Sunday, March 4, 2012


   Second Sunday of Lent   B 

As some of you know,
I studied theology in Italian
and since I only had a four-week crash course in the language,
that means it took a little while
before I really knew what was going on in the classroom.

I clearly remember one of our professors—Monsignor Fisichella
speaking at the podium one morning
when he pulled out his handkerchief, unfolded it,
and then draped it over his wrist.
He covered his watch, then uncovered it,
repeating this maneuver several times as he spoke.
I began to wonder if he was trying to teach us a magic trick!
But what I later discovered—as my Italian improved—
is that he was trying to demonstrate for us the work of revelation.
The word “reveal” means to remove the veil,
to uncover something previously hidden, obscure, or inaccessible.

And in the Church, to speak of divine revelation
is to speak of the marvelous way
in which God himself has pulled back the curtain,
allowing us to catch a glimpse of his true nature and our own.

when God reveals himself,
he comes through loud and clear.
Take, for example, 
when Jesus is transfigured 
on the mountain.
The three disciples see him—
quite literally—beaming,
in conversation with 
the greatest of the prophets
and the giver of the law,
as a voice booms from the clouds: 
This is my beloved Son!  
Listen to him!
Not much subtlety there!

But there are other times 
when God’s self-revelation
is pretty hard to get.
Consider that story 
of Abraham and Isaac,
climbing a different mountain.
That’s a tale which has perplexed 
believers across the ages.
So…God is testing 
Abraham’s faith…
…but isn’t child sacrifice 
rather extreme?
Alright…God doesn’t let him 
go through with it…
…but isn’t that a horrific thing
 to ask a parent in the first place?

Let’s take the story apart.
We’ve got a father and…his son.
The two of them climb…a hill.
We don’t hear this detail in today’s passage,
but the boy—what’s he carry up that hill?  The wood for the sacrifice.
And when they get to the top, what happens to that son?
He’s fastened to the wood he’s just carried.
So, we’ve got a beloved, only son climbing a hill,
carrying wood and fastened to it on reaching the top.

Doesn’t that sound an awful lot 
like another story we know?
But in that second story, 
there’s no ram caught in the thicket.
God did not spare his own Son, as St. Paul writes,
but handed him over for us all.
You see, God didn’t ask of Abraham
anything he would not do himself!
And—oh!—the revelation gets even clearer
when we learn that the height in the land of Moriah
once climbed by Abraham and Isaac
would later be known as Mount Zion:
the knoll where the city of Jerusalem would be built;
the very same hill 
upon which Jesus was crucified.

It’s message and meaning 
might take centuries to become clear,
but that’s certainly a revelation 
worth waiting to unfold.

We human beings are pretty smart—and we know it.
We can figure out a whole mess of things all on our own.
But the ways and inner workings of God? 
They’re not among them.
How do we come to know God
and his loving plan for the world?
Only because God has made himself known.
Only because God has communicated himself in deeds and words.
It’s not that men and women “discovered” God;
it’s that God pulled back the curtain between heaven and earth,
lifting the veil and showing us his face.
God does this gradually—to people like Adam and Eve,
like Abraham and Isaac, like Moses and Elijah—
until he personally, completely, and definitively reveals himself
in his incarnate Son, God’s Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.

You see, Christianity is not a manmade religion, but a God-given one.
The Church works with and by
God’s definitions of what’s true and good,
not according to what’s popular, practical, or politically correct.
We didn’t create this world,
and we don’t get to determine its meaning, its purpose, its rules.
In deed and in word—in Tradition and in Scripture—
the Church has been entrusted with a sacred deposit of the faith:
a rich treasure which demands to be carefully preserved,
not emptied or expanded or altered on our own designs.
As the guardian and servant of God’s revelation,
the Church must, of course, interpret this divine heritage
and her understanding of it constantly grows.
But fundamentally, the truths of our faith do not—cannot!—change,
because they come from God and not from us.

That’s a pretty elementary building block of our faith,
but I fear it’s one that’s unfamiliar to many Catholics today.
What a considerable difference it makes in our perspective
when we stop to realize that—at its core—
religion is something we receive, not create,
a matter of God’s initiative, rather than our own!

Rich Mullins was a Christian musician
who died in a tragic accident back in 1997.
He had a keen interest in Catholicism,
and may have been considering joining the Church
at the time of his death.
In a catchy song of his entitled, "Creed,"
which repeats the familiar text of the Apostles’ Creed,
Rich affirmed his faith with this refrain:

and I believe that what I believe
is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
it is the very truth of God
and not the invention of any man
I believe it, I believe                                                           (from A Liturgy, A Legacy, & A Ragamuffin Band, 1993)    
On the mount of the transfiguration,
the Father’s voice was heard: This is my Son!  Listen to him!
And on Mount Moriah,
Abraham answered God’s call, Here I am!
God, in revealing himself—
in pulling back the curtain, in lifting up the veil—
has given totally of himself, holding nothing back;
let us, in response, be sure to do likewise.

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