From the desert to the mountaintop

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Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

Every year we make this same Lenten journey. 
It begins in the desert.

We follow Jesus out into the desert
where he fasts for 40 days and 40 nights.
This doesn’t mean he gives up chocolate for 40 days –
he stopped eating for 40 days.
Then, after his fast, he’s tempted three times
and he goes one-on-one with the devil  --  and emerges as the victor.
Then, on the second Sunday of Lent each year,                        
we follow Jesus up a mountain, along with a few of his friends
and at the top of the mountain, Jesus is revealed in all his glory.

From the desert to the mountain.
Out to the desert, facing temptation, and then back to the city.
Up to the mountaintop, a vision of glory,
and then back down mountain to “business as usual.”

Our lives are much like this, yours and mine.
We have times in the “desert’ when we starve for understanding,
for healing, for companionship, for peace of mind and heart.
We live through times of temptation:
sometimes we overcome our temptations, but often we don’t.
We have mountaintop experiences: moments of joy, pockets of peace,
 “highs” that make the “lows” more tolerable,
times of insight and understanding and strength.
But for the most part, we live our lives
somewhere  in between the desert and the mountaintop.

And it’s precisely in between the two
where we regularly face our temptations
and it’s in between the very high and the very low times
that we hunger for the peace we need to sustain
in good times and in bad.

Lent is a season for all of this.

It’s a time to confront what tempts us.
A time to be honest with ourselves and with God
about the short-cuts we take, the corners we cut,
the lies and half-truths we tell so often
that we begin to believe them ourselves.

Lent’s a season for being honest with ourselves and with God
about how often we settle for less than what’s true, what’s good;
how often we hold back when we’ve so much to give;
how often we fail to walk with Jesus
whether he’s bound for the desert or heading up the mountain.

Lent comes to help us change:
to change our hearts and to change our ways.
And in these 40 days, Jesus wants to take each of us out to the desert
AND up to the top of the mountain.

• In the desert, Jesus invites us to fast, that is, to find a way
to experience hunger or thirst and the emptiness each brings us:
to let go, for 40 days and 40 nights,
to let go some food, some beverage,
some pleasure, some creature comfort 
-- until we feel the difference its absence makes in our lives,
until we know an emptiness that needs to be filled
with something more lasting, nourishing and more truly satisfying.
And in that Lenten desert,
Jesus asks us to look at the temptations in our lives
and to see what changes we might need to make
to better deal with them.

• But Jesus also wants us to hike up that Lenten mountain with him.
He wants to take us to a place where we get to know him better,
especially in prayer,
a place where we might see him as we’ve never seen him before,
a place where we can experience him not from a distance,
but in the light, up close, with all he has to offer us.
He brings us to the mountaintop to give us a glimpse
of the fullness of his love, the love that can change us.

And there’s the rub:
in this season we call Lent, Jesus wants to change us.
And if he does, if we render ourselves vulnerable
to what he would change our lives,
then things will be different, not like before, but different.

And that can scare us.

As unhappy with many aspects of our lives as we might be,
we can be very slow, even afraid, to change,
to let go what brings us pleasure and comfort and solace.

And Jesus knows we can be afraid of how he wants to change us,
that we can be afraid even of changes we ourselves want to make.
Afraid like Peter, James and John on the mountaintop.
The gospel tells us they were struck to the ground in fear,
but Jesus came and touched them to calm and reassure them.
Jesus wants to touch our lives, every one of us, this Lent.
He invites each of us to spend some time with him in the desert
and to take a walk up that mountain.
He’s inviting us to be honest with ourselves and with him
and to open ourselves to change.
And he promises to touch us with his presence, his mercy, and his peace
and to help us with the strength of his arm
to change in our hearts and lives what needs to be changed.

So, how will our fasting this Lent help us to discover
what we need to fill and satisfy the deepest hungers of our hearts?

How will our prayer, this Lent, open our eyes to see more clearly
how close is the Lord at our side night and day
and what he wants to offer us?

And how will our serving those in need change our lives
until our own needs are second to those who want for so much?

Jesus climbed the mountain of the Cross for us
and in the desert of his thirst and suffering
there came forth from his side a river of mercy
to wash away our sins, to change us.

As he offered his life for us on the Cross,
so he offers it for us on this altar,
the table where we’re nourished to walk with him these 40 days
and to let our lives be changed by his love.


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