Second Sunday of Lent

Second Sunday of Lent

Dear Friends,

We are still at the beginning of Lent, but today the Church talks to us about the Resurrection.  In the transfiguration of Jesus in today’s Gospel, Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of Christ’s eternal glory, the glory he fully claims after the resurrection.  And in our first reading too we get a hint of the resurrection.  Abraham and Isaac lived almost 2000 years before Christ yet this incident from their lives is a symbol of the resurrection.  When Isaac is freed from his bonds he’s given a new life, a symbol of Christ’s new life after rising from the bonds of death.  And even today’s psalm, when it speaks about walking with the Lord in the Land of the living and God “loosening the bonds” of his servant, this is also pointing our attention towards Christ’s resurrection. 

So even though Easter is more than a month away, we are being reminded of the resurrection as we enter more fully into the season of lent.  As we know lent is meant to be a time of repentance and penitence, a time of sacrifice and a time of reflection in which we acknowledge the weight of suffering in the world and in our lives, suffering that many times has its roots in sin.  This suffering is always part of the story of every human life, with or without Christ.  Suffering is always a part of the story with or without Christ, but with Christ, suffering is not the end of the story.  Crosses purify us, crosses purify us of selfishness, if we let them; crosses teach us to lean more and more on Christ so as to have a greater experience of his wisdom and joy, his resurrection.  In our Catholic faith, the cross and the resurrection are two sides of the same coin; we never allow ourselves to think of one without thinking of the other.  There is no Easter Resurrection without Good Friday. 

That is why a Christian never has to be afraid of suffering.  We are like the child who walks at night when all is pitch black, holding his father’s hand, we know that our Father can handle the darkness and lead us through it.  (Dad can do anything) The Christian can face suffering, embrace it, work through it, and transform it and help others do the same.  And we do it by holding onto that hand of the Father, leaning on Grace.  With Christ, the pains and sorrows of life become opportunities and springboards for becoming spiritually mature. 

Pope Benedict once said that we can try to limit suffering, or to fight against it, but we can’t eliminate it.  Now there are instances when we should avoid suffering and look for solutions but there will always be some suffering where solutions are not easily found.  Pope Benedict goes on to say, that when we try to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, or love, or goodness, then we drift into a life of emptiness.  And in this state, there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater.  It’s not by sidestepping or running from suffering that we are healed, but rather we are healed by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ who suffered with infinite love.  A balance between the cross and the resurrections is a balance between sorrow and joy.  They both work for our good.

I have a story.  It’s about St. Germaine, in her life there were moments of great joy, like the transfiguration or Easter Sunday and there were moments of suffering, moments of the Cross, like Good Friday.  But with both joy and suffering she became a saint.  The joy reminded her of the goodness of God and the suffering helped her to lean more and more on God.  Germaine was born in Toulouse France in 1579.  She was born with a crippled right arm that she could never use.  Her parents, whoever they were, abandoned her as soon as she was born, leaving her on the porch of a farmer and his wife.  This couple took her in, but they never grew to love her.  They neglected her, forcing her to live in the barn.  Food was left for her outside the door of the kitchen, usually just bread and water.  Sometimes they would even beat her. 

Now even with all these crosses there were joys in her life.  She taught the catechism to poor kids in the village.  She brought bread to the poor and she enjoyed the company and kindness of the people at church.  These were small joys for Germaine reminding her of God’s goodness.  But the one great joy in her life was that she was allowed to go to Mass on Sunday.  And by going to Mass every Sunday she grew to appreciate and love the Eucharist and with this increasing love she wanted to go to Mass every day.  But she couldn’t because she had to watch the sheep out in the field all day.  So, during the week when the church bells rang announcing the beginning of Mass she would turn toward the church and pray.  Praying with all the sheep around her, she would make a spiritual communion. 

One day our Lord spoke to Germaine’s heart and gave her an inspiration.  She took her cane and jammed it into the ground, telling her sheep not to leave; they didn’t, and off to Mass she ran, when she got back all her sheep were still there all gathered around her cane.  She did this every day, before going to Mass she jammed her cane into the ground and all the sheep gathered around it; she never lost a sheep.  Germaine died at the age of 22 and many miracles have been attributed to her intercession. 

Both the Cross of Good Friday and the joys of the Resurrection were a part of Germaine’s life.  They helped her grow in holiness.  The crosses of physical disability and family neglect helped her to lean more on God.  The joys of Godly friendship with the children she taught, the poor she helped, and the Eucharist reminded her of God’s goodness and that gave her hope.  Both the cross and the resurrection are necessary for our growth in holiness.  God allows us to experience both, in accordance with the timing that he deems best.  On the mountain tops, those resurrection moments of great joy he strengthens our hope, and with crosses he strengthens our love, as we learn to cling to him more and more. 

The crosses teach us to lean on Jesus and the true joys of life speak to us in a small way of the Heavenly joys to come. 

Let us become great Saints,

Fr. Christopher J. Ankley