Father Donald Senior, CP

Feb. 28: Second Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Faith in glimpses

Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10

Some years ago, I was on a plane when my seat partner and I struck up a conversation. When he discovered I was a priest, our conversation turned to religion. 

He had been raised Catholic, as the saying goes, but now found himself uncertain about his faith in God. “Faith comes to me in glimpses,” he said. “Sometimes the clouds part and I sense God is real and present, but then I slip back into uncertainty.”

His honest words about faith have stayed with me and I recalled them again in the light of the readings for this Sunday. The Gospel is the account of the Transfiguration — that mysterious scene when, for a brief and intense moment, Jesus’ disciples glimpse the awesome mystery of his identity.

The scene is filled with biblical symbolism, as it takes place on a mountain enshrouded in a cloud, which is reminiscent of God’s appearance on Mount Sinai. There is also the presence of Moses, the great lawgiver and deliverer of Israel, and Elijah, the prototype of all prophetic figures. Most stunning of all, the disciples hear God’s voice thundering out of the cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Peter, James and John, the disciples who witness this blinding moment, are overwhelmed. Peter wants to set up three tents to mark the event, but, as the Gospel narrator notes, “He did not know what he was asking.” As abruptly as this strange scene begins, so it ends, and they saw no one “but Jesus alone with them.”

The transfiguration takes place at a crucial moment in the unfolding story of Jesus’ mission. Right before this, Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?,” which is a probing question posed not only to them but to all who would follow Jesus.

Then, for the first time, Jesus tells the disciples of his impending death in Jerusalem and so begins the fateful journey of he and his disciples to his passion in Jerusalem. It is at this brooding moment that Jesus’s profound identity is revealed. Then, the disciples are told: “Listen to him.”  Jesus’ teaching about the demands of authentic discipleship fills this part of the Gospel.

The account of the transfiguration is coupled with other readings this Sunday that lead us to the question of faith. In some ways, faith is a wager where we place our lives and our future in the hands of a God we cannot see.

In fact, for most of us, like my companion on the plane, faith comes in glimpses. Even great saints, past and present, have experienced God’s seeming absence from their lives. 

St. Paul Daneo, the founder of my Passionist congregation, confessed that for most of his adult life he had no emotional experience of faith. St. Teresa of Kolkata said the same, and that all she could do was put one foot in front of the other and live in a spirit of faith.

The first reading today of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the most famous and controversial biblical stories. God tests the faith of Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son. It is a terrifying proposal. Some believe that the original purpose of this story was, in fact, to discourage the practice of child sacrifice.

Abraham trusts God even in the face of this demand, and God spares his son. The account closes with God’s promise of unending life for Abraham and his descendants: “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”

Both Jewish and Christian tradition see this as a demonstration of Abraham’s extraordinary faith, the foundation for his role as the great patriarch, even as one might be uncomfortable with such a test on the part of God.

Living in a spirit of faith in the reality of God and his enduring love is a challenge for us as it was for our ancestors. The earnest search for God is unending.

This Lent we are invited to ask God to strengthen our faith, but without anxiety. In the words of Paul this Sunday: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”



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