Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Feb. 28)

“My beloved Son,” is the way God the Father refers to Jesus when he speaks to Peter, James and John. Jesus’ transfiguration speaks to who he is and his mission. The three disciples are overwhelmed at the sight. The glory of Christ revealed is magnificent and overpowering. Peter, James and John are filled with reverential fear; in the words of the evangelist, “they are terrified.” The voice of the Father directs these disciples and ourselves to that of his Son – “Listen to him.”

Jesus is the Father’s “beloved” son. He is there at his Father’s bidding. He has been sent by the Father and his mission is the Father’s as well as his own. The Father sends his Son in love to mankind to reveal and to redeem.

Jesus makes known the depth of the love of God in many ways. He loves the Father and places all his trust in him. He loves humanity for his mission is for us, to show us the way to the Father through loving him and following his way. The mission culminates as he is offered on the cross. He freely lays down his life in love, trusting that the Father will deliver him. The sacrifice of the Son brings to fulfillment the faith first manifest in Abraham.

The first reading recalls Abraham’s faith which was put under a test. Abraham is commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. Recall that the conception and birth of Isaac was a fulfillment of a promise. God promised to Abraham that he would be the Father of many nations, yet he had no heir. The promise of progeny was miraculously fulfilled in his and Sarah’s old age. It is this son, the fulfillment of and hope for the promise, who is to be offered.

Abraham is heart-broken at this request and clearly does not understand why this is being asked of him. His response is to trust. He is obedient to the command of the Lord. God spares him the horror and sets Isaac free. God’s promises are renewed and point forward to a time when all the nations of the earth will find blessing and life. The incident was to test Abraham’s faith in God. Thus, he becomes a witness to us of incredible faith. The event also foreshadows and prepares for the cross.

Jesus brings Abraham’s faith to fulfillment when he willingly accepts death on the cross. He empties himself of power and self-interest. This is done with great difficulty: “Father if it be thy will let this cup pass by me, but not as I will but your will be done.” The Father is willing to allow his own Son, his “beloved son,” to undergo that passion for the salvation of the world. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, in his body, witnesses to the Father’s love.

The chains of death are broken, not just for Jesus but for all humanity. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, reflects on God’s love manifest in the paschal mystery. “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?”

As we journey through Lent toward Easter, we express sorrow for our sins. It is a penitential time. We repent of our choices that go against God’s plan, his vision for creation. Likewise, we express our contrition for the times we have not taken the opportunity to love as we have been loved or to forgive as we have been forgiven. Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving during the season help us to express our penance and to be renewed, refreshed and reinvigorated for a life of loving God and neighbor.

When we consider the sacrifice of Christ that he instructs us to follow — “he who would be my disciple must take up his cross, daily, and follow me” — it may be overwhelming. Jesus’ offering is perfect, complete. Ours is one of striving. We are on the journey. Lent reminds us of that journey. Day by day we have the opportunity to sacrifice ourselves in love. We do so in the very simple choices of life. Choosing to be kind, to forgive, to help, to serve, to love, to respond, and to walk in his way.

In one of our Eucharistic Prayers for mass, we pray that we, the People of God, the Body of Christ, might become a “living sacrifice of praise.” The Eucharist nourishes us to share in Christ’s sacrifice day by day. Our actions make this love of God present to our world. The simple things of life help us do this. It is in this way that we participate in the sacrifice of the Son for the salvation of the world.

Comparing the sacrifice of Jesus to our daily deeds of love may seem ridiculous to some. However, that should not distract us. The simple works of charity and mercy are a participation in that one perfect sacrifice. They make a difference. These deeds are as simple as a word of encouragement to someone who is struggling, helping someone who is carrying a load, giving to someone who has a need, calling someone who is alone, forgiving someone an offense, teaching someone something new, praying for those who do not have faith, or showing compassion for someone suffering. Through these actions we participate in the offering of Christ.

Jesus shows us the way to the Father. He manifests, in his life and death, the love of God. Lent provides us the opportunity to be renewed in this love and to participate in the saving mysteries we celebrate at Easter.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.