Ars Praedicandi: Ed Foley’s Homily on the Second Sunday in Lent

Second Sunday in Lent, Year C
by Fr. Edward Foley, Capuchin

Over a week ago, I contacted the liturgy team at OSP
asking about what we would be celebrating at this Mass

Yesterday was a St. Paddy’s day blowout here
and the 1:00 on the Sunday after St. Patrick’s day is always
the big Green liturgical Machine

However, other Sunday Masses on the St. Paddy’s day weekend
follow the Lenten calendar
but I don’t ever remember a Lenten Sunday
falling precisely on the 17th of March
so wasn’t sure if I’d would be wearing the green this morning
and, quite frankly, was a little disappointed to learn
that we’d be donning the purple instead

On the other hand, the interplay of St. Patrick and St. Luke
Shamrocks and Transfiguration
is both a potent and promising juxtaposition
that might lead us to unexpected insights and mission

In many ways the story of the transfiguration is a bit mystifying
being “transfigured” is ordinarily not part
of our daily discourse, or bucket list
To try to demystify the term I turned to a favorite source
the Oxford English Dictionary
which was actually less helpful
than its accompanying thesaurus
The thesaurus provided 10 synonyms for transfiguration
including: conversion
transformation, mutation, metamorphosis
and, my personal favorite, transmogrification
Welcome to the feast of transmogrification

Besides the linguistic tickle that comes from just saying it
the term transmogrification also triggered chuckles
since the only place I have encountered it before
is in the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

Calvin invented a transmogrifier–an upside down cardboard box
that allowed Calvin to turn Hobbes or himself
into quite an array of critters

The only problem is that while Calvin & Hobbes
saw themselves completely transformed
everybody else just saw him as the same kid & stuffed toy
So much for transmogrification

Most of us would probably be as frustrated as Calvin
if we went through our own transmogrifier
and people didn’t see the change

If we spent all those hours at the gym
or in the library
or at the hairstylist
or at the computer

and our sweethearts or teachers
spouses or bosses
didn’t see us any svelter or any smarter
any more beautiful or any more productive …

Similarly, when it comes to Lent
and we cut back on the candy and the cabernet
the snacks and the sweets
we sometimes hope at the end of this transmogrifying season
God might see us a little differently, more graciously
with the side benefit
of looking a little slimmer in the mirror & lighter on the scale
when Easter rolls around

Transfigured … transmogrified … transformed
the easy part is the outside
St. Patrick’s day makes that point
Throw on an emerald sweater
drink a little green beer
drink too much green beer and get a shamrock tattoo
and all of a sudden you’re Irish … at least until Monday morning

Luke gives us a different image of holy transformation
the firstborn of all creation
shining like the sun
not just on today’s mountain top
but in so many ways in Luke’s gospel

But often with a fate similar to Calvin
whose transformation was not seen, understood
or fully embraced

Jesus’ divinity momentarily shone to shepherds and Magi
but was soon chased into exile by a Herod
who wanted no one to outshine him
Jesus’ prophetic gift glimmered from his hometown pulpit
but his inspired word advocating freedom and justice
quickly triggered rage and rejection
in a community who believed they knew a better God

And in today’s gospel he shines in the presence of Moses & Elijah
radiant as the new law giver, the new prophet
but drowsy Peter, on cue, misses the point … again!
and hopes for a tent city in the glow of this amazing warmth

Maybe one of the ways to plumb the depths
of this transmogrifying gospel
is to attend to a central yet often overlooked character
in this Lukan mini-drama
not Peter or Elijah or Moses
instead the meteorologically elusive cloud & shadow

It was from the cloud that the divine voice emanated
obscuring visual cues and distracting appearances
clearly proclaiming the heart of the matter
as God’s voice is usually want to do.

Yet while the cloud was a source of intimate revelation
it also cast a telling, prophetic shadow

Prefiguring the descent down the mountain
and the long journey towards Jerusalem
where storm clouds gathered on the religious horizon
leading to that most grim of transfigurations
Jesus on the jib of a tree in the place called Golgotha.

Barbara Brown Taylor is a favorite poet and preacher
In her book Home by Another Way, she writes about those shadowy and cloudy spaces … she calls them “thin places”
A couple of summers ago, my husband Ed and I went to Ireland. We both have roots there. It is that Celtic sense of place that is so appealing – of holy trees, holy wells, holy mountains – ‘thin places’ as the Irish call them – places where the veil between this world and the next is so sheer that it is easy to step through…
You can be walking down an ordinary country lane and all of a sudden see a footpath leading off to the left. Follow it for a couple of hundred feet and you come to a little mossy hole full of crystal clear water. It would be easy to mistake it for an ordinary little watering hole if it were not for the tidy bank of stones around it, set there hundreds of years ago by people who recognized a ‘thin place’ right there in the middle of a sheep pasture…. you can sometimes feel it for yourself – a freshness that drenches you as thoroughly as a shower…. Simply to stand near is to experience living water. [1]

Thin places abound, and not just in Ireland
They are doors ready for opening … invitations to grace

This past week I received a letter from a young relative
who has spent 20 years in prison for an accident she caused
when she was 19 years old … resulting in 3 deaths

She has recently moved out of prison into a halfway house
While her letter was filled with firsts
e.g., the first automatic towel dispenser
that completely startled her
she also narrated a small but touching vignette

On her first day going to work, she rode in a van
sitting closest to the door.
She wrote: “when the van stopped, I just sat there
My coworker said, ‘You can open the door and get out’
I didn’t know … the prison vans are always locked
and they have to let me out
but that day I opened the door
and from that point on I was free!”

Who ever imagined a van door as a thin space
and permission to open that door a graced veil pulling
an invitation into freedom.

Thin places can be venues of holy revelation
like a mountaintop in Palestine
or a van door in South Carolina

Thin places, however, can also open in the opposite direction
and be portals to violence, even the demonic
rending the thin line between respect and disrespect
between humanity and inhumanity
between life giving and death dealing

For months we have been pondering our southern boarder
as a “thin space” of grace and malpractice
where redemption is achieved, and dreams are dashed

Then recently, tragically two mosques in New Zealand
mystical spaces where humans and Allah hold holy discourse
thin spaces between Abrahamic believers and God
became ground zero
for the thinning space between tolerance & bigotry

And in the violation of that boundary
scores died, a country was scarred,
a world religion was traumatized
and humanity was grievously wounded

Instead of pulling back the veil on the beauty of the beloved
this curtain was drawn on the ugliness of racial arrogance

In 1997 Stephen Spielberg directed the movie Amistad
It was based on a true story of a slave ship in 1839
when the Mende tribesmen who were being sold into slavery
rebelled and took control of their captor’s ship
Though they attempted to sail back to Africa
instead they were captured in U.S. waters
and imprisoned as escaped slaves

An epic legal battle ensued
with at least four litigants claiming
that the slaves were their rightful property

The case eventually made its way to the Supreme court
where none other than former president John Quincy Adams
defends the Africans

In a penultimate scene before the court case opens
Adams tries to explain to the Mende leader, Cinque
how difficult this process is going to be

In that dialogue Adams says,

Cinque, look. I’m being honest with you. Anything less would be disrespectful. I’m telling you, I’m preparing you, I suppose I’m explaining to you, that the test ahead of us is an exceptionally difficult one.

Cinque: (speaking through a translator) We won’t be going in there alone.

John Quincy Adams: Alone? Indeed not. We have right at our side. We have righteousness at our side. We have Mr. Baldwin over there.

Cinque: (speaking through a translator) I meant my ancestors. I will call into the past, far back to the beginning of time, and beg them to come and help me at the judgment. I will reach back and draw them into me. And they must come, for at this moment, I am the whole reason they have existed at all.

On this St. Patrick’s day
many summon Celtic ancestry to revel in their Irish heritage

But Christians, on this transfiguring Sunday
summon the first born of all Creation,
the invincible son of justice – our life-giving ancestor

Who birthed us as church
as he hung on the cross
and blood and water flowed from his side on the cross

In the terrible beauty of that ultimate transfiguration
as the only begotten literally hung
in that thin space between heaven and earth
we the baptized were missioned
to inhabit every thin space
especially those where the vulnerable
the lost
the broken and the oppressed dwell
whether in Christchurch New Zealand
or on the streets of Chicago

We are missioned to pull back the veil in such spaces
denouncing the arrogance of bigotry
and acknowledging every human being
as created in God’s image

In this season of transformation, we are missioned
to uphold the belovedness of every Muslim and Jew
Hindu and Sikh, Buddhist and agnostic
and so be the living presence of Christ in the world

For in truth, in this place, at this moment,
Christianity itself can be imaged as a symbol
of why our divine Ancestor Jesus became human at all
why the incarnation itself even occurred
and the pivotal way that transfiguring mystery
will continue to be recognized
through Christ our Lord.



References:
[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Home by Another Way (Lantham MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 58-9.

Featured Image by Armando Alemdar Ara (2004)

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