Happy St. Patrick's Day!
Our readings today show two stories of evil perpetrated. The question on many of our minds is how is there evil and suffering in the world, when we believe in an all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving God. It's really the most tangible and the only legitimate argument against the existence of God, and it has been around forever. St. Thomas Aquinas' answer follows St. Augustine before him, and he states, " As Augustine says (Enchir. xi): Since God is the highest good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of the infinite goodness of God, that He should allow evil to exist, and out of it produce good."* We experience evil and suffering in the world, but we also experience in our lives how God brings about good from it; not just good but a greater good.
Look at our saint today, the evil and suffering that St. Patrick endured for love of God became the transformation of an island of pagan druids. This island became a powerful hub of Christian evangelization for centuries to come. Joseph in our first reading endured suffering and evil at the hands of his brothers and God brought about through him the salvation of his brothers and the whole empire from famine. Our Gospel is a parable that tells the story of Jesus. The greatest evil committed and the greatest suffering endured was Jesus, the God-Man, dying on the Cross. God, from this greatest of evils brings forth the salvation of the world, the opening of Heaven, and the reconciliation of sinful man with the God of Love.
As St. Paul writes, "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." Will we keep our eyes on Heaven and trust in the God who is love, to bring about in our daily suffering and struggle the good of our salvation, the grace of our sanctification, and the salvation of others?
*Thomas Aquinas. (I q.2 a.3 ad 1). Summa theologica. (Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Trans.). London: Burns Oates & Washbourne.
Immediately before today's gospel is Peter's profession of faith that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus then pronounces that He must suffer greatly, be killed, and on the third day be raised. Peter declares this shall never happen. Jesus rebukes him and says that Peter is thinking like Satan not like God. Jesus then further elaborates what it means to pick up one's cross daily and follow Him. For what does it profit a person to gain the whole world and yet lose their soul?
That brings us to today's gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain with Peter, James, and John present. As Jesus was transfigured before them Moses and Elijah appear and are conversing with Jesus. St. Luke's Gospel tells us that they were speaking of Jesus' exodus that He would accomplish at Jerusalem. Jesus is between Moses and Elijah because He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The exodus of Moses was an earthly exodus from slavery to Egypt. Jesus as is shown by the transfiguration is the leader of the heavenly exodus. The exodus Jesus will accomplish will lead us out of slavery to sin and death. Jesus will lead us to our true and everlasting homeland, Heaven.
The exodus of old, included the sacrifice of an unblemished lamb, blood, a meal, etc. Jesus will accomplish His exodus as the sacrifice, the unblemished Lamb of God, He will inaugurate this new exodus, this new covenant, by shedding His Precious Blood. And we will partake of this sacrifice by Jesus feeding us with His very Body and Blood. He sets us free from sin and death and opens for us the Heavenly Homeland for which we long.
Jesus prepares His apostles for His passion, death, and resurrection by His appearing in glory. Let us enter deeply into this Gospel narrative and experience for ourselves the glory of God hidden, so to speak, in the God-Man, Jesus Christ, and unveiled for us on the mountain. More importantly, let us through a deep act of faith recognize the glory of God hidden in the Most Holy Eucharist, veiled by the sacramental signs of bread and wine. Ask God to give you deep faith and trust in the truth that just as the meeting of heaven and earth has shown forth in Jesus on the mountain, so at each Mass heaven and earth touch as Jesus becomes really, truly, and substantially present in the Eucharist.
If you want to prepare well this Lent to celebrate the Paschal Mystery, deepen your faith in the power of the Eucharist and receive Jesus worthily in Communion as often as you can come to Mass each week. Pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament as often as you can. Read a book about the Eucharist or the Mass. Jesus' transfiguration prepared the Apostles for His passion and death, and pointed to the Resurrection. The Eucharist is the food that applies to us the fruits of the Resurrection as we journey through this valley of tears. The Transfiguration helps us keep our eyes of faith focused on the end game - knowing that sin and death do not have the last word. And eternal life begins in this life in the Eucharist where heaven touches earth. What greater gift could you imagine?
Today's Gospel can be a difficult one for some of us. We all have situations for which we have asked something of God and did not receive it. How are we to reconcile our experience with this command and promise of Jesus?
I offer a couple of ideas for your own prayerful consideration. First, Jesus puts these three actions together: ask, seek, and knock. It seems to me that we have to do all three to really enter into the prayer that Jesus is calling us to. We must ask for the answer to our prayer, we must seek to entrust ourselves to God's will, and we must knock on the door of God's heart through our persistence. When all three of these actions make up our prayer we are better equipped to understand God's answer, especially if it is not the one we wanted. The three actions are acts of faith and trust in the Providential Wisdom of God.
Second, I believe that we have to see God as a loving Father. A Father who wants to give His children what they need. What follows is a terribly weak analogy but worth considering: imagine a little child who needs a surgery but does not want it, is scared, and begs his daddy not to let it happen. His dad is heart broken but knows what is best for his child and has to do it for the ultimate good of his child. I believe faith and trust compel us to believe that God has a higher and more profound vantage point than we do, and that He only wants what is best for our ultimate good, which is our salvation.
I do not think either one of these is the answer to the difficulty, but I do believe it gives us a starting point for trying to understand God's mysterious providence at work in our lives. If you are angry with God because He did not answer your prayer the way you wanted Him to answer it, please do not leave it at that. Bring it to prayer, talk to Him about the situation, about your anger, and allow Him to give you the answer. Continue to pray (talk to God) about the unanswered prayer, and trust that He desires your ultimate good. Keep asking, seeking, and knocking.
Daily Lenten reflections by Father Browning.