Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Second Sunday of Lent: The Transfiguration of Christ, Our Hope of Glory - New Maronite Patriarch

Second Sunday in Lent (Year "A") – March 20, 2011 - ON THE MOUNT OF TRANSFIGURATION WITH JESUS [Texts: Genesis 12.1-4a; [Psalm 33]; 2 Timothy 1.8b-10; Matthew 17.1-9]

The Sundays of Lent in "Year A" feature archetypal images of each disciple's relationship with Jesus. Last Sunday's gospel encouraged Jesus' followers by showing Jesus resisting Satan's temptations.

This week's gospel also gives disciples hope through its depiction of Jesus' mystical conversation with Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John watching from a distance.

In the coming three Sundays believers will plumb the depths of encounters Jesus had with people like themselves, who struggle with relationships, with seeing things aright and with the loss of a loved one to death: the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4.5-42), the man born blind (9.1-41) and Jesus' friend Lazarus whom He raised from the tomb (11.1-45).

All these encounters hold special significance for those participating in the Rite of Christian Initiation as the Lord through the Church enlightens them and, through Lenten disciplines, all Christians are called to renewal.

Then comes the Lenten climax: Holy Week and the central events of Christian faith--the Paschal Mystery--Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. Disciples draw encouragement and support from their Risen Lord's triumph over sin, suffering and death so that, in Paul's word, they join "in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God who saved us ... according to his own purpose and grace".

Last week's reading from the primordial history told of the sin of Adam and Eve and of their rebellion against living with God in trust and obedience. This week's Genesis passage recounts the beginning of God's involvement with humanity in "salvation history".

It tells the story of God's summons to Abram and prepares for the numerous divine-human encounters that followed:

Dore: Abraham's Call to Leave Mesopotamia for the Land of Canaan

God's call found a faith-filled response when this man and his family left homeland, family and possessions. They journeyed into the unfamiliar, trusting God's promise. On the journey God changed Abram's identity, renaming him Abraham, "father of a multitude" (Genesis 17.5).

Abraham's posterity prospered until famine forced them to Egypt and into servitude. Afflicted by Pharaoh, they cried to the Lord for relief. God raised up Moses to rescue them from the yoke of the Egyptians.

After God led Israel out of Egypt in the exodus, they wandered in the wilderness, finally coming to the mountain of God, called Sinai in some traditions, Horeb in others. There, God fashioned a covenant and the people committed themselves to keep God's commandments.

Matthew's account of the Transfiguration (by contrast with Mark's), mentions Moses before Elijah, perhaps to emphasize Jesus' status as a new Moses. Beyond noting the detail of Jesus' garments becoming "dazzling white", Matthew added "and His face shone like the sun". This may recall a detail mentioned in Exodus 34.29-35, which said that Moses' face "shone" after talking with God.

Matthew contains a minor narrative detail, describing the cloud that covered Jesus and his heavenly companions as "bright", producing the paradoxical effect that a bright cloud overshadows. Matthew may be alluding to the "Shekinah", the cloud of God's glory that used to fill the tabernacle of God's presence in the wilderness.

The radiance of Jesus' face suggests that the Transfiguration represents the breaking through into history of Jesus' glory as God's Son. Or it affords a glimpse of the glory that will belong to Jesus when he brings salvation to completion at his Parousia.

Matthew's account of God's message given by the voice from the cloud is more extensive, adding to "This is my beloved Son", found in Mark's account, the words "with him I am well pleased". This echo of Isaiah 42.1, found also in the synoptic accounts of Jesus' baptism, testifies that not only is Jesus like Moses, he is greater than Moses. Jesus also is depicted as surpassing Elijah, the biblical exemplar of prophecy.

The preface for the Second Sunday of Lent uses other words to explain the purpose of the Transfiguration.

Though Jesus had already prepared the disciples for his approaching death, "He wanted to teach them that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection".

This may be why every Lenten journey with Jesus includes a stop at the Mount of Transfiguration.

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Yesterday, church bells rang, horns blasted and firecrackers echoed throughout Lebanon as it was announced that Bishop Bechara Rai of Jbeil, Lebanon, had been elected the new patriarch of the Maronite Catholic Church.

Patriarch Rai, 71, known for his courage to speak the truth, is seen as someone who can unite Maronite Catholics, who have been divided among political party lines. The patriarch's election was announced March 15.

Election ballots began March 11, after the Maronite synod spent two days in spiritual retreat and reflection. He replaces Cardinal Nasrallah P. Sfeir, 90, who retired because of age.

Father Joseph Mouawad, vicar general of Jbeil, predicted Patriarch Rai would unite Maronite Catholics and begin a pastoral renewal of the church:

"I think his first mission will be to confirm us in our faith here in Lebanon and, as head of the church, he will try to unite Christians, the different parties, and to consolidate the communion among the Maronites," Father Mouawad said.

"He has a deep spirituality, and he is very sociable and open to the others, and he has great courage. He says the truth even if someone doesn't want to listen to it," Father Mouawad said.

"I think on a national level in Lebanon, he will work to conserve this country to be a country of conviviality of all religions -- between Christian and Muslims," the priest added.

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Prayer for Wednesday
of the First Week of Lent

Look kindly, Lord, we pray on the devotion of your people, that those who by self-denial are restrained in body may by the fruit of good works be renewed in mind. Through our Lord.