Sunday, Feb. 24, is the Second Sunday of Lent.
It’s not too late to give something up for Lent. And it’s not too late to change what you gave up if Plan A isn’t working out. The fasting (“giving up”) of Lent is a voluntary pious exercise. It isn’t required by the Church. It is a helpful exercise in that it allows our wills to grow more flexible and helps make us the master of our appetites. But if we fail in our intention to give something up, we haven’t committed a sin; we don’t need to feel terrible. We just need to get up and try again.
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1 or 3:20-4:1; Luke 9:28-36
What is it like to share God’s life? Jesus shows us in today’s Gospel, and the Church reminds us that, as partakers in divine life and members of God’s family, we will share the experience we see in him.
In the Gospel, the account of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ appearance becomes “dazzling white,” and two men are seen conversing with him: Moses, who brought the Law, and Elijah, the great prophet.
In this way, Jesus seals the promise and expectations he created long ago: These two men exemplify the Great Covenant with God in the Old Testament. That covenant is about to meet its fulfillment in the New Testament, which means the “New Covenant.”
A covenant is more than a contract. It creates a bond. God compares the Old Testament covenant to marriage, and, in the Book of Hosea, he sees unfaithful Israel as an unfaithful bride.
In the first reading, we see God making the first covenant with Abram, who would become Abraham. In those primitive times, a covenant was made in the way described: An animal was split in two, and the two parties passed between the two halves. It was understood what they were promising: “If I fail in this agreement, may the fate of these animals fall on me.”
Significantly, God symbolically passes between the animals, not Moses: This shows God’s initiative in the covenant. God is reaching out to us, not the other way around. The covenant is not a quid pro quo arrangement where man gives allegiance to God and God repays it. It is sheer gratuity on God’s part. Man doesn’t have to earn it; he merely has to live such that he doesn’t reject it. This is the same arrangement God made with us in Eden.
What does man get from the covenant? In Moses and Elijah, you see the two men who typify the covenant. Prophets such as Elijah, along with the Temple, are God’s way of being with the people: his truth and his presence. The Law that came from Moses is God’s code that allows us to live with him. We get God with us, and we get a code that allows us to live with God.
What else do we get? God tells Abram: “Look up at the sky, and count the stars, if you can.” “Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
We will be “like the stars” in number. But we will also be like them in another way. St. Paul in today’s second reading describes it: “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”
In other words, we too will be “dazzling white”: The Catechism of the Catholic Church (999) says we will be changed in much the way the transfigured Christ was changed.
What’s the catch? There is no catch. But we are expected to live a covenant life, so as not to reject this great gift.
Lent is a time to reorder our priorities, and grow in wisdom and self-control, in order to rededicate ourselves anew to live that covenant life.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.