Second Sunday of Lent
A Hero Does Not Shed Tears Without A Reason
Only for the Kingdom of Heaven Will He Weep for the Church
First Reading: (Gen 15: 5-12, 17-18) The Lord made a Covenant with Abraham
Second Reading: (Phil 3: 17-21, 4:1) Paul worried about the conduct of the faithful
Gospel (Lk 9: 28-36) Jesus is Transfigured
-“Walk and hum along the swamps, with a sorrow-laden countenance and an emaciated appearance” (1)
-“Investigating circumstances about heaven and man, understanding changes in the past and present, he succeeded in establishing a school of thought” (2)
-“With the stroke of his pen the Sage of Poetry wrote about the sores and disfiguration of the people, the ills and suffering of mankind.” (3)
“Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” (Phil 3: 17-20)
These are words of St. Paul, one of the great Apostles of the Church. They are an appeal written to some of the people in the Church whom he loved dearly, an appeal written with tears, a strong condemnation written from the depth of his love for them. They are words written with extreme sorrow.
We are accustomed to calling the church “the Holy Catholic Church,” and that is correct.
This is because our 'Lord and Savior' who established the Church is Christ who is Holy; our Church has the 'Sacraments' which nourish our spiritual lives; we have the 'Ten Commandments' which guide us to heaven, and we have 'all the necessary means' to enable us to become saints, or holy people. But after Vatican Council II we have learned also to call ourselves 'the Church of sinners' because although the Church indeed is holy, those who make up the Church are sinful people.
The church's self-understanding of sin may be made clear from the example cited here. At the beginning of Lent 2000, the Millenium year called a Jubilee Year by the Church, Pope John Paul II issued a manifesto termed “Remembrance and Reconciliation: the Church and Past Mistakes.” At an historical liturgical ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica, he publicly begged God's forgiveness for the Church's past sins and before the entire world expressed repentance. Actually, at the beginning of every Mass the Church recites the 'Confiteor' a prayer of repentance for sin, showing clearly it is aware of the nature of its sinfulness.
It was in facing these sins, - the sins of the Church and of Christians - that led St. Paul to make his appeal 'with tears.'
There are many compassionate people in the world who care about the world and are attentive to its needs. They are filled with kindness and are able to identify with the sufferings of others. With someone who has drowned they feel drowned, with the hungry they feel the pangs of hunger.
In Chinese history there were people who were sad and worried about the rise and fall of their country. For example, there was Qu Yuan who “walked and hummed along the swamps with a sorrow-laden countenance and an emaciated appearance”(1). There was Si Ma Qian who for the sake of “investigating circumstances about heaven and man, and understanding changes in the past and present, succeeded in establishing a school of thought” (2) He willingly and meekly accepted abuses so that Chinese culture would have a chance to continue. There was also the great poet Du Fu who cared about the fate of the people and sympathized with their distress. He, the Sage of Poetry, with the stroke of his pen, wrote about “the sores and disfiguration of the people, the ills and suffering of mankind.” (3)
Perhaps the more kind-hearted people are, the more they feel the uncertainty of life and the pain and suffering of others. Psychologists have discovered that an important measure of a person’s maturity is whether or not the person is able to be concerned about oneself, about others, one's country and ethnicity, and whether or not they can put aside their own worries and shoulder the burden of history.
In today's reading Paul shows this characteristic. He was extremely anxious about God, Jesus, the Church and the ideals of the faith. Faced with those whose faith had not matured or even had become counter-witnesses, all he could do was tearfully appeal to them over and over and warn them with a sorrowful yet loving heart.
The Church that Paul entered was a Church full of idealism. Jesus became incarnate in order to establish the kingdom of heaven, so that God's will would be carried out among human beings 'as it is in heaven.' The Church then is the builder of that kingdom, members are 'workers' for the kingdom. So actually the faithful should be a group of people with high aspirations and strong faith, filled with the spirit of Christ. The Church certainly is not a 'village association' or a social club. The faithful are not a group of people who register for membership in a club. Even less are they looking for fame or money, or want to form cliques to pursue their own advantage.
However, what Paul saw in some of the Christians was “enemies of the cross of Christ, their god is the belly: and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.”
A person like Paul who had devoted his whole life to Christ, was like Confucius who loved the people and cared about the destiny of the world. Paul hoped that his Church would be a perfect Church and his companions would be full of life and enthusiasm. But the cruel truth was that what he saw was some who externally shared the same faith as he but acted in ways totally opposite. How could he help but worry so much?
Incidents like this will surely happen in 'a Church of sinners,' not only now but always. The only way to face them is to remind ourselves that “our citizenship is in heaven.” We must learn that although we live in the world, we do not belong to the world. While affirming this world we must remember there is another world beyond this one. While involved deeply in this world, we must focus on eternity and raise our sights to heaven.
Perhaps this is the only way we can reconcile the contradictions between the ideal and reality. In such a seemingly helpless situation, we are able in this way to find the indistinguishable, everlasting flame that gives us unshakable hope.