The days continue to be filled with news from Ukraine and the devastation brought upon the people there. The impact of this unjust aggression is rippling throughout the world. As the evil effects of war increase so does the courage of the Ukrainian people and charitable work of support, refuge and aid.
Lent 2022 takes place within this context. We see the battle of good versus evil being played out in terms dramatic and real. While this struggle is a regular part of life, the magnitude of the situation in Ukraine brings it to the fore in vivid color.
Our Lenten journey helps us remember that God is not distant from the struggles, trials and tribulations of life or history. He enters into the dark side of the human condition and helps to lead us through it to light – a victory of life over death, mercy over sin, love over hate, peace over fear, good over evil.
The 40 days of Lent lead us in the direction of Easter where we journey with Christ through his passion, death and ultimately to resurrection. The journey is not divorced from our day-to-day experiences but integral to it. The annual observance of Lent strengthens us to face the challenges of life – it helps us grow in courage, faith, trust and reliance. It affords us the opportunity to remember the sufferings Jesus took on himself, on our behalf, in the ultimate act of love.
Many people find it helpful to reflect on the particular readings each week within the overall context of our journey.
The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent encourage our hope. The Gospel account recalls the transfiguration of Jesus, who is already on his journey to Jerusalem. We are coming to the point in his mission where he, and his disciples, will have to face the imminence of his passion.
Shortly after the transfiguration, St. Luke will tell us, it was at this point that Jesus “resolutely determined to go to Jerusalem.” This is his “yes” to the battle with evil. He will go, fully committed, to face suffering and death.
The transfiguration helps prepare his disciples for what lies ahead, though at this point they still do not grasp the magnitude of what will be faced. Nevertheless, Jesus takes them up the mountain where they will encounter his glory.
Moses and Elijah speak with him. They represent the law and prophets, the first covenant, God’s abiding love for his people. God has had heard the cry of the poor and continues to hear it anew. He has acted in the past but now something extraordinary, unique and unrepeatable is happening. He sends his Son, his “chosen one.” In Jesus, God himself enters the human condition.
Peter, James and John are overwhelmed by what is happening. Peter’s offer to build three tents, in effect placing Jesus on the same plane as Moses and Elijah, needs to be corrected. Hence the voice of the Father: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.” It will only be after the resurrection that they understand what has happened here.
The first reading from Genesis recalls the promise to Isaac of a vast multitude of descendants and Abraham’s response of faith. Recall that Abraham at this point does not have a son. As time progresses it will look like his wife Sarah seems to be unable to conceive and it looks hopeless. He has no idea how the promise will be fulfilled, but it will be. He is continually called to renew his response to the promise – faith.
After a child eventually is conceived and born and grows into a boy, that faith will be tested again as Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. All the while, and as time passes, the relationship between God and Abraham is strengthened. The relationship is built on faith.
When God asks Abraham to look up at the sky to see the stars, he says: “Count them, if you can.” It is an impossible task. We might look up at the stars on a clear night and see some.
However, we live in the Northeast where there is a huge amount of light generated so that even in the darkest of nights we might not see the abundance that Abraham would have seen. If you’ve ever traveled to a less populated area and look up at the nighttime sky, you’ll understand the greatness of this image. Abraham’s descendants will be vast and numerous. These will be children of the covenant and promise.
We are those children not necessarily by blood but through baptism. The promise of God’s abiding care is handed on to us through Christ Jesus. God’s promise to Abraham and its fulfillment remind us of his faithfulness to us. He knows us and our needs. He hears our cries. He responds in love.
The psalmist gives us words to express our hope: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear?” Psalm 27 is a great prayer for strengthening our hope. Underlying the psalm is the memory of God’s past saving activity in the life of Israel. He has heard the cry of the poor and has delivered them. He does this over and over again. The psalm gives us words to put on this experience.
We have faith in his hearing and responding but we need to express our hope in him and our need for him to deliver: “Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me, and answer me … Hide not your face from me.” The last verse in the psalm offers us hope: “Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”
The second reading, from the Letter to the Philippians, reminds us that ultimately our hope lies in Christ Jesus. His resurrection is the victory over all evil. The conflicts and struggles that Paul is enduring are nothing compared to what awaits him, the Philippians – and us. Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform it with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.”
With that in mind, Paul says, “in this way we stand firm in the Lord.” Christ is our hope.
The hardships of life are coming to the fore this Lent. We see the images of violence, displacement, suffering, destruction and death. The economic consequences are rippled around the world. Outrage, fear and anxiety are growing. We turn to the Lord now for in him we find our hope.
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.
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