2nd Sunday of Lent
February 27, 2021
Introduction: Sacrificial Love
At some point in our lives, many quite often, we are called upon to love sacrificially. I think, for example, of a wife caring for a terminally ill husband or a soldier on a battlefield who gives his life in order to save the entire company. Examples of every-day sacrificial love could be multiplied. After a hard day’s work, a father decides not to go to sleep on the couch, but instead to help his children with the homework and to help with household chores. I think of priests, who are tireless in their service of the Church, who continue to give of themselves cheerfully, even when weary or discouraged.
In truth, our Lenten penances are meant to stretch our capacity to love sacrificially. When we spend more time in prayer, in spite of the many things pressing in upon us, we are making a sacrifice, we are consecrating our time, in order that to expand our capacity for God’s friendship. When we mortify ourselves, for example, by abstaining from food or drink, we are denying ourselves bodily, not in a spirit of sad remorse, but to clear our hearts, to make more room in them for the Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead. When we give to those in need, not merely from our surplus but from our substance, we are making a material sacrifice, we are denying ourselves comforts, not only to help those in palpable need, but also so that we might better appreciate God’s generous and merciful love for us in our spiritual poverty.
As we strive to love sacrificially – whether this is imposed on us by circumstances – or whether this is something we have voluntarily undertaken – we may find ourselves wondering why we have to experience so much hardship, or why it is our faith demands of various forms of voluntary sacrificial love. How do we make sense of this “requirement” that intrudes on our plans and comfort? Happily, today’s readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent shed light on this predicament in which all serious Christians find themselves at various points in their lives.
The Sacrificial Love of Abraham
I think we might agree, that no one was called upon to love sacrificially more than Abraham whom we met in our first reading from the Book of Genesis. As you recall, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. Even so, Abraham had to wait many years for his son Isaac to be born, and naturally, Abraham saw Isaac as the one in whom God would fulfill his promise. We can well imagine, then, how shocked Abraham must have been when God asked him to sacrifice his son, Isaac – and for a couple of reasons. First, God never demanded anything remotely like human sacrifice. Second, Abraham knew that, if he killed Isaac, it would be the end of his family line.
Clearly, God put Abraham to the test, severely so, in ways that Abraham could not possibly have understood. Yet Abraham passed the test, as we might say, with “flying colors”. The reason? Abraham had complete faith in God even when nothing made sense. And so, lesson number one for anyone struggling to love sacrificially is this: the need for complete faith and trust in God. Thankfully, God will not ask of us anything as radical as he asked of Abraham, yet, if you find yourself dealing with a heartbreaking situation or if you just find yourself struggling to sustain your Lenten resolutions, you will soon realize the prime importance of believing and trusting, even when, with our limited vision, we cannot make sense of suffering. Elsewhere, in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans (4:5), we read that Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness – may the same be said of us!
God Has a Plan
If faith is a first requirement for loving sacrificially, a second requirement is the deep-seated conviction that God has a plan – a plan for the salvation of the world (what St. Paul refers to as “the mystery”); and that God also has a plan for our lives, a plan governed by his Providential love.
Without a doubt, anyone whom God tests has trouble making sense of it all. As noted above, Abraham could not fathom why God would ask him to sacrifice Isaac, until, perhaps, God stayed Abraham’s hand and pointed out a ram in nearby bushes, a ram that could be sacrificed in place of his son, Isaac. At that point, Abraham must have realized, not only that God was testing him, but also that God himself had provided the sacrifice he was to offer. For Christian writers in the early history of the Church, the ram symbolized Christ, the true sacrificial victim whom God the Father would provide for us and our salvation. Even in Abraham’s day, God foreknew what St. Paul proclaims in today’s second reading from his letter to the Romans, namely, ‘that God did not spare his only Son but gave him up for us all’ (Rom. 8:31). As Isaac carried to Mount Moriah the wood on which he was to be sacrificed, God foresaw the day when Christ would carry the Cross to Mount Calvary where he would lay down his life for the salvation of the world. All of which shows us that God does indeed have a plan for the world’s salvation, a truth confirmed by St. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians, where speaks of “the plan [God] was pleased to decree in Christ” (1:10).
The upshot for us amid our personal sufferings and voluntary sacrifices is this: just as God has plan for the salvation of the world, so too, we can and should believe that the Lord has a plan for our lives. Like Abraham, we may not understand that plan in its fullness. For now we may understand it only partially, but as our lives unfold, we come to see more clearly the Provident hand of God in our lives as he leads us to embrace the unique mission he has in mind for each of us.
Responding to the Radiant Beauty of Christ
A third requirement for loving sacrificially is to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the Lord in whom we have put our faith and trust. If we need a sign that denying ourselves and carrying our Cross is the right thing to do, then let us look no further than St. Mark’s account of the Transfiguration. After all, that was the very sign Jesus gave to Peter, James, and John so that when he was crucified on Mt. Calvary, their faith in him would not falter.
What the Apostles witnessed atop Mount Tabor was the glory of Jesus’ divinity. Beneath his humanity, beneath Jesus’ ordinary human appearance was his identity and his glory as God’s eternal and only-begotten Son. On Mount Tabor, the Apostles experienced what is known as a “theophany”, a revelation of God’s glory, a confirmation of Jesus as truly the Son of God, and as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, symbolized by Moses and Elijah. As the cloud enveloped Jesus and the Apostles, the cloud that is the Holy Spirit, the Father’s voice was heard, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!”
The Apostles were mystified, overwhelmed by what they saw, and just so, our hearts should be, as Scripture says, “all lost in wonder” – As we encounter this event afresh, the Spirit’s gift of wonder and awe should be stirred up in us, so much so, that our hearts are drawn in love to the radiance of Christ’s beauty and majesty, so much so that we are willing to undertake any mission or bear any burden that, the well-beloved Son of the Father, may ask of us.
A rock-solid faith; hope in God’s Providential plan for our world and our lives; love for the Lord Jesus whose divine beauty is beyond compare— these are the requirements for loving sacrificially and for participating more fully in the Jesus’ death and resurrection, at Easter and throughout our lives. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!