Second Sunday of Lent – 8 March 2009
Whenever we focus on the Transfiguration of Our Lord we mention Jesus’ will, which is one with God the Father’s Will, to prepare His closest followers for the scandal of the Cross. These days as I travel or have occasion to look at celebrity news and notice the number of people sporting big lovely crosses or crucifixes around their necks or even wearing rosaries around their necks (shirt or no shirt?), I worry that the Cross of Christ has not only been deprived of its scandal but perhaps of its meaning as well. What’s that pop artist doing with a rosary around his neck? Why is that pretty little lady on the airplane wearing such an elegant gold necklace which resembles a rosary even though from the shape of the “beads” it wouldn’t be much good for running through your fingers? Maybe their mothers put them around their necks with a fervent prayer to keep them safe for God… I cannot and will not judge.
This Sunday’s readings, which include an abbreviated account of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, our father in faith, brought home to me that even yet today, familiarity or no with the Crucifix, the challenge is one of gaining a real appreciation of the scandal involved, yes, in the Cross of Christ and thereby in the notion that God did not spare His Only Son but delivered Him up for the sake of all of us. “Sacrifice” as in the case of Abraham prepared to offer that of his son, Isaac, which serves for us in the Church as the prophecy of the sacrifice of Jesus, the notion of “sacrifice” itself is really that which leaves us dumbfounded. Either we don’t understand sacrifice and therefore it doesn’t even come across our monitor or we don’t understand it and are repulsed by the very thought of this something we don’t understand but which seems to weigh as heavy as a big wooden cross upon our shoulders, threatening to sap our lifeblood and all we would classify as quality of life.
In a sense, I guess you could say that we still haven’t claimed for our own one of the most important lessons which Pope John Paul II of blessed memory had to teach us. We marveled at how he very simply, directly and confidently invited young people to embrace the Cross of Christ. We marveled because it worked, in the sense that young people responded positively to his invitation. Despite evidence of a method tried and true, we seem to shy away from doing the same, or at least a goodly portion of this world’s preachers shy away from singing the “Ecce Lignum Crucis”. We seem to flee the glance of a frivolous young world as quick to hang a rosary around its neck as it is to tie different pieces of colored yarn to its wrist or around its ankle. Even without the jewelry, one wonders how we (the “saved”?) deal with the great mystery of Christ’s sacrifice.
“With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.” (Romans 8:31-34)
St. Paul evidently had to spend some time explaining the notion of Christ’s sacrifice as well. Faithful and faith-filled though he was, Abraham learned much on Mount Moriah, knife almost to his only son’s throat, learned much about God whose love went beyond all he could have asked or imagined. Even Mount Tabor and witnessing the glory of God on the face of His Beloved Son did not thoroughly inoculate Peter, James and John from the terror which seized them in the Garden of Olives and held them tight about the throat all the way to Calvary and the Grave. “With God on our side… could anyone condemn?” Just try and fathom this wondrous gift without a stumble or two!
A Lenten wish or prayer for Sunday II of this beautiful time of grace? If it had to be just one, it’d be that many more of us, young and old, might be grasped by the hand and led to the top of Mount Moriah, to the top of Mount Tabor. I’d wish us all that terrible experience of God the Father’s boundless love for us, manifest in Christ, and freeing us to place ourselves upon the Altar holding nothing back, upon the Altar with the Son offered up once and for all. Wouldn’t it be absolutely great if “Peter Pan” or “Miss Tinkerbelle” touched that rosary resting there on his or her heart and saw the Law and the Prophets fulfilled for our salvation. Wouldn’t it be unspeakably powerful if “nature’s child” discovered himself or herself as “God’s child”, eternally and absolutely loved? And wouldn’t it be even more clamorously and thunderously profound if pocketed and pursed rosaries became a font of meditation and that Crucifix on our wall or dashboard might encounter our glance and fill our hearts with wonder and praise yet before Week II becomes Week III?
Sacramentals: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (n. 1667) says: “These are sacred signs… By them men are disposed to receive the chief effect of the sacraments, and various occasions in life are rendered holy.”
Lord, let the notion of “sacrifice” become accessible to your people. Help us to open wide our hearts and give us back Your Son as grace and gift, just as You gave Isaac back to Abraham as beloved son and so much more.