Father David's Reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent
Having Eyes That See
What do I look to for guidance in my life? To what seems to be the norm in my profession or circle of friends? To what has been taught to me as the law of God? Or to the mind and heart of God as revealed in Scripture and in the life of Jesus?
The Entrance Antiphon points us to God as a person: "My heart has prompted me to seek your face. I seek it, Lord, do not hide from me." It is only by studying the "face," the mind and heart of God as revealed in his action and interaction with his creatures, that we can understand the true intent of his laws. God is love, and all that comes from him is love. Therefore, law without love is a lie.
The alternate Entrance Antiphon alerts us to do what we count on God to do: "Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness from ages past." The only way to understand God or anything God does or tells us to do is to remember his mercies and his tenderness.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we ask the Father, "Help us to hear your Son," and "enlighten us with your word." It is only through knowing God as he is, through listening to his own self-expression through his words, that we can "find a way" to his "glory." God's glory is the "fullness of truth and limitless light." It is found only in the person of God himself. So we ask him, "Open our hearts to the voice of your Word": the "Word," the Logos, the truth and intelligibility of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. When we ask the Father, "Restore our sight," it is so that "we may look upon your Son." God enlightens us by moving us to focus on the person of his Son, and to study his mind and heart. This is the only authentic discipleship.
Focus on a Person
The Responsorial Psalm emphasizes, "The Lord is my light and my salvation" (Psalm 27). The Psalm continues: "It is your face, O Lord, that I seek.".
Genesis 15: 5-18 tells us Abraham "put his faith in the Lord," and that the Lord "counted this as making him justified." St. Paul quotes this verse in his letter to the Romans (4:3) to make the point that we are justified by "faith," not by "works." He insists on it against those who thought it was necessary to impose the religious rules of Jewish culture on Gentile converts:
What does this mean?
Paul is not saying that if we just affirm as true the statement that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we are "saved." He is not saying that faith alone, with- out the good works that follow from faith, is enough to make us "justified," or "righteous" in God's eyes. He is taking good works, in the general sense, for granted. Jesus himself said to those who have the light of faith, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." And he promised, "The one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father." It is just that no human behavior, no matter how good it is, can make us divine. In Christianity, to be "saved" or "justified" means to be given the gift of "grace"; that is, the "favor" of sharing in the divine life of God.2
God's life consists essentially in knowing and loving. If we have God's life we share in his act of knowing by the gift of faith. Jesus said, "This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent."
With the gift of divine life comes the gift of a hope that is also divine; a hope not based on any human assessment, but which is the work and activity of the Holy Spirit within us:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But the principal effect of God's life in us is love - not just human love, but the love that is a sharing in God's own life. If we do not love by God's grace, we are deceived if we think we know God by faith:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.. Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.
To be "saved," then, means to live by faith, hope and love, which are the effects of God's life in us:
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.3
What Scripture teaches us is that the focus of our religion should not be on keeping rules, even God's rules, but on "seeking the face" of the Lord and listening to his voice, in order to know him as a person; to know his mind and heart. This is the only way to truly know his will. Religious discipline without discipleship - the prayerful, loving study of God's mind and heart- inevitably degenerates into the legalism of the Pharisees.4
Focus on Jesus
In Luke 9: 28-36 the disciples were not consciously "seeking the face" of Jesus, but it was revealed to them shining like the sun, changed beyond all human appearance, as Jesus was transfigured before them. And they saw Jesus talking with Moses - to whom God gave the Law on Mount Sinai (also called Horeb) -and with Elijah, the prophet God had promised to send back before the "day of the Lord."5
For the disciples, Moses embodied the Law and Elijah embodied the Prophets. Peter, who "did not know what he was saying," thought he was paying Jesus a compliment by equating him with these two great figures of Israel: "Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Then the Father made it clear that Jesus was not to be compared with either the Law or the Prophets: "This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him!" Christianity is not based on the Law, the Prophets, or even on the inspired words of God in all of Scripture, but on the unique Word of God made flesh in Jesus Christ. To be Christian is to listen to the living voice of Jesus, whether he speaks through Scripture, through the Spirit poured out in our hearts, or through his embodied presence in the Church. Our focus must always be on him.
Focus on Fulfillment
Philippians 3:17 to 4:1 urges us to look forward to our own transfiguration.
For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.
God became human in Jesus Christ so that we, made members of his body, might be divine. The true secret and mystery of our identity is that we are called to "be Christ." For all the more reason we should focus our energies on trying to become like him in mind and heart and will. St. Paul exhorts us, "Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus." This is the goal of discipleship. John Paul II said it simply: "Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life." 6
1 Galatians 2:16
2 Matthew 5:16
3 John 17:3; Romans 15:13 (and see Galatians 5:5, Colossians 1:27, 1Peter 1:21); 1John 4:7-16; 1Corinthians 13:13.
4 see Matthew 9:9-13, 12:1-7
5 Malachi 4:4-5
6 Philippians 2:5. Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, said, "We have become not only Christians, but Christ. Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!" (see John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, nos. 20,21)
Do I understand the difference between a religion of laws and a religion of relationship? Which do I prefer?
Be a disciple. Ask how every rule you keep reflects Christ's mind and heart.