Homily for March 12

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

Every time I read this gospel I’m reminded of the fact
that of the three Jesus led up the mountain,
Peter and James would abandon Jesus in his hour of greatest need,
and that Peter would publicly deny even knowing Jesus
in an effort to save his own neck.
Only John would be faithful and present until and through
the painful events of Jesus’ last hours before his death.

I reflect on all of this with some amount of relief and gratitude,
knowing that Jesus will reveal himself even to those
who selfishly deny and cowardly betray him        .
In other words:
Jesus is willing to reveal himself to sinners - like me, and like you.

While I’d like to think that if Jesus would take me up a mountain
and be transfigured in glory before my very eyes -
well, certainly THEN, I’d become a more faithful follower,
a more loyal disciple, a more courageous witness - than I am.

But the example of our brothers, Peter and James, tell a different story.

I’m continually surprised by the assumptions that many make
about the relationship a priest has with Jesus
and about the prayer life a priest keeps.

Some folks think I pray all the time when the truth is,
most of the time I don’t pray as much as I should,
not even as much as I could.

Some people think that certainly prayer must come easily to a priest
but the truth is that priests struggle in their spiritual lives
in just about all the ways that you struggle in yours.

Some folks think a priest has the ability to hear God speak to him
clearly, in complete sentences - and often!
But the truth is I never hear the Lord’s voice in my ear,
though I’m grateful for the times he speaks to my heart
even if his word to me there is more suggestive than direct,
more evocative than articulate, more mysterious than explanatory.

You might remember one of my letters in the bulletin this past December
when I shared with you an experience I had on my annual retreat.
I wrote that for years now, several decades,
I’ve imaged my relationship with Jesus as the two of us sitting,
side by side, on a bench in a beautiful park.

So far, this sounds rather close and intimate - but in my imagination
I find myself looking straight ahead,
certainly aware that Jesus is right beside me but for some reason,
not turning to look at him - although in my imagination
I’m very sure his head is turned and he’s looking right at me.

For years, I’ve wanted that scene to change,
or better yet, I’ve wanted me to change, to turn,
to look into the Lord’s eyes and find him looking into mine.
It sounds (and for a very long time it seemed to me)
that this should be a fairly simple thing to do - and yet, I didn’t do it.

Well, on my retreat in December I went to the chapel late at night.
No one else happened to be there at the time.  
I began to pray. 
I closed my eyes and saw myself again on that park bench with Jesus.
In my imagination, I was, as always, looking straight ahead
but my prayer brought me to a peaceful place within
and I simply turned my head 90 ̊ to the right and…

And there was no vision, no apparition,
I did not see the Lord’s face with my eyes
but somewhere deep in my soul, very deep within me,
I knew that my heart was facing his heart
and that I was closer to him in prayer than I had ever been before...

There’s always a real connection between our bodies and our souls
- especially when we pray.
Turning my head 90 ̊ was my body’s physical expression
of my heart surrendering itself to Jesus in a new and deeper way.

I did not see his face or his eyes with my own
but my heart saw his heart and saw his heart seeing mine.
Like Peter in the gospel story today,
I would love to have pitched a tent in that chapel
to capture that moment in prayer
when the heart of Jesus transfigured my own heart.

But mountain top -and park bench- experiences don’t last forever.
They come to an end, except in the heart, in the soul,
where they leave their mark and embed themselves as bench-marks,
as reference points, as memories
of where one’s heart has gone and where it desires to return again.

Lent is a time for drawing closer to Jesus…

• I pray that our fasting, our giving things up,
will clear some space in our hearts and minds
to provide a clearer, cleaner, less cluttered place
where we might go to meet the Lord in prayer.

• And I pray that our serving others, especially the poor,
will turn our hearts to Jesus who waits for us
in the hearts of family, friends, neighbors, classmates,
colleagues and even strangers around the world
who plead for a share in the mercy, the forgiveness and the bounty
that’s ours to share.

• And I pray that in your prayer you will imagine a place
where you and Jesus might meet
and that in his love he will invite you to turn your heart to his
as he did on the Cross and does at this table,
and that your heart will meet his, and his yours,
with grace and with a peace deeper than you have ever known.


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