would have felt at Jesus' crucifixion, we can certainly relate to Jesus' own suffering. Just before he was handed over to the Roman authorities, the Bible tells us that the agony he felt was so intense that he sweat blood. Jesus felt real pain and suffered real torment throughout his crucifixion. The knowledge that he would soon rise from the dead did not make the agony any easier. Jesus' death was no easier than the death of any other person who ever lived. And yet he accepted such a cruel death out of love for us.

In today's second reading, Saint Paul reminds us of the sacrifice that God the Father made for us. And he assures us that if God would go so far as to offer up his Son for us, he will provide us with whatever else we need to grow in faith and holiness. God has shown us how absolutely committed he is to us. God has shown us how deeply he loves us. We need only place our lives in his hands with total trust, like Abraham, that whatever happens, no matter how traumatic or how awful it may seem, God will never leave our side through it all. And, more importantly, God will make some good come from it.

Every second Sunday of Lent, the Church offers for our reflection the story of Jesus' transfiguration. In the presence of his three closest disciples, Jesus' glory as the Son of God shines through his human nature, and God the Father's voice is heard booming from the heavens: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" We reflect on this story at this point every year during our Lenten journey so that we can be reminded that, when we embrace sacrifice and suffering, the power of God can shine through us. Saint Paul tells us in the letter to the Romans that the sufferings of the present are as nothing compared to the glory which will be ours in Christ. When we accept our suffering with love and trust, we become more like Jesus. For this reason, we can even rejoice in the trials we face, because faith teaches us that our difficulties are transforming us more and more into the image and likeness of Christ.

At this altar, we will recreate Jesus' sacrifice by offering bread and wine. Can we offer ourselves along with Jesus? Can we join our suffering to that of Jesus on the cross? Can we trust God enough to give him everything we have and are in perfect and absolute trust? If we can, then we will see our lives changed along with the bread and the wine, and we will bring God's love to others in ways we could never have imagined otherwise.

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