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Sunday, Second Week of Lent

March 20, 2011

Blessed Little Easter!

Since my prince just covered these readings in RCIA this week, I’m passing on his thoughts as a “guest reflection”…

God our Father,
help us to hear Your Son.
Enlighten us with Your word,
that we might find the way to Your glory.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer from today’s Mass)

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18 (God promises Abram to give him the land of Canaan)
Psalm 27:1, 7-9, 13-14 “The Lord is my light and my salvation”
Philippians 3:17-4:1 (if we keep our citizenship in Heaven, even our bodies will be glorified)
+Luke 9:28-36 (the Transfiguration)

Nature abhors a vacuum.

Have you ever heard that saying?
All jokes about Hoover and Electrolux aside, the saying refers to the fact that,
if we remove something from an area,
the universe has a tendency to try to fill the empty spot with something else;
things just naturally tend to flow into vacant spaces.
If you want to stop things from flowing in,
you need either to put up a continuous (and ultimately futile) battle against the “inflow”,
or else you need to fill that vacant space with something else.

But here’s another fact:
this principle also works in the emotional and (more importantly) in the spiritual order,
as well. For example: if we try to give up something for Lent,
but we don’t fill that part of our life with something else
(e.g. we give up an hour of TV per day, but we don’t make a conscious choice,
ahead of time, to fill that hour with another activity that’s good and edifying),
we’ll tend to let that hour get filled in by less uplifting activities…
perhaps including the very activity we tried to give up!

If (God forbid) we’re forced into a position where we need to end a destructive relationship,
but we don’t commit ourselves to investing that “freed up” time and energy
with pursuits that build us up (e.g. prayer, fellowship with wholesome people,
works of charity, creative pursuits, etc.),
we’ll have a tendency to slip back into the same relationship (or into a worse one).

Jesus, Himself, describes the case of a man from whom a demon was cast out
(Matthew 12:43-45), but whose soul was not filled again;
when the demon came back and found “the house” (i.e. the man’s soul) clean and tidy,
but empty, he went out and brought back seven other demons, even worse than himself,
and the end condition of the man was worse than the first.

Here’s another old saying, which has a great deal of truth in it:

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.

I’d amend that to say,
“an idle mind” is the Devil’s workshop, or “an idle heart”, or even “an idle soul”;
but they all express the same idea:
if we don’t have a present (and good) goal that occupies us in an active way,
then the world, the flesh, and/or the devil (our three enemies in this life)
will be all too happy to fill that “vacuum” in our lives
with plenty of increasingly poisonous alternatives!

Let me be the first to say that I struggle with this danger, regularly.
Once, during one of my confessions to an Indian priest in another town
(don’t worry: I won’t get into gritty details!),
I told him of my struggles with particular sins that I kept doing, over and over,
despite my hard efforts…
and I remember his advice to me very clearly:

To break away from repeated sin and failings, you need to have a vision:
a high and beautiful something that you can keep your eyes on,
as you strive toward it as a goal.

I thought about this, and it’s true:
when we’re captivated by a driving purpose or an exalted goal,
we’re so consumed by the striving that we don’t pay much attention
to the distractions that could tempt us or try to derail us.
Sometimes, God supplies those sorts of “captivations” (whether pleasant or painful);
we can see this in the rapt attention that a man and a woman give each other
as they really and intensely start to fall in love
(during which time it’s very unlikely that either of them are distracted
by a desire to complain about work conditions, run over to watch the latest soap opera
or sporting event, and so on!).

In many other times, however, God allows us the opportunity to choose our pursuits freely,
and to cultivate a taste, a desire, and an ambition for them.
(This, by the way, is another good reason to consider “positive additions”
to your life during Lent, in addition to any mortifications or sacrifices
you make during that time;
it’s a lot easier to develop a passion for spiritual reading, for example,
than it is to develop a passion for giving up your favorite food!)

Jesus knows that we’re this way; He made us this way, in fact!
He knows that we need a vision—a light to follow when things get dark—
and He’s faithful to supply that to everyone Who follows Him.
Jesus’ Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor happened mere weeks before He was crucified;
it was one of the last things He did, before entering Jerusalem for the last time.
Jesus had just told the disciples, yet again,
that He was going to Jerusalem not to take political power, but to die…
and the disciples’ reactions ranged from confusion
to disbelief and outright rejection of the idea (cf. Matthew 16:21-23,
where St. Peter actually tried to rebuke Jesus by saying,
“God forbid that such things should happen to you!”,
whereupon Jesus had to rebuke St. Peter with the stern words,
“Get thee behind Me, Satan! You are following the will of man, and not of God!”).

Jesus knew that the way to salvation lay through the cross, not around it…
but He also knew that the apostles would all scatter and abandon Him
during the coming time, and that their faith in Him would be tested to its limits;
He knew that, unless they had a “vision”—a high and beautiful experience of His glory
to which they could cling, even after their failures and after His apparent defeat,
they might not endure in their faith at all.
Watching your beloved friend, hero and master being tortured to death
as the lowest of criminals brutalizes and shakes the mind and heart;
they needed something glorious on which to fix their eyes,
in the dark days that would follow.

To anticipate their doubt and despair—
their fears that they had been mistaken to believe in Jesus at all—
Jesus revealed His glory and authority in undeniable ways:
His glory shone forth beyond all mortal glory;
He stood surrounded and anointed by the shining cloud of the Holy Spirit, Himself;
the human epitomes of the Law and the Prophets—
Moses and Elijah, whom all the disciples revered—
testified to the fact that Jesus was going to Jerusalem to die (cf. Luke 9:31);
and at the last, the mighty voice of God the Father testified to Jesus’ Sonship
and commanded the terrified Apostles to listen to Him.

The event elated them, awed them, overwhelmed them, and then terrified them;
you might be able to imagine what this could do for an Apostle’s enthusiasm!
This is a hallmark of our awesome and loving God:
no matter what evils and cataclysms might befall us, God knows about them already…
and He will supply us with a “high and beautiful vision”
which is more than strong enough to sustain us,
if only we resolve to pursue it with the fullness of our heart!

One caution, though: we can’t mistake the path for the goal;
we can’t just choose to stay there, basking in the glory of the Transfiguration,
and skip the cross.
The Apostles suggested that very idea, in fact
(“Lord, it is good to be here; let us build three booths, one for You, one for Moses,
and one for Elijah…”, Matthew 17:4)…
right before the Father thundered His command that they listen to His Beloved Son
(Who had already told them that He had to die, for the sake of the world).
Immediately before this event, Jesus had already told them:
those who wish to follow Him must take up their crosses and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-28).

We participate in Christ’s redeeming work not by avoiding the cross, but by embracing it,
for love of Him and His children.

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