• Rev. Lawrence E. Polansky

2nd Sunday of Lent (A)

"God has saved us and called us to be holy."

Entrance Antiphon: Ps 27(26):8-9 —“Of You my heart has spoken: Seek His face. It is Your face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Your face from me.”

First Reading: Gn 12:1-4a — “The call of Abraham, the father of God’s people.”

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 — “Lord, let Your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in You.”

Second Reading: 2 Tim 1:8b-10 — “God has saved us and called us to be holy.”

Verse before the Gospel: Mt 17:5 — “From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard: This is My beloved Son, hear Him.”

Gospel: Mt 17:1-9 —“Jesus’ face shone like the sun.”

Communion Antiphon: Mt 17:5 — “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”

My maternal grandmother ... Julia Kratson ... Mom-Mom … used to spend the winters with us in Marlton. The old house she called home was heated with coal and that wasn’t a very economical way to spend the winter. (And perhaps it didn’t help the old house didn’t have indoor plumbing.) As she got older, carrying coal from the shed near to the house into the house, bucket by bucket wasn’t something she was able to do either. The property is about an hour north of Allentown ... not far from Pottsville and Hazelton. Thing was, I will always remember that she wanted to be back home as the weather began to get warm and the trees and the landscape were coming alive ... waking up after a long winter … up there, usually around Easter. And at the other end, she never wanted to leave until all of the leaves were gone from the trees and the mountain and the land were brown and lifeless.

She was one of 11 children and was the rebel ... leaving the farm ... or the Homestead as I call it now ... to go to the big city ... and back then for her, the big city was Newark, New Jersey. Do you remember when department stores had restaurants? Well, she was the head cook for Bamberger’s... today you might know it as Macy’s. When she was younger, from what I have been told, she wasn’t one to wear either the faith of Abraham, who we read about in the first reading, or the faith of anyone else on her sleeves. She may not have even known who Abraham was, having left school in the seventh grade to help out on the farm before she left for the city. But when she was 55, her mother, my great-grandmom and her brothers who stayed to run the farm began to fail. Their health became fragile and Mom-Mom went back to the farm to help them. That was before people really understood diabetes and its complications. When they passed on, she kept the farm running for many years. I think my love of the land and of growing things was instilled in me by her. When I was little, I can remember her telling me that fall and spring were her favorite times of the year. And as I look back now, it was during those seasons that I would catch glimpses of her faith. Those seasons would not pass, with their explosion of glorious color, as if by an unseen hand, without Mom-Mom commenting, “Who can say that there is no God?” And actually I know now that to be a farmer takes a great deal of faith ... preparing the ground ... planting the seeds or the seedlings ... and hoping for enough sun, enough rain, enough warmth, and not too many bugs ... to harvest a crop. And perhaps in her younger days ... it was true ... maybe she didn’t have all that much faith ... maybe it took 55 years of living for her to find hers.

So what exactly is “faith”? Faith is a gift freely given by God. It is also a human act because we have to accept it. We don’t earn faith anymore than Abraham or Julia Kratson did. Faith is belief in things unseen because they have been revealed to us by God. Even though it’s a gift, we can pray to God to strengthen it. “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief!” And we know that God hears all prayers.

I think that the mystery of faith inspires us in many ways. Victor Hugo writes that “to believe is difficult. Not to believe is impossible.” ... Perhaps thoughts like those crossed the minds and hearts of startled and afraid Peter, James, and John as they experienced the Transfiguration. At this teasing early springtime, God seems to give us a resounding yes ... to believe is possible and even inescapable. The late winter and early spring seem to yell it out “Believe!” Now ... I think if I were to go around the church ... and ask what faith is to you ... there would be many different answers ... many definitions ... but I don’t think that one definition would be enough or even could be enough. And that’s good ... that’s the way it should be ... faith can not and should not be limited … just as God, Himself can not and should not be limited.

But how can we capture ... how do we capture ... the mystery of faith? The glory of this approaching time of year points squarely toward the truth of all truths ... the Paschal Mystery of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ... Jesus’ Life, His Passion ... Death ... Resurrection and Ascension ... the heart, the core, the soul of our faith. So just what is faith? Perhaps some words of inspiration may assist our Lenten pilgrimage and further understanding of faith.

Søren Kierkegaard was a Danish philosopher, theologian and religious author interested in human psychology. He wrote that the opposite of sin is not virtue but rather, faith. Pope Saint John Paul II wrote that faith is not jumping to conclusions. It’s concluding to jump. C.S. Lewis said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe in the sun ... not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” And there is an old English proverb that says: “Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there” … In other words, where there is faith ... there is no fear.

So why do some struggle with faith? That struggle with faith is often called “the dark night of the soul.” “The dark night of the soul” shares in the desolation of the Passion of Christ ... remember especially the Garden of Gethsemane. The image that comes to my mind is that scene in the Garden from the movie “The Passion of the Christ” ... and watching that movie on Ash Wednesday has been a tradition of mine since I entered the seminary and we saw it as an entire seminary community on Ash Wednesday 2004 when it first came out.

Many mystic saints went through periods of dreadful dryness, when they could not find their faith and yet somehow, someway, by sheer grit and God’s help remained “faithful.” Faithful without faith! All things are possible with God: even the fruit of faith for the faithless! More often than not, these saints had asked to share in the passion of Christ. And it is during these moments it is said that God is closer to you than you can imagine. Remember the poem “Footprints” ... “when there was only one set of footprints on the beach” ... “that was when I carried you.”

We may have read about several saints who struggled with faith. They include Saint Paul of the Cross, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Teresa of Calcutta. The God of Abraham, although unseen, unfelt, and unrecognizable, had not abandoned them. Saint Teresa of Calcutta used this phrase from time to time: “If I am a saint, I will be a saint of the darkness.” And a few years ago, Mother Teresa’s journals, letters, and writings were compiled in a book entitled Come, Be My Light. Mother did not pretend to know the mind of God. Instead she saw her 50-year dryness as a gift. Filled with pain and even anguish ... she surrendered to a faith she could not feel ... could not experience within. And yet she remained faithful.

The faith of Mother Teresa, Abraham and even my grandmother, Julia Kratson, can both sustain and elude us. Yet we know that their God ... our God ... works continually and unceasingly for our good, too. This all-embracing and indescribable faith lives in us still, especially celebrated in the Eucharistic meal that we have gathered around this table to participate in. It strengthens us throughout our lives. Pray for the gift of faith, realizing in mystery that the great patriarch’s faith and the faith of an ordinary grandmother is assuredly each of ours, as it was Mother Teresa’s. Faith is there because God is there. We need only empty ourselves and trust. Abraham’s God will take care of the rest. And as an English mystic, Julian of Norwich once said ... “All will be well.”... Fear knocked ... Faith answered ... no one was there.

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