Saturday, February 28, 2015

                                                             Second Sunday of Lent, B
                                  Gen 22:1-2,9a, 10-13,15-18: Rom 8:31b-34: Mk 9:2-10
                                               Leaving our comfort zones
We are already in the third month of the year 2015, and the second Sunday of Lent. Where are we on our Lenten journey? Looking at our very lives in line with the resolutions we made at the beginning of Lent, can we say as individuals: “It is good for me to be here?”  On the mountain where Jesus had taken Peter James and John to Pray, Peter exclaimed “it is good for us to be here” because he saw a glimpse of the heavenly glory at the transfiguration event. The transfiguration is the fourth mystery of light of the Holy Rosary, and one noticeable trend in all the mysteries of light is that a change is happening from one thing to another.

The word "transfiguration" comes from the Latin roots trans- ("across") and figura ("form, shape"). It thus signifies a change of form or appearance. Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white; the heavens opened and   a voice was heard: “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” Moses and Elijah appeared. It was such a beautiful scenario that moved Peter to a request a longer stay. This was clearly a preview of heaven. Who among us can find himself in heaven and not want to remain there forever?   
But Peter’s request was not granted: first, because they went to the mountain to pray in preparation for their mission; and also in view of his resurrection that would come after his suffering and death. That is why he tells them in another text that the son of man must suffer many things before he enters into his glory (Lk 9:22). He would ask his disciples not to speak publicly about the transfiguration till he is risen from the dead because he wanted them to appreciate hardships, rejection, obstacles, and even death, as necessary pathways to heaven.

The Catechist asked her class of seven-year-olds, “If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the Church, would that get me into heaven? “No” answered all the children. If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, would that get me into heaven? Again they answered “No”. Well then if I was kind to animals and gave candy to all the children, and loved my husband, would that get me into heaven? Again they all answered “No”. Perplexed, the woman continued, “Then how can I get into heaven?” One of the boys shouted out, “You gotta be dead”

Yes, death is the final transfiguration by which our human nature undergoes decay before we can enter the glories of heaven.  But before this eternal transfiguration, we have to undergo our day-to-day transfiguration. Our Lord means this when he says “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, he must deny himself take up his cross daily and follow me.”  

The way to undergo this transfiguration during Lent is by leaving our comfort zones.  All of us have comfort zones. These are areas or spaces in our lives where we don’t welcome infringement from anybody. We can get upset if anyone invades our comfort zone. Someone once said that the only people who like change are babies with dirty nappies.  In the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what he could do to have eternal life, his comfort zone was his possession. He kept all the commandments but Jesus said to him: “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property”(Mtt 19:16-26).
Unless we grow out of our comfort zones, we would not experience the beauty of a new life in Christ. Take the example of life cycle of a butterfly. The caterpillar is a comfortable stage of growth, but it is nothing compared to the beautiful butterfly.  Without leaving its comfort zone (cocoon), the caterpillar can never become what it is meant to be. It is usually painful to grow out of the cocoon, but the fruit of this struggle is a butterfly.

Indeed nothing good comes easy! No sweat, no sweet! No pain, no gain! This is the logic of the transfiguration.  God places many of his blessings outside of our comfort zones, then asks us to come get them.  This is true of our various vocations: marriage, religious life, priesthood, studies, and every walk of life.  It takes hard work and sacrifice to reap the fruits of the rich rewards. The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.

In revealing the foretaste of heaven, Jesus wants his disciples to see beyond their daily struggles and fix their gaze on the eternal reward. Jesus never promised his disciples a comfortable life. Even up the mountain, it was not time for relaxation and enjoyment, yet Peter wanted to take advantage to relax. That’s a kind of laziness. Lazy bones have the ability   to rest when they have not toiled. Honor lies in honest toil. There is no short cut to heaven, but a universal highway through which all disciples must travel with patient endurance.  We can’t bribe our way or cheat to go heaven. It is possible to implore crooked means to achieve our goals in school or at work, but not so with heaven.   
People who settle for an easy life can neither step over stumbling blocks nor stand on the face of difficulties. That is why a little pressure easily plunges some people into depression. Or as soon as we are faced with challenges, we begin to cry, to grumble and to complain. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time instead of giving up. St James says: “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”(Jm 1:12).  After all, if God is on our side, who can be against us?

Just like Abraham, it requires faith to leave our comfort zone. He was called by God to leave his home and go to the land of Moriah to offer his only son as a sacrifice. Just when he was about to make the sacrifice, God intervened and provided a ram for the sacrifice. What a reward for his great faith! True, leaving our comfort zone leaves us uncomfortable at first. But faith in God makes all things possible. Unless we have faith that God will always provide, we would not live beyond our comfort zone. Faith is believing that God will make a way where there seems to be no way, because He works in ways we cannot see.

Where are we on our Lenten journey? Perhaps we are on the same spot or we have fallen back on our comfort zone. This is another chance to rise and walk. The Psalm of today says: “I will walk before the Lord in the presence of the living. My vows to the Lord I will fulfill in the presence of his people.”

First Sunday of Lent, B

Overcoming Temptations
When we seriously consider the agony and crucifixion of Christ; the price he paid for our salvation, there is every reason to sincerely examine our lives and to make amends for our failings.   This total self-giving for the sake of sinful humanity is beautifully expressed in the song “You came from heaven to earth to show the way, from the earth to the cross my debt to pay, from the cross to the grave, from the grave to the sky…Lord I lift your name on high”

Though we often turn our back on our Redeemer again and again, he doesn’t give up on mankind, but offers us afresh the opportunity to come back to him during this grace-filled season of Lent. This is a time of spiritual warfare; it is a time when a thorough examination of conscience will reveal the depth to which we have fallen short of the glory of God. And, in order to walk on the path of life, and attain the fullness of joy in God’s presence, we need self-control and self -discipline. Self-control is the mark of a mature person; it applies to control of the tongue, relationship with others, and the appetites of the body. 

 The temptations of Jesus in the desert after he fasted forty days and forty nights speak to us about our own daily struggles against all kinds of temptations. Jesus succeeds because of self-control and self-discipline. He does not fall into the devil’s trap on lust of the flesh, pride and lust of the eyes (Mtt 4:5-8). 

How often are we caught in the pursuit of excessive pleasure in food, drink, and other sensual pleasures? St Paul warns:  For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus” Christ”(Ph 3:18-20)

As we undertake this spiritual journey, let us endeavor to stand tall amidst the trials that come our way; for, “If you don’t stand up for what you believe in, you will fall for anything.” Beware of the devil’s proposals on lust of the flesh, pride, greed, and lust of the eyes. This is the period when many temptations will come our way, but remember: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn 6:63). 

What route do we take in this battle? First, submit yourself to God and resist the devil and he will run away from you (Jm 4:7). Secondly, develop a personal relationship with Jesus by reading the Bible daily. Thirdly, pray and fast because through fasting, the flesh is mortified while the spirit is fortified. 

Fourthly, avoid resentment, anger, uncharitable gossip. On the contrary, be charitable in thoughts, words and deeds. Lastly, make confession and repentance a regularly spiritual activity. God is good all the time!