Check the compass of your heart

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2nd Sunday of Lent, Year A: March 20, 2011
Gen 12:1-4; Ps 33; 2 Tim 1:8-10; Matt 17:1-9

In our first reading today, we hear the beginning of the story of Abraham. Just a few verses earlier, we heard his name, and who his father was, who his wife was, where he lived. But the story really begins when the Lord speaks to him and says: “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” And so Abraham set out for a land he did not know.

And isn’t that a lot like so many of us, who also have moved far from where we were born and where our relatives live? Aren’t we a lot like Abraham?

But we should not be too quick to say Yes to that. Because there is another story we know of someone who makes a journey after the Lord speaks to him: the prophet Jonah. At the beginning of his story, the Lord said to him, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and preach against it.” And Jonah responded by going in the opposite direction: not northeast over land to Nineveh, but west to the coast to get onto a ship sailing for the far west of the Mediterranean—as far from Nineveh as he had ever heard of!

So Jonah also went forth from his country and from his relatives. Not obeying the God’s call, but disobeying it—running as far away from the Lord as he could get.

  • If you are far from home, did you get here like Abraham: hearing God’s call to you, believing him, and being ready to follow his direction even into the unknown and the uncomfortable?
  • Or are you like Jonah: unwilling to take that step of complete trust and obedience, so that you grabbed onto something else and went the opposite direction?
  • Or perhaps God didn’t have much to do with it either way, because you didn’t ask him, you didn’t listen to his voice, to find out what he wanted of you?

This season of Lent is a great time to really dig in to questions like these: not to accept the easy answers, or deceive ourselves, but really to examine ourselves closely.

The Lord sees our heart; do we see our heart?

During Lent, we take on acts of fasting and almsgiving and prayer; and all of this is good and important. But by itself it is not enough. As the prophets of the Old Testament and our Lord Jesus Christ emphasized so often, external acts of repentance and sacrifice and offering are good; but they are not enough if underneath, in the real, central attachments of the heart and commitments of the will, we are pushing our Lord away and closing ourselves to his will, what he wants from us.

St. Paul writes to Timothy: He saved us and called us to a holy life. A holy life: a life that is set apart and different from the average, everyday, not-so-holy ways of living that surround us. A life that is holy in that we increasingly share in the character qualities and actions of God himself, of our Lord Jesus. A holy life. A life in which, as the Lord tells Abraham, he will bless us; and he will bless others through us. If we will let him.

  • Lent is a time to stop running away; to return to the Lord; and to open our heart and mind to him once again.
  • Lent is a time to ask him what plans he has for us; and to say, with Jesus to the Father, “not my will but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42]
  • And, if we are seeking the Lord’s will and living out the vocation to which he has called us, Lent is a time to take the next step. For Timothy, early in his life as a young bishop in Ephesus, St. Paul urged him to take his next step: Do not be ashamed … but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. … For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.

Our Lord Jesus saved us and called us to a holy life. And who is he? A kind and good man? A powerful man who can work miracles and cast out demons? “The Messiah, the Son of the living God,” as Peter had confessed right before today’s Gospel reading? The apocalyptic Son of Man, whose face shone like the sun, and who could converse with Moses and Elijah, those great figures of the past who stood for the Law and the Prophets? Truly a heavenly being?

Yes, he is all those things; and when Peter and James and John saw him transfigured on the mountain, it filled them with joy and wonder. But it seems that they still didn’t get it, not enough—until a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, and from the cloud came a voice. For in that overshadowing cloud and that voice they recognized the ancient signs that God himself was truly present. And they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. And what did the Father say? “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

  • Jesus, who is King of kings and Lord of lords, true God from true God, one in being with the Father.
  • Jesus, who calls us with Abraham to go forth from what is familiar to us, into the unknown.
  • Jesus, who calls us with Timothy to be courageous and not intimidated by opposition to the Gospel.
  • Jesus, who calls us with Peter and James and John to see him as he really is and to be ready to face the cross, to reach the glory of his resurrection.
  • Jesus, who makes himself present in this Mass, to feed us with his own Body and Blood, and to draw us to unite our selves and our lives to him. So that more and more we can say with St. Paul: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. [Gal 2:20]


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