Sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent – March 17, 2019 by Father Paul Alvarez Norton
DOMINICA II IN QUADRAGESIMA
Nothing that is unholy can enter the Kingdom of God. These are not empty words. This is not a trick to scare us. “God is not mocked” St. Paul reminds us. To enter into heaven you have to be holy. “Nothing unclean shall enter into the Kingdom of God” says St. John.
In today’s lesson St. Paul tells us that God “hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification.” Do we really live in holiness? Are we really prepared for when the Lord “comes as a thief in the night”? If God would call us in the evening of this day, where would we go? The Church asks us to reflect on this today, the second Sunday of Lent. Lenten penance must be sincere and we must sincerely seek sanctity. Lent is difficult, the cross is heavy, passion is painful, but God knows that without His help we will not be able to win the battle, so He shows us the final fruit of the sacrifice: Christ is transfigured before us to show us the glory that we will share with Him if faithful to the end.
Even so, many of His disciples said: “This doctrine is hard, and who can hear it? But Jesus, knowing in Himself that His disciples murmured at this, said to them: “Doth this scandalize you? If then you shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before? It is the Spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profits nothing”. Then Jesus said to the twelve: “Will you also go away? And Simon Peter answered Him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”1
St. Peter represents faith. Holiness depends on faith. If we do not seek to be saints, if we do not live as saints, it is because we really do not believe.
You can fall many times, yes, you can even deny Christ three times –as St. Peter did- but if you cling to God and do not despair like Judas, if you persevere trusting in God, remaining firm in the faith, applying its précepts, God certainly will be there to extend His hand to raise you from such a pitiful state.
Now in today’s Gospel we hear the history of the Transfiguration of Our Lord which is a great private miracle of Christ, performed not before many people, not even before the twelve, but of three Apostles, who were the same that witnessed the resurrection of the daughter of Jairus and the Prayer on the Mount of Olives: Peter, James and John, the Faith, the Hope and the Charity.
What Peter and the two brothers saw was the body of Christ pierced with light, full of joy and beauty, and the body of Elias and the soul of Moses speaking to Christ. Of what? Probably of his Passion and Death. During His mission Christ said that He came to fulfil the “Law and the prophets”. After His resurrection, on the way to Emmaus, “beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to the disciples in all the scriptures, the things that were concerning Him”. The presence of Moses and Elias confirmed that the whole Old Testament leads to Jesus, the expected Messiah, and that in Him it finds all its meaning.
The occasion, the place and the reason for this miracle are solemn. The Evangelist notes with precision the time: “six days after”… having instituted the primacy of St. Peter, that is, the foundation of His Church; “six days after”… having specifically announced His passion; “six days after’… of having violently scolded St. Peter; “six days after” having said that in order to be saved we have to bear the cross. This was tremendous for the Apostles. That’s why they needed to be strengthened. The reason for this miracle was, as the Gospel clearly indicates, a small sample of the resurrection.
But the reason for this transfiguration is not to build three cabins to sit and rest; the reason for this miracle is the Mystery of the Cross: Without a cross there is no resurrection, but there is indeed resurrection, do not fear the cross.
When Christ received this solemn testimony from His Father, when the Apostles saw at His side the representative of the Law and the representative of the Prophets, when His Divinity impacted His body and He was transfigured in a moment of clarity, whiteness and beauty … He began to speak of “the excess that was about to take place in Jerusalem”, an excess of Love and Pain, and in the most basic sense, that’s what holiness is all about.
There is a Greek word that represents in the most beautiful way that “excess of Love” of God. The word τετέλεσται.
The Vulgate translates this word as: “consummatum est” that is translated into English as “everything has been fulfilled”. The admirable and beautiful point here is that the word τετέλεσται in the first century was used also in another context: It was stamped on paid bills and debt certificates. Not all the time was the root τελέω in this same third-person perfect passive form, but from the earliest records, this verb has been used to refer to the payment of debt. In the OXYRHYNCHUS PAPYRI dating from the third century BC this verb is used with reference to receipts of payment and tax documents. Now you can understand the beauty of this message: Christ was telling us “I PAID THE DEBT FOR YOUR RANSOM.” He gave us the opportunity to save our souls and achieve holiness. “May He also help us with His Grace not to waste our opportunity to illuminate with the light of the Children of God instead of living as animals.”