February 20, 2005 Second Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Genesis 12:1-4a) Reading II (2 Timothy 1:8b-10)
Gospel (St. Matthew 17:1-9)
In the first reading today, we hear about an extraordinary event in the life of the man who is called our father in faith: Abram. Before his name was changed to Abraham, God spoke to him when he was a pagan living in a pagan land. It was before there was even a Promised Land because it was to Abraham that the promise of the land of Israel was made. God speaks to Abram and tells him simply to go forth from the land of his fathers to a land that he will be shown, and Abram has to make an act of complete trust in God. The Lord did not tell Abram where he was going to go. There was not a roadmap; there was not even so much as a mention of where the land was that He was talking about. Was it north, south, east, or west? No one knew. Abram simply was told that God would show him where it was that He wanted him to go. He had to trust; he had to trust completely in God at every step of the way because he did not know if it was even the right direction. He just simply had to trust that God would put him on the path that he was supposed to be on. If he had to go someplace different, if he had to turn a different direction, then he would trust that God would provide and tell him that he needed to change direction. When we hear about Abraham, we hear that because of his faith he was going to be blessed; and all the nations of the earth, the Lord says, would be blessed in him. It was because he believed the Lord and he trusted Him.
We have heard the story many times of what Abraham did, so perhaps sometimes we lose perspective of the difficulty that was placed before him. Imagine if the Lord were to suggest to you today that you had to pack everything up and just go. You do not know where you are going; you just need to go. He will tell you, when you are on the way, where you are supposed to go next. Your spouse probably would not think too highly of your idea. Your kids might not be too impressed. You see the difficulty of leaving everything behind, family and friends. You do not have a job because you do not even know where you are going. You have no idea how it is going to work and where you are even going to be. That is what the Lord was asking of Abraham, and it was because of his faith in God and his complete trust that he was blessed.
Now we could look at that and say, “Thanks be to God! That’s not happening to me!” Something far greater is happening in you. When we read the second reading, Saint Paul tells us that God called us before the world began. It is no coincidence that you have faith – it is the grace of God. But He is not calling you just to simply stay where you are at because Saint Paul says that He is calling us to a holy life. And so the Lord is asking us to leave behind the land of our fathers, that is, the materialism, the selfishness, the sinfulness, all the things that this world has to offer. He is asking us to leave it behind and to go on a journey which is much more treacherous than the one that Abraham was on. If we read the story of Abraham, we know that in order to get to the Holy Land he had to go over mountains, he had to go through deep valleys, he had to cross deserts. It was not an easy journey. But the journey into your own heart is far more treacherous because even though Abraham did not know where it was that he was supposed to go, he could see what was in front of him, and we cannot.
We might be tempted to say, “If only I knew what God wanted me to do; if I could hear Him, if I could see Him, if I could touch Him, if I had something that my senses could wrap around so that I could know that God is asking me to do this!” It would not make any difference. Look at the Gospel. The disciples of Jesus heard the voice of God from a cloud. On the way down the mountain, Jesus Himself told them about the Resurrection. When it came time for Our Lord’s Passion, where were they? When the Resurrection happened, what occurred with the apostles? Saint Mary Magdalene came and spoke to them and told them that the Lord had risen, that she had seen an angel. They did not believe her. They had been told by Our Lord that that was what was going to happen, and they still did not believe. Abraham was told by God what was going to happen, and when it did not happen the way that he thought it should, he took matters into his own hands. If you go back and you read the story of Abraham, every single time that Abraham tried to do it his own way, it blew up in his face. It backfired every single time.
But we still want some sort of assurance. We have it; it is right there. The Lord has called each one of us by name, and He is calling us to Himself. He Himself is the Promised Land to which we are called and toward which we are traveling. He dwells in the very depths of our being, at the center of our souls. He is asking us to leave this sensual world behind and to enter into our own self and to seek union with Him. That requires a huge amount of trust because we do not know where we are going, we do not know what we are going to encounter. What we do know is that there are going to be some difficult hills to climb, there will be some very deep valleys we will have to walk through, there are going to be huge deserts that we will have to cross. And we might think that if we just heard from God …
If we had that, it would not work; it would not make any difference. All that those external things do is to help us for the moment. We can all look back, and I suspect in our lives there has been here or there some extraordinary occurrence that has taken place; Our Lord has shown Himself in some profound way here or there. Yet how much have we paid attention to it? It might have helped us to get on track, but it does not keep us there. All of us should know well enough what happens when we try to do it our own way. Just think of the last time you were in the line of Confession – that is what you did your own way. Every sin that we commit is when we take things into our own hands and we do it our way instead of God’s way.
The fact of the matter is that we do not trust God, and we would claim that we do not trust Him because we cannot see Him, because we cannot hear Him, because we cannot touch Him. You know what? We do not trust the people that we can see and touch and hear. The problem is that we want to be in control. It is not about seeing and touching and hearing – because God is perfectly trustworthy – the problem is that we are afraid. And because we are afraid, we want to control everything. But again, look at what happens every time we try to control it; just like Abraham, it blows up in our face. If we trust God, He will lead us every single step of the way. We do not need to worry. We do not need to be afraid. All we have to do is let go and trust.
Now to say that that is all we have to do sounds real easy. It is one of the single most difficult things that we will ever do. But God’s call is irrevocable, Saint Paul says, and He has called you. He has called you individually, in Jesus Christ from before the world began, to be holy. If we look back at Abraham, if we look at the apostles, if we look at any of the saints, God called them and they had a choice. God will never, ever force you to do anything. They had to make a choice: Were they going to do it God’s way, or were they not? Was Abraham going to follow where God was calling him to lead, or was he going to say no? Abraham could have just simply said, “I’m going to stay here. It’s more comfortable, I know all the people, my life is pretty well set; it’s not a problem, I’ll just stay right where I am.” But he made an act of faith. He trusted God and he went.
All of us can do the same thing. Each one of us has been called and we have a choice to say yes or to say no. We can say, “You know what? I want to be just like everyone else. I want to stay right where I am, right here in the sensual world. I have my TV, I have my games, I have my music, I have my fun. I have all the stuff for my senses that I want. It’s comfortable and it’s easy. I don’t want to go.” The Lord will not force you but He has called you, and you have to make the choice. Are you willing to leave behind all of those things of the senses? all of those things that you will not be able to take with you anyway? all of those things that lead you into sin (but they are fun)? Are we willing to leave all of that behind and follow where God is leading us to go, where He has called us to go? into the spiritual world, into the depths of our hearts, into the Promised Land, into union with Himself?
That is what we have. We do not know what it is going to require on the inside. He is not going to tell us; He is not going to give us a roadmap. He is going to say to us, “Come…but trust. Make an act of faith and leave everything behind and walk. I will show you at each step where you’re supposed to go. I will tell you when you’re supposed to turn. Trust that I will provide for everything you’re going to need.” We get uncomfortable with that, but that is the call. It is a call similar to that which Abraham received, and when he said yes he was blessed. And so will we be if we trust the Lord, if we say yes, if we accept the call and we make an act of trust and we allow God to be in control and we simply follow where He will lead us into the depths of our souls and into union with Himself.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording with minimal editing.