Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fr. Matthias Neuman's Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Readings: Gen. 15:5-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36

In the post Vatican II revision of the Lectionary great care was taken in the selection of Scripture readings for the Sunday Eucharistic celebrations. Particular attention was paid to the Sundays in Lent where the gospel passage gives each Sunday a special theme. In addition, the whole group of Lenten Sundays are linked by a progressive development of themes. The first Sunday of Lent picked up after the Baptism of Jesus when he goes into the desert to face his temptations. After the glory of the Baptism Jesus’ desert experience is one of struggle and trial; the gospel tells us that he was weak and tired after it. This second Lenten Sunday gospel features the experience of the Transfiguration and serves as both a reinvigoration of Jesus as well as a reaffirmation of his divine mission. We hear once again the message of the Baptism: "This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him!"

This Sunday therefore focuses on spiritual rebirth—in the life of Jesus, but also in the lives of his followers, in our lives. It isn’t unusual over the course of a life to have periods of success and effectiveness alternate with stretches of stagnation or less than successful activity. On the public scene we read of movie stars or athletes who have successfully re-ignited their careers after a stretch of failures or poor achievements. The same happens in the lives of ordinary people. We can be quite successful in a position for several years, then move to another where things just don’t work out. Everything bombs and we may drag on for years until another opportunity comes along and gives us a chance to re-spark, to experience a rebirth, to know a Transfiguration.

The same kind of dynamic frequently occurs in our spiritual lives. We can be doing quite well, feeling very alive in our spirituality, our relation with God and in the religious actions of our lives. And then, for whatever reason (there are many of them), all that religious aliveness dries up. Prayer becomes a drudgery. We have little inspiration and energy for any religious activity. In fact, anything religious makes us seem tired and even angry. We need a Transfiguration experience. It’s right to hope and pray for one.

Lately I’ve been reading about a young woman who had just such a Transfiguration experience: Gertrude More. Gertrude (nee: Helen) was the great, granddaughter of St. Thomas More. She grew up as a vibrant, happy and deeply religious young woman; she was tremendously gifted with a wide range of abilities. With great zeal at the age of seventeen she decided to join a newly-formed house of English Benedictine nuns in Brussels (Belgium). Such houses were not permitted in Anglican dominated England. But soon after she arrived at the new house, she began to become miserable, lethargic and sad. Many things bothered her, but she struggled greatly with the style of regimented Jesuit spirituality being forced on the community. This distress continued for a whole year even while she made vows at the end of that year. Her sarcasm was affecting the whole community, which had enough "beginning problems" of its own as any community might. She got her Transfiguration experience when she met Fr. Augustine Baker. He taught her a method and practice of contemplative prayer that turned her whole monastic life into an experience of loving, loving God and loving her sisters. Listen to her description of the change: "I found myself in fifteen days so quieted that I wondered at myself. This change took place as soon as I had received from him some general instruction...that I must give all to God without any reservation. .... He told me that my way must be by prayer. He gave me some instructions. Having done this I found presently that course of love which I so much desired." (Medieval Women Monastics,p. 266-67) She was able to continue that loving attitude for the remainder of her short life serving her community in a variety of leadership positions which she carried out with great love and care. Sadly she died at the age of twenty-seven in a smallpox epidemic.

This gospel story makes us consider the course of our lives, our stretches of success as well as our down times. We should be thankful for our Transfiguration moments, those experiences of invigoration that jump start us again. Perhaps we can take a few moments now to think of some people we know who are very much in need of a Transfiguration experience in their lives right now....and pray to God for them.

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