2nd Sunday of Lent
Preached March 8, 2020; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon
Last Sunday, I spoke about the distinction and interrelation of the natural and supernatural orders, both created by God. The supernatural order, the order of grace, presupposes the natural order, but the natural order, properly is ordered to and brought to completion in the supernatural order. The devil, himself a creature of God, has sought to deny the supernatural order and set the natural order in rebellion against the supernatural, seducing man and leading him to take part in that rebellion. Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, came to restore the right order of things, he came to restore us to the supernatural life of grace.
St. Paul wrote: All things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Rm 8:28-29) There, in a few words, you have a statement of the whole purpose of the plan of divine providence: that the Only Begotten Son from eternity might become the Firstborn, giving eternal life to those who believe in him. Here we have a simple statement of the whole purpose of the supernatural order and consequently the natural order. God, the almighty, even integrates the devil’s rebellion into this purpose. He also integrates the sins, weakness, wounds, and shame of those whom will save into this same purpose. He even integrates our bodily death into this same purpose.
Either this purpose will be achieved in us, or we will serve this purpose, as the devil serves this purpose. If we reject this purpose, we will still end up serving this purpose in those who accept it. If we pursue instead our own plans and purposes, we will end in perpetual frustration, but we will serve God’s purpose nevertheless. He is almighty and none can resist his will.
In today’s Gospel God’s purpose is shown to us in the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on the mountaintop. Here the supernatural order and the supernatural life is made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light. This is the Gospel.
The man, Jesus, who otherwise during the course of his earthly life appeared simply as one of us, is revealed in the radiance of his eternal glory. He is revealed as the One who spoke to the great prophets of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, and so also all the other prophets. While the light of his Transfiguration seems overpowering, it is the light of such pure goodness that St. Peter exclaims most truly and simply, Lord, it is good that we are here. Bathed in the radiance of that heavenly light, all desire is fulfilled and so St. Peter desires nothing more than to remain in that light.
Nevertheless, it is not yet time to remain. Jesus is also revealed as the Son of God to whom we must listen and obey in order to achieve not just a foretaste of eternal glory, but the enduring reality. He has become the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Heb 5:9)
Then, when we attain that eternal salvation, we will not just be bathed in that light as coming from without, but we will be united interiorly to that light and so be radiant like Jesus, conformed to the image of the Son of God. Indeed, just as on the mountaintop Jesus reveals the hidden glory of his godhead, now a share in that same glory is hidden within all those who live in sanctifying grace. This is the supernatural life.
St. Paul tells us, You have died (to the mortal life of this world, with all its purposes), and your life (the life of grace) is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory. (Col 3:3)
The physical mountain to which Jesus led Peter, James, and John, upon which he was transfigured in glory, represents the mountain of eternity, which rises high above all time. Eternity is not continual, unending time, rather eternity is the fulness of divine life, all at once. Our life in time is fleeting and we possess only a small portion at any moment as we journey through time. God’s eternity is full; there is no change because he possesses all the perfection of being, all the perfection of life, all the perfection of wisdom and goodness, at once. From that high mountain of eternity God looks out upon the world he has created and with a single simple glance sees all things to their finest details.
All things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. (He 11:10) From that high mountain of eternity his call reaches to each moment of time. His call reached from eternity to Abraham, about 1,800 years before the birth of Christ, preparing already and planning for the coming of Christ. From the same high mountain of eternity, he calls to us.
Abraham was called out of the wicked city of Ur, even though it meant leaving behind his family and his kin and all that was familiar. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Abraham went forth looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God. Finally, this is the holy city, the new and eternal Jerusalem, the city of the vision of God.
Jesus calls us to depart in mind and heart from the wickedness of the world that surrounds us. He even tells us, He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son and daughter more than me is not worthy of me. (Mt 10:37)
Jesus calls us out from the world, that is what makes us to be the Church. The original Greek word, ekklesia, literally meant the assembly of those ‘called out’ or ‘called forth’.
We are called out of the world and called to a holy life. Through a holy life we live in this world as on a pilgrimage, a desert pilgrimage to the new and eternal Jerusalem, where now Abraham dwells, together with the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and all the saints, in the presence of Jesus Christ, through whom they all behold the face of God.
We did not choose Jesus, but he chose us before time began, he chose us to bestow upon us the great gift of his grace, the sanctifying grace that we received in baptism, the supernatural life which is a sharing in his own life. This is what makes us truly to be children of God, sons in the only begotten Son.
Bear your share of the hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.
Jesus gave to the chosen Apostles, Peter, James, and John, the vision of his glory on the mountain of Transfiguration in order to strengthen them to follow him through his agony in the garden to his death on the Cross.
We are given, through faith, the vision and promise of the Gospel, who Jesus is, what he does for us, and where he leads us, namely, to the mountain of eternity, the vision of God’s face, the fullness of good that fills every desire.
So when we hear the call to bear our share of the hardship for the gospel, we need to remember also the great teaching: All things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. That means all the hardship we must endure works for the good. All our personal sufferings, trials, misfortunes, temptations, if we love God, work for our good. All the persecutions of the Church from without and all the betrayals of the Church from within, if we love God, work for our good. All the confusion, turmoil, and violence of the world, if we love God, works for our good. Every natural disaster, if we love God, works for our good. Even Coronavirus works for the good of those who love God. Everything works for our good, leading us by divine providence to the vision of his face.
Strengthened by the hope of the Gospel we receive the power to walk through this life, with our brothers in Christ, each one bearing his share of hardship, his share of the Cross, as together we follow Christ on the way of the Cross, the way to the Resurrection, the way to life of the heavenly Jerusalem and the vision of God.