Saturday, February 23, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent

We live in a world filled with broken promises and failed obligations. We see this when politicians break campaign pledges; marriage vows are abandoned; warranties and contracts aren’t honored; governments don’t provide necessary services; parents neglect their children; workmanship is sloppy and customer service poor; retirement plans fail; advertised products don’t match the hype; business leaders are corrupt; and clergy and teachers misuse their power. So we say things like: "You can’t trust anybody; always read the fine print; let the buyer beware; don’t talk to strangers; sign the "pre-nup."

We might wonder: Who is it we can trust? The good news God speaks to us today is that we can trust him. God is trustworthy. Consider our first reading, from Genesis. God promised Abram that he would possess the land he had led him to. But Abram wondered how he could know that this would really happen. So God made a covenant with Abram. To seal the deal, so to speak, God instructed Abram to sacrifice some animals and lay the pieces on the ground. Then, after nightfall, God appeared to Abram as fire and passed through the midst of the slain animals. This was God’s way of saying to Abram: May what happened to these animals happen to me if I fail to keep my promise to you. In the ancient way of understanding, God was calling down a curse upon himself.

We also encountered the theme of trust in today’s psalm. The author felt surrounded by enemies. But he knew that the Lord would never fail him. "The Lord is my light and my salvation;" he sang, "whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?"

The Transfiguration further reminds us that God keeps his promises, especially when Moses and Elijah were seen speaking with Jesus. Both Moses and Elijah were associated with the coming of God’s promised Messiah. For them to appear at the Transfiguration served to show that, in Jesus, God’s promise had been fulfilled. God the Father then proceeded to say that Jesus his Son is just as trustworthy as he is. "This is my Son;" he announced. "Listen to him."

You and I can be assured that God the Father and Jesus his Son are trustworthy; they are promise-keepers. We can pray with complete confidence the prayer found on the famous Divine Mercy image off to my right, "Jesus, I trust in you." But what is it that Jesus has promised us? First of all, he promised that he will always love us. And what a consolation that is, when we’ve been used, mistreated, betrayed or abandoned by those we thought loved us, or are surrounded by people who aren’t really capable of love in the first place. Jesus also promised to always be with us until the end of time. And how wonderful that knowledge is, in a world filled with loneliness, in which we can feel insignificant, anonymous, lost in the crowd, or like we’re "just a number." In addition, Jesus has promised to always forgive us. What a blessing to be assured of this after we’ve blown chances, driven people away from us, hurt the ones we love, broken God’s commandments, lived with regret over past choices, and been imprisoned, so to speak, by people who refuse to forgive us. Jesus also extends the promise of heaven to those judged worthy to receive it- a promise of eternal life with God and each other, an existence of peace, wholeness, and joy. In our world of overblown hype, of "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," this is a promise that will exceed even our wildest expectations.

We can trust that Jesus will keep all these promises. But what about us? Are we people who keep our promises? Not always, right? We fail to keep promises to ourselves. How many of us are still keeping those New Year’s resolutions? And how are we doing with our Lenten disciplines? We also fail to keep our promises to others, whether it be failing to pay a loan, not getting something done when we said we would, or backing out of a volunteer commitment. And what about our promises to God? The promises we made as godparents to help new parents in their duty as Christian mothers and fathers; promises we made on our wedding day, when we pledged to be true in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer, all the days of your lives, and to welcome children lovingly from God and raise them in the faith; promises we made at our children’s baptisms and at our own baptisms, to reject sin, the glamour of evil, and Satan himself, in order to live as a free child of God. And we may have made private vows to God too. For instance, maybe we’ve promised to do something if God answered a certain prayer.

All of us fail to keep these promises, to one degree or another. And God knows that. Think back to our first reading, when God passed through the slaughtered animals. God didn’t ask Abram to follow his example, did he? He didn’t make Abram call down a curse on himself if he failed to keep his end of the bargain. That’s because God knew that Abram, and God knows that we, are weak, broken, and sinful people. He doesn’t hold us to the same standard he holds himself. What he does ask is that we do our best, keep trying without getting discouraged, and ask his forgiveness when we fail.

During Lent, this period of conversion and renewal, we prepare to renew our baptismal promises to God on Easter Sunday. Our trustworthy Lord invites and empowers us to re-commit ourselves to the promises we’ve made, confess the promises we’ve broken, so that, in the words of that ancient prayer, the Angelus, "we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ."

(My book of daily meditations for Lent is now available from Ave Maria Press: It is available also at Amazon: )

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