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Homily - Second Sunday in Lent C - Bishop McKeown

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Sunday, 13 March 2022 

The Lenten journey invites us to accompany Jesus on the road to Calvary. Last week he was tempted to be untrue to that mission. This week, he has just revealed to the apostles that he will suffer and die. And now he takes three apostles aside. They have a glimpse of his glory that will sustain them through Good Friday. That experience encourages all of us not to be afraid of this season of prayer and penance. What does it teach us about walking with Jesus?

Firstly, Jesus has made it clear that following him will be tough. There is no other way to face the reality of wrong. This is a battle between grace and sin. It will not be faced down by pretending that evil is just a religious idea created to keep people down. We are surrounded by the reality of crime, violence, neglect, injustice and the fear of taking courageous decisions. The antidote to that is not self-indulgence but courage. Saints and heroes are not the fruit of low expectations.

Thus, the norm should be that Christ's followers are unpopular among the strong - and valued by those on the margins. At present, there is a popular narrative that Christian and Catholic identity are something to be ashamed of. The new message from the secularising culture is that faith has to be removed from the public sphere so that the glorious consumerist paradise on earth can rule. Any message that questions the dogma of individualism is pilloried as a relic of a long-forgotten past. That is the context where faith-based education is pilloried as heretical in the face of secular infallibility. Jesus tells the apostles to expect opposition. Where church has been too close to power and to social respectability, we risk missing the scandal of the Cross and going straight to the glory of resurrection. We should expect opposition, not for loving to condemn anyone but because we embarrass the strong by going to the margins, just as Jesus did. Jesus had no time for arrogance among his followers, just for courageous and radical generosity. If we are to be marginalised, it has to be because we speak the truth in love. Like Jesus, we condemn the sin but love the sinner. When we love to hate the sinner, we have missed the whole point of Jesus' mission.

Secondly, if we are aware of the reality of sin in the world, the first place that we have to look for it is in our own hearts. Our sins damage our ability to proclaim Christ. The plank has to come out of our own eye before we remove the splinter from someone else's eye. Self-righteousness blunts the divine power of the truth. We are scarred by temptation, blindness and sin. If we proclaim the mercy and compassion of God to others, it is because we have first known it ourselves. Thus, there should be no reluctance to admit the sins that have happened in church and the enormous damage caused to others, especially the weak.

The synodal pathway is not just about insiders deciding what direction we should take. It also involves being open to the voices of those who expected great things from Christ's church and were bitterly disappointed. Jesus stood out from his contemporaries, despite pressure to conform. People rightly expected better from church than merely conforming to the mood of the time. Where church has unquestioningly parroted the message of the strong or hid the abuse of the weak, we need to acknowledge our own sin. Making excuses for our lack of grace is not the way forward together.

Thirdly, the Transfiguration of Jesus is not just an encouragement for the apostles to face Calvary. It is a glimpse of Christ's risen glory that we can all share. That is an important message for today. On one side we are bombarded by news about the horrific reality of war and brutality. On the other side, we are assailed by a superficial cult of the body beautiful. Silly role models proclaim the message that we are little more than slabs of meat going out to play. The glimpse of Christ's glory proclaims the unwelcome message that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we receive the body of Christ into our bodies and that we will be raised up on the last day. That contradicts the message that we should remain irresponsibly childish for as long as possible before growing up and accepting wearisome responsibility in life, and for life. Moral teaching about cherishing life and faithfulness will be mocked as old-fashioned. But merely obeying your thirst has been the downfall of people since the Garden of Eden. Jesus teaches us about the transfiguration of our bodies into copies of his own glorious body. We can be addicted to many things other than alcohol and drugs. So many people are addicted to pornography and its dehumanising consequences. Lent is part of the journey to free us from slavery to our desires -and a message that liberation is possible in Christ.

In the Gospel, Jesus is preparing the apostles for Holy Week. We still have a month left before Palm Sunday. Lent is meant to be a journey that strengthens us for the battle with sin in all its forms. Unless Lent is tough and challenging, it is merely tokenism. Unless we are strong enough to take on prayer and fasting, we will be unequipped to fight the reality of evil in our midst and in our hearts. If the Spirit of God is to renew the face of earth, that will be done by creating saints in our day who will reveal the Father's mercy to a bitterly hurting and very confused world that does not know what will bring it peace. In Lent we repent of the sins in our own lives so that we can challenge our contemporaries to believe that society can be transfigured, and sin defeated. In that we can expect opposition from those who are the intolerant high priests of the new dogmas of illiberal liberalism, the secularising jihadis. But Jesus promises that those who walk with him will know resurrection and transfiguration. These powerful scriptural readings call us to be strong on our Lenten journey and not to fear opposition or the Cross. With St Paul we can say that our only boast is in the Cross of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

+ Donal McKeown

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