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Lenten Season Week 2: Gaining whole world . . . losing ourselves?

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  • Lenten Season Week 2: Gaining whole world . . . losing ourselves?

Second Sunday in Lent

Genesis 15:5-12,17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Gospel of Luke 9:28-36

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 17 March 2019

Today’s Gospel of St Luke that we just heard proclaimed presents to us the scene of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  Let us first recall the scene and reflect on its context and significance.  Jesus took His apostles Peter, John and James up to Mt Tabor to pray.  As Jesus prayed, “the aspect of His face was changed and His clothing became brilliant as lighting.”  (Lk 9:29).

Let us first note that as Jesus’ face and appearance became radiant, Jesus was revealing His divine glory to His apostles.  The context of this is that in the earlier eight verses of St Luke’s Gospel before the Transfiguration, Jesus had asked His apostles, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”  Some said, “John the Baptist, others Elijah, and others say one of the ancient prophets come back to life.  But you, Jesus said, “Who do you say I am?”  It was Peter who spoke up, and said, “You are the Christ of God” (Lk 9:18-20).

Following this scene, Jesus then prophesied, “The Son of Man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised upon the third day.”  Jesus then added, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.  For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake, that man will save it.  What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?  (Lk 9:22-25).

In other words, in the scene of the Transfiguration, as Jesus revealed His divine glory to His apostles Peter, John and James, Jesus was first confirming Peter’s profession that “He is the Christ of God,” the Messiah.  Secondly, as Jesus prophesied that He will suffer and die, the Transfiguration was meant to prepare the apostles,for the time when Jesus would be persecuted, and they would be tested in their faith, and that the scene of Jesus’ divine glory at the Transfiguration would give them strength to renounce themselves and overcome the trials of the crosses that Jesus had reminded them to carry daily, if they were to follow Him.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we are to be faithful to Jesus as His disciples, Jesus is also inviting you and I to renounce ourselves and carry our crosses daily and follow Him.

There is a story of Jack who was critically ill in hospital and was dying.  Jack was so desperate that he told the doctor, “Doctor, if you can really save my life, I will donate half my wealth to the poor and needy.  I now realise how selfish I have been in my living and with my wealth.  The doctor replied, “Jack I can only try my best; just pray that God will heal you; it is really up to God and not me.”  Jack looked sad and tears rolled down his eyes, and said, “Lord, have mercy on me and save me.”

Miraculously, Jack survived the operation and he recovered.  Three months later, when Jack met up with the doctor for consultation, the doctor reminded him, “Jack, it is truly a miracle that you are alive today.  I had lost hope that you would survive the operation, but God is so good and Merciful; He saved your life.  The doctor then added, “Jack do you remember that when you were dying, you said that you would donate half your wealth to the poor and needy if your recover?”  Jack paused for a moment and said, “Did I say that?  Oh, I must have been really sick!”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, “Have you come across people who had promised to repay your loan and your goodness, and when things go well, they conveniently “forget” what they had made such promises?”  Like Jack many of us too have made many promises to God when we were desperate and in the crises of our lives.  But, when we overcame our crises, we so easily forget God and what He has done for us, and like Jack, return to our selfish and self-centred living.  Have we also experienced promising God that we will change our lives, and love Him wholeheartedly when we were begging Him for His Mercy and Forgiveness during Confessions, and then not keeping to our promises seriously?

My sisters and brothers in Christ, God does not expect us to be perfect in the way that we live our faith.  He only expects that we live our faith with greater sincerity of heart, like Peter.  We know that Jesus had revealed His divine glory to Peter, John and James, at His Transfiguration, and that Peter had also proclaimed with deep faith that Jesus, is indeed the “Christ of God, the Messiah.”  Yet, we also know that Peter had denied Jesus, when he faced the crises of his life being threatened.

And so, concretely let us remind ourselves that Jesus in today’s Gospel, is inviting us to live our faith more authentically and with greater fidelity to God’s Will and Love for us.  If we are to reflect on our lives, “Is it not true that God has always protected us from harm, provided us with all the graces of healing, strength and inspirations in our lives?  And, in spite of this, if we are tempted to live our faith like Jack in our story, then Jesus is today also challenging us to reflect on His proclamation, “What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?”

How then are we to live our faith with greater fidelity and gratitude to what Jesus has done for us?  In today’s Gospel scene of the transfiguration of Jesus, “. . . then suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus.  And “As they were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for You, one for Moses and one for Elijah.  Peter did not know what he was saying.  And as Peter spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow, . . . and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is My Son, the Chosen One.  Listen to Him.’”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, when God our Father proclaimed that Jesus is His Son, the Chosen One, and that we are to listen to Him, He is urging us to live a more discerning life.  To live a discerning life does not mean that it is going to be easy; Peter too denied Jesus.  To live a discerning life is to be committed to the Truth that our greatest and deepest love in our lives is God, through Jesus who has come to Save us from our sinfulness and through His Death and Resurrection, wants us to live with Him for all eternity.

To live this discerning life, is also to embrace what Jesus has proclaimed to His apostles, “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.  For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for My sake, that man will save it.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us then remind ourselves that at the Transfiguration, of Jesus that reveals His divine glory, Jesus is inviting you and I to reflect on our faith experiences, and that like the Peter, John and James, Jesus too have in so many ways and times blessed us with the spiritual inspirations and consolations to reaffirm without doubt that our final destiny and home is to be with God, in the fullness of happiness and for all eternity.  And for this St Paul in his letter to the Philippians 3:21 proclaimed that in our own resurrection that is to come, “God will change our weak mortal bodies and make them like His own glorious body.

Let us live daily with deep gratitude to Godand overcome the temptations of the attitudes of Jack, that so easily forget Godand the goals of our earthly life.  Let us pray for the wisdom of Peter, that even as we fall and deny Jesus in our daily living, we are each called to renew our faith in Jesus and love Him even more wholeheartedly.

Let us pray that we will have the grace of Peter, to affirm that Jesus is indeed, the Christ of God, the Messiah of our lives, and daily be more determined, especially during this Lenten season to carry our crosses, and follow Jesus for, indeed, as Jesus says, “What gain, then, is it for a man to have won the whole world and to have lost or ruined his very self?”.

Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.