Sorry I forgot to post this earlier, but here’s the homily from last week!
Earlier this week, I was thinking about what I was going to preach about today, and I decided that I would really love to speak about Confession. You know, it’s appropriate during Lent, it’s something I think we priests should talk about more, I’d get you all pumped for Tuesday and Saturday so I wouldn’t fall asleep sitting in the confessional (that never happens, by the way), and so on. But then I read today’s Gospel…and it’s the Transfiguration. Here I was getting into the mood of Lent, with it’s penitential purples and minor chord songs, and talk of penance and fasting – and we’re talking about the Transfiguration? Well that doesn’t make sense. It’s got it’s own feast on August 6th, for goodness sakes! (For all those Twitter users, #priestproblems, right?) I was trying desperately to connect the topic that I wanted to preach on today, but God wasn’t having any of it. So I decided to reconsider what I was going to preach on, and thought about why the Church would give us the readings of the Transfiguration in the Second week of Lent anyway. And I realized, it really has quite a bit to do with Lent.
One of the things that caught my eye this week was the fact that the disciples fell asleep. These guys are always falling asleep – on boats, in gardens, on mountains – lay off the Ambien, fellas! But the more I got to thinking about it, perhaps the Gospel speaks to us of spiritual sleep today. If you think back a few weeks, we heard the story of the call of the disciples Peter and Andrew. They are called, they left their nets and their father, and they follow Jesus. And following that, you can imagine their enthusiasm in listening and following Jesus. Now, who knows their hearts aside from God alone, but they get this invitation – just Peter, James, and John – to follow him up the mountain and pray. Now you’d think that if you were called aside by Jesus, you’d probably be paying attention, but somehow, they fall asleep. Maybe being with Jesus had become too ordinary for them. And then, when they awake, Jesus is standing there over them, clothed in dazzling white and speaking to these two monumental figures of their Jewish history and faith – Moses and Elijah, guys who have been dead for almost 1400 years! I can’t imagine their groggy faces as they realized it was real. Their eyes are opened, and they realize all at once who this Jesus was that they are following. Nothing about Jesus had changed, aside from his white clothes. He is still the man who called them from their fishing boats, but his glory was given to them in a very intense and new way. Maybe that experience brought them back to what it was like to first be called by Jesus and to recognize he was someone worth following.
Now think about your own faith for a moment. Maybe, like the disciples, there was a time when you first heard God’s call to you, a time when you were very enthusiastic about your faith, at time when you were happy and excited to live it. Maybe it was after some experience at a retreat. Maybe it was after getting married or after having your first child baptized. Maybe it was as far back as your first communion or confirmation. After a while, however, maybe you fell asleep. The excitement of the moment faded, and maybe became too ordinary. Let’s use communion as an example: the first time, it’s awesome! I love seeing the children’s faces light up the first time they receive Communion. But then you start receiving every weekend. Sometimes you’re into it, and sometimes you’re not. It becomes ordinary. And then, as responsibilities and distractions start to pile up, it becomes a chore – it gets in the way of sleep and soccer games and so many other things. Until eventually, that excitement is all but gone. What happened to that bright-eyed child holding their hands out like a throne to receive communion? You see, when we become spiritually tired or asleep, we start to miss the things that God has in store for us. We might be physically present at Mass – the disciples were physically present with Jesus at the top of the mountain too – but like the disciples, it takes something to wake them up.
I like to think about this like a fire. What can I say – once a Boy Scout, always a Boy Scout, right? My friends and I were trying to burn up some firewood that we had stored up, so we put it in a fire pit and lit one of those Duraflame logs (I know, it’s cheating). The fire quickly lit, and was raging – for about 5 minutes. But we hadn’t prepared it well enough with little sticks and kindling, so it cooled off and turned to embers. We were blowing on it to get it back into shape, but the most we could keep it going for was a few seconds. We needed something drastic, so my genius friends thought of a brilliant idea. Now please note: do not do this without adult supervision, or really, firefighter supervision as well. So they fired up the leafblower and pointed it at the fire, and in about 20 seconds, it turned that little pile of ashes into a raging inferno. Now, it’s funny, but isn’t it the truth? If we haven’t fortified and fed the fire of faith in our hearts with little everyday acts of charity and self-denial, the flame goes out. It needs something drastic, which is why I love the season of Lent.
I love Lent. Not because of the fish fries, although those are excellent. Not because I like to punish myself. I love the music and beauty of the liturgy in Lent, but I don’t love Lent bevause of those either. I love Lent because it’s a season that wakes us up. It’s a season of challenge, dedicated to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s a season when we consciously choose to make our lives a little more difficult, when we choose to deny ourselves to force a little more effort. It forces us to focus on our weaknesses, and all those acts of self-sacrifice reorient our mistaken desires back to what they should be pointing towards – Christ. It’s a season when we can realize if we’re spiritually drowsy or asleep, and it shakes us awake to realize the glory of God in our midst, like those disciples at the Transfiguration, taking the things that have become common and jarring us awake so that they aren’t so common anymore. If we let it, this season has the potential to bring us back to that point of excitement where we first heard God’s call in our lives. And like those disciples who witnessed the transfiguration, it prepares us and strengthens us to meet the time of the Cross – both liturgically on Good Friday, and whenever we encounter the bitter pain of the Cross in our lives.
Brothers and sisters, as we come here before this altar, an experience that maybe we have let become too common or too ordinary in our lives, let us ask the Lord to open our eyes to behold the glory of his presence in the Eucharist. Let us ask him to fan the flame of his Spirit within our hearts, to grow in our appreciation and love for all he is and all he has given us. Let us continue this season of Lent, asking the Lord to recreate that desire for him within us, and to lead us, awake, to the glory he has prepared for us.