Homilies

Week of 3/17/2019

C – Second Sunday Lent 2019

Genesis 15,5-12,17-18; Philippians 3,17-41; Luke 9,28b-36

As I was reflecting on today’s Gospel account of the Transfiguration, I could not help but notice that, while I did not set out with a plan to do this, it seems that since my arrival here at St Charles Borromeo we have begun a Lenten Journey with specific themes each week for our Lenten reflection. You may recall the 8th Sunday of Ordinary Time, the last Sunday leading into Lent, we looked at our need to grow in humility so as to be less judgmental and less critical of others, as well as to grow in generosity so as to be more patient, more gentle with those around us, as was Jesus who was himself patient with sinners for he, like us, was beset by weakness. (Hb 5,2)

Last week we focused on gratitude, on being thankful. We reflected on how being filled with gratitude can help us to overcome temptation, as it did Jesus in the desert when he was tempted. (Lk 4,1-13)

Today, we begin a week of reflection on prayer; on the importance, the necessity really, of prayer in our lives. I mention prayer because of a detail in today’s account from Luke that we might simply take as a given. [You perhaps have noticed that it’s the small details in Scripture that often capture my attention.] Luke tells us that Jesus “took Peter, John and James up to mountain to pray.” (vs. 28b) It’s a detail that Matthew does not mention in his account of the Transfiguration. (Matthew 17,1-9) What makes Luke’s mentioning of Jesus at prayer important is that, if we compared all four Gospel narratives, we find that Luke mentions Jesus being at prayer more than the other three combined. It is important for Luke that we note that prayer was necessary for Jesus in fulfilling his earthly ministry. And if necessary for him, how much more necessary for me; how much more necessary for us.

In Luke, every major event in Jesus life has him at prayer. We can go back to his baptism. Matthew, Mark and John each tell us that the Holy Sprit came upon Jesus at the moment of his baptism. (Mt 3,13-17; Mk 1,1-11; Jn 1,29-33) Luke has a slightly different account. Luke tells us that Jesus was baptized by John along with others, and it is later, when he is alone and at prayer, that the dove appears to him, and the words of God are spoken only to him: “You are my beloved Son.” (Lk 3,21-22)

All four evangelists tell us Jesus chose twelve disciples to be his most intimate companions in his work. Only Luke tells us that Jesus first spent the entire night in prayer. (Lk 5,1-11) It is Luke who not only gives us more examples of Jesus at prayer than the other evangelists, but makes the point of telling us that Jesus “often going off by himself to pray.” (Lk 5,16) Prayer was essential for Jesus – so too, all the more so, for us.

All the Gospel accounts have examples of how Jesus prayed, examples we follow. He offers prayers of thanksgiving, as do we; he offers intercessory prayers for his disciples, as we too pray for others and ourselves. Although we do not have specific examples, we can be sure that since Jesus often went to the temple and was himself called Rabbi that he would have used Jewish repetitive prayers. We say have our own prayers we frequently repeat: the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, the repetitive prayers of the Rosary. We can be sure that Jesus, as Jews did of his time and continue to do today, daily and repeatedly prayed prayers such as the Sh’ma Yisrael: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord Your God is God alone” from the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 6,4).

The manner of prayer to which Luke most draws our attention is a form of prayer with which we are familiar but perhaps do not so often engage: being alone with God and simply listening. His prayer is the prayer of Psalm 40,10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” That is his manner of prayer at this baptism, before choosing his disciples, and here at the Transfiguration: Jesus is alone; the others fell asleep remember; quietly knowing that the Lord is God, his Father. In that prayer he has what we would call a mystical experience, similar to the mystical experience at his baptism with the vision of Holy Spirit as a dove and the Father speaking to him. The disciples Peter, John and James are privileged to witness this prayer experience of Jesus, and are commanded to listen to Jesus.

Each of us is called to ‘be still, and know that the Lord is God.’ We might, this Lent, in reflecting on the importance of prayer in our lives, give some thought to taking time to pray in this way as Jesus did: to go off, often if we can, to pray not by giving thanks, requesting anything or repeating prayers we know, but to listen.

One opportunity we have is our prayer hour between 5:30-6:30 on Friday evenings. I am very impressed with the number of people who come to our church to do just that: be still and know the Lord is God. People do take advantage of the time to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but it seems the majority of people are simply taking the time to time as Jesus did: being still.

It can be hard to find time for this, although it does not require a lot of time. Our church is a wonderful place of peace and quiet, a refuge from a busy day to simply be still. Perhaps we might this Lent be somewhat more sensitive to those who come early or stay late after Mass for this quiet time, and wait for a later time and place to socialize.

I would like to allow our patron St Charles Borromeo to have the last word today. When I was asked to come to St Charles and I said yes, I went out to find out more about him. I found this wonderful collection of some of his homilies and writings which I am finding very inspiring. (Charles Borromeo: selected orations, homilies and writings. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017) St Charles can speak on prayer much more eloquently than can I. I invite you to listen to his thoughts on the importance of following the example of Christ in being people of prayer:

My sisters and brothers, you must realize that for us nothing is more necessary than prayer. We must pray before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day which, after all, is our work. In prayer we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others…Stay quiet with God. Do not spend your time in useless chatter.”

From a letter by St Charles Borromeo