2nd Sunday of Lent(B)

The event of the transfiguration of Jesus gives us a glimpse of the glorious fulfillment of Christ’s paschal journey through rejection, humiliation, suffering and resurrection. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to make Jesus’ chosen disciples aware of Jesus’ Divine glory so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial.  The Transfiguration also established Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God and placed his Divine Sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the kingdom and the resurrection of the dead.

While Jesus was praying his face changed and his clothing became radiant white. It wasn’t that Jesus reflected light, it wasn’t light shining on Jesus, but it was light coming from Jesus. Now Jesus’ divinity shone forth through his humanity. When Jesus is in prayer with his Father we see his true self; his divinity is revealed like never before, as he shares in the radiance of his Father. In the Nicene Creed we profess that Jesus is truly divine, begotten of the Father, consubstantial with the Father, “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” When Jesus was transfigured, the Father and Son, Light and Light, are in prayerful union. When we pray, light doesn’t shine through us but we ask God to shine his light on us. When Moses came down Mount Sinai his face shone because he had been talking with God (Ex 34:29) and he had to put a veil on his face (Ex 34:34-35). When we pray, we enter the presence of God, God’s light. Our faces do not shine, but we ask to be enlightened in prayer. Peter said to Jesus, “it is good that we are here” and when we pray, we are our truest self because our longing for God is now being fulfilled.

God the Father’s Voice from the cloud: The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21 -22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kings 8:10-11).   We are told how God revealed His presence in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day the Ark of the Covenant was placed under the cherubim, and the Temple was dedicated: “When the priests left the Holy place, the Cloud filled the entire Temple, so that the priests could no longer minister, because of the Cloud, since the Lord’ Glory had filled the Temple of the Lord” (1 Kgs 8:10-11). The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God’s words from the cloud, “This is My Beloved Son; listen to him,” are similar to the words used by God at Jesus’ baptism: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” Mk 1:11). At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39).  These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen.

The three transformations in our lives in our journey towards eternity: The first change begins at Baptism, which washes away original sin, transforming us into children of God and heirs of Heaven. The second transformation takes place through our victory over the trials and tribulations of life.  Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity for transformation and spiritual growth. The third transformation takes place at death.  Eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a period of further transformation in purgatory, is granted to those who have been found worthy.  The last transformation or transfiguration will be completed at the Second Coming when our glorified body is reunited with our soul.

The transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength: In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar are changed into the crucified and risen, living body and blood of Jesus.  Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent.  In addition, our holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others.

Each time we receive one of the Sacraments, we are transformed: For example, Baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of Heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God.  By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness.

We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the “mountain-top experience” of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent.  Fasting for one day will help the body to store up spiritual energy.  This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking.  The hunger we experience puts us more closely in touch with God and makes us more willing to help the hungry.  The crosses of our daily lives also can lead us to the glory of transfiguration and resurrection.

We need transformation in our Christian lives so that we may seek reconciliation instead of revenge, love our enemies, pray for those who hate us, give to the needy without expecting a reward, refuse to judge others and make friends with those we don’t naturally like. This transformation will also enable us to hold back on harsh words and let love rule so that we may seek reconciliation rather than revenge, pray for those who give us a hard time, avoid bad-mouthing those we don’t agree with, forgive those who hurt us, and love those who hate us.

1st Sunday of Lent (B)

“Repent and believe in the Good News of God’s Kingdom.”

Lent is a time of repentance and conversion through self-examination, self-discipline and self-commitment. It is the time to return, renew and reconcile our relationship with God. It is an invitation to respond positively for a purposeful reflection on one’s need for encountering God. During lent we spend six weeks preparing to celebrate the high point of our faith: the Paschal Mystery, the suffering, death and resurrection of the Incarnate God. Formerly it was a time of severe penance as a way of purifying ourselves from our sinful habits and preparing ready to celebrate the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with a renewed commitment to follow him.

In the Gospel of today, mark tells us that after his baptism, Jesus goes into the desert for forty days. And, during that time, he is tested by the evil one. Mark does not say how he was tested or tempted but Matthew and Luke do. These tests are really examples of the kind of tests that Jesus was to face in the course of his public life and how we are going to be tempted in our life. There is the temptation to change stones to bread so that Jesus satisfies the hunger, to jump down the pinnacle of the temple and present himself as messiah, and finally to worship the Satan and receive the universe as a reward. These temptations can be summarized to say that it was an invitation to be unfaithful to the Mission of the Lord. Satan shows the easy way but the Father wants Jesus to be faithful to his mission of suffering and death to rise again. He is tested frequently by enemies from among his own people and by the Romans. His own relatives say that he is out of his mind (Mark 3: 21). The most severe temptation comes when he appears to have failed in his mission; he is misunderstood, betrayed, and abandoned by his disciples; he is arrested, undergoes the humiliation and torture associated with a criminal’s public execution; and finally he apparently has the experience of being forsaken by God while dying on a cross.

Mark here gives us the first public words of Jesus, his Messianic mission’s basic keynote speech, which has four specific messages: “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent. Believe in the Gospel.” This message summarizes the purpose of Jesus’ ministry. In this statement Jesus is not asking his audience to do or not to do something to shape their future in Heaven.  He is concerned with the here and now. Repentance, (metanoia) is a change of mind and heart, a lifelong process of transformation. The Good News Jesus announced is that God is already working here among us, so close to us that we can reach out and touch Him in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man. But we will be able to experience Jesus as Son of God only if we undergo a complete change in our value system and priorities by means of true repentance. Jesus announces, “the time has come,” meaning that the long-expected “Kingdom of God” is present in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is at hand. His kingdom is not a political kingdom but a spiritual one. That is why when Pilate questions Jesus says that his kingdom is not of this world. This kingdom is God’s rule in the heart of the individual. This was established with creation and man lost it through his disobedience and God wants to restore it in Jesus. This will be fully realized at the end of times when Jesus restores all things to the Father. How are we to achieve this kingdom? We can achieve this by “believing in the Gospel”. Not just believing that the Gospel is true; but believing IN the Gospel. There is a world of difference between believing something and believing in something, or, even more significantly, believing in a person. Where the Kingdom is concerned, this involves a total commitment of ourselves to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life. This will mean a turning upside down of many of the values we take for granted and which prevail in our world.

The presence of God’s Kingdom in Jesus is revealed also by the liberation of people from the destructive forces in their lives, by the bringing back of the rejected and the outcast, by the forgiveness and reconciliation given to repentant sinners and finally by the supreme act of self-giving love of Jesus’ passion, death and Resurrection. “Believing in the Gospel” means a total commitment to the way of life presented in the Gospel and a sharing of its vision of life.

In the Second Reading taken from the First Letter of Peter, we heard the author speaking to the believers about their suffering and the sufferings of Jesus. Peter tells them that since Jesus had triumphed, they would also triumph. Their Baptism was the pledge of their triumph for it gave them a share in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He also tells the Gentile community that Jesus suffered for our sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring us to God. The sacrifice of Jesus was not just for a few, but for all of us, from the beginning of time until the end of time. He, who was sinless, took upon Himself the weight of our sins and allowed Himself to be crucified in our place so God the Father may be appeased. Christ died for us!

6th Sunday (B)

“If you wish, you can make me clean.”

The man with leprosy was facing a serious problem in three areas of life, physical, social and spiritual problems, and the kind of problems we face. The leprosy at that time was the most dreaded sickness, which was incurable. The sickness slowly eats out the body and the body deforms. Now if you are facing a physical problem today, perhaps you can identify with this man. Or perhaps you can be thankful that your problem is not nearly as bad as the physical problem this man was facing.

The man had social problem:  The leper was a social outcast. One reason for this was due to the fact that leprosy can be contagious. It can be transmitted through the air or through contact with something the leper has touched. The leper had not only to bear the physical pain of his disease; he also had to bear the anguish and the heartbreak of being banished from human society and shunned literally like the plague. The only friends they could have would be other lepers.

The man had spiritual problem. According to the law he is spiritually unclean. Today’s first reading from Leviticus narrates that the person with such disease is unclean. The priest will declare him unclean. In this condition that person was required to be separated from others. That meant that he could not participate in temple worship or many other activities. But whereas most conditions of uncleanness were only temporary, leprosy was usually a lifetime condition. The second spiritual problem this man had was the fact that he was made to feel that his leprosy was due to his sin, or perhaps the sins of his parents. The Jewish Rabbis loved to trace disease to moral causes. They would say, that the sickness is not healed, until all his sins are forgiven. Thus, leprosy was described as a chastisement from God.

Throughout the ages “lepers” of all sorts are considered a menace to the society and are alienated. Our Lord Jesus, however, does not stand at a distance fearing of contamination. He “touches” the leper and the afflicted one is made clean. In today’s Gospel reading (Mk 1:40-45), the evangelist Mark depicts one of the most beautiful pictures of Christian compassion. In this narrative, he portrays Jesus as offering a completely new and radical response to the unmitigated human suffering personified by a leper. Breaking down the barriers of hygiene and ritual purity, Jesus does the unimaginable. Responding with compassion to the leper’s faith invocation, “If you wish, you can make me clean”, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him saying, “I do will it. Be made clean.” He touches the “untouchable” with his healing hand. He comforts the outcast with an authoritative word that would bring him wholeness. Indeed, in the Gospel accounts, the cleansing of lepers is a victorious messianic sign that the Kingdom of God has come.

The healing ministry of Jesus, moreover, is always linked with his paschal victory on the cross. The great healer restored our wholeness, totally and radically, at the moment he surrenders his life on the cross. Blessed Paul VI underlines the relationship between the passion of Christ and the healing of our infirmities: “The loving gesture of Christ, who approaches lepers comforting them and curing them, has its full and mysterious expression in the passion. Tortured and disfigured by the sweat of blood, the flagellation, the crowning with thorns, the crucifixion, the rejection by the people he had helped, he identifies himself with lepers, becomes the image and symbol of them, as the prophet Isaiah had foreseen, contemplating the mystery of the Servant of the Lord: ‘He had no form or comeliness … He was despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces … we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.’ But it is just from the wounds in Jesus’ tortured body and from the power of his resurrection that life and hope gushes for all men stricken by evil and infirmity.” Indeed, in his suffering and death on the cross, Jesus assumed in himself the human misery symbolized in the afflictions of a leprous victim. In his compassionate acts of healing and in his paschal victory on the cross, Jesus is truly “the fellow sufferer who understands” and strengthens us.

One of the exigencies of Christian life is to bring the healing ministry of Jesus to the many “lepers” of today, especially the millions of victims of Hansen’s disease all over the world who, more than all others, fit the description “the poorest of the poor”. Mother Teresa of Calcutta dedicated her ministry of charity in a special way to these lepers, impelled by the slogan that was a rewording of the ancient taboo. “Touch a leper with your compassion.” Mother Teresa, moreover, spoke of the “leprosy of the Western world”, which is, the leprosy of loneliness. In her ministry to the lonely, the unwanted, the marginalized, the rejected, the AIDS victim, etc. she had given witness that with the love of Christ, there is healing for the leprosy of our modern times. Indeed, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, together with St. Francis of Assisi, Blessed Damien of Molokai, and many other Christian disciples, had shown that it is possible to respond to the Christian missionary imperative: “Cure the sick … cleanse the lepers!” (Mt 10:8) and that it is necessary to replicate the healing gesture of Christ: “Touch a leper with your compassion.”

St. Paul in the second reading of the day emphasizes that the “glory of God” is the supreme object of all our actions. But in seeking the divine glory, we must always be animated by charity – like our model, Jesus Christ. St. Paul’s exhortation to imitate Christ in dealing with the weak and vulnerable reinforces the challenge of this Sunday’s Gospel reading (Mk 1:40-45) and Old Testament reading (Lv 13:1-2, 44-46). The Christians of today and in every time and space are called to imitate the compassionate stance of Jesus Christ, especially for the marginalized and the “lepers” of human society. Our loving Lord and Savior achieved the fullness of his healing and saving ministry upon the Cross – covered with sores and wounds – despised and rejected like a repulsive leper. Like Jesus Christ, we too are called to be healers for others, even and especially in our own experience of passion and suffering. The liturgical scholar Aelred Rosser remarks: “Jesus is the great healer – restoring our health at the moment he surrenders his life. The kingdom he brings is one in which all are healed and called to be healers. To be his disciple is not to be free of wounds and scars, but to be like him, a wounded healer.”