"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

2nd Sunday of Lent (A) March 8, 2020

Genesis 12: 1-4a; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

Welcome: to the latest email recipients of "First Impressions," the parishioners of San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey, Ca.


A friend told a group of us this story about a business man he knows. Seems the man was on one more flight to a meeting, something he does a lot. "I have so many frequent flyer miles on my airline, they should give me a share in it," he said. He knows the routine by heart. Before he boards he gets the day’s financial newspaper and a cup of coffee, then, once on board, he stows away his carry-on luggage and settles into his seat. He fastens his safety belt, sips his coffee, reads the newspaper and reviews his notes for the meeting he is going to. The flight attendant gives the usual safety instructions, which he ignores, because he knows them by heart.

"Same old, same old," he says, with the attitude of a seasoned traveler.

Except for one flight he took recently. He said that as they were getting close to landing, the previously chatty voice of the pilot came on over the speaker system – but now with a solemn tone. "We may have a problem, ladies and gentlemen. We are not sure the landing gear has come down. We will need to circle for a while, expel fuel and then try to land." The flight attendants stood up and reviewed the all-too-familiar landing instructions, adding an extra part about taking an emergency-landing position, which required bending forward and wrapping one’s arms around the lower legs. The man said, "We were all ears, noting where the emergency doors were and the floor lighting leading to the exits, making sure our seat belts were securely fastened and getting the emergency posture just right." He finished the story by saying, "I could see the fire engines lining up along the field, and I knew that following the instructions could mean the difference between life and death." Needless to say, the landing gear did come down, all went well. But who could miss the message about the importance of listening and following the guiding voice of one who has your best interests at heart?

Words spoken to us at a crucial time could mean the difference between life and death; between having a more meaningful life, or just living through the days in a superficial way without direction – a kind of death, don’t you agree?

The disciples went to an out-of-the-way place, a mountain top, with the Lord. It is quiet there and they can see for a great distance. There things could be put into focus for them; there they can get perspective. More than they expected, for on the mountain that day they got a momentary glimpse into how special Jesus was. A voice, a really big voice, guides them, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to him." Like those disciples, we have come apart for a while today, with other disciples and the same voice is encouraging us, "Listen to him." But we must listen not just the words and sentences he speaks, because a person also speaks by actions. Jesus’ words and actions will tell us about God and about ourselves; but also about forgiveness, compassion and our responsibility to spread what we have heard.

The One on the mountain who speaks to us today and directs us to Jesus, is on our side, speaking for our well-being and happiness. The voice directs us to Jesus, to listen and observe what we see and hear. But there are so many competing voices around us, trying to get us to listen to other messages and to act in other-than Jesus’ ways. With so many contrary voices distracting us, some we have even given into, Lent is a good time to have our hearing checked. It is a time to unplug our ears and try listening afresh. In Lent we can make it a daily habit to ask, "What is Christ saying to me in the people and events of this day?" Lent is when we try to take his words to heart and examine our lives through his perspective, based on what we have heard and observed in the gospels.

So, for example, in the light of Jesus’ words, is what I call a "successful life," really that? By whose standards? What I label "blessings" are they really from God’s hands, or just the fruit of my hard word, without much thought to Christ? Does what I name "happiness" have a deep and secure base in my life, or is it just a transitory feeling, with very shallow roots, easily lost or ripped out of my hands? On the other hand, what some might call "failure" may produce the deepest joy for me. Or, the death of a dream, may be the opening of a door to a whole other perspective and way of living.

Lent is "hearing-test time." Just like the man on the plane, it is time to "listen-up." Someone is speaking to me right now about the details of my life and I need to pay attention. That Someone has my well being at heart. After all, who wants to wake up someday at a place, or stage in life and say, "How on earth did I get here?" Who wants to come to the late realization, "I have been flying around in circles like a jet on automatic pilot and I feel like I am running out of fuel!" In particular, I don’t want to come towards the end of my life and ask, in the words of that old ballad, "Is that all there is?"

No, we all need Lent and a chance to clear our ears and check which voices hold sway over our lives. Listen to their incessant chant, "Success....." "Competition...." "Win...." Get...." More...." etc. When you come right down to it, there is no satisfaction in those voices. No matter how much we try to respond to them and give them what they want to quiet them, we can’t. We feed them, they quiet for a moment and before long they are at it again, "More, more, more." Sooner or later, we risk disillusion.

We have this mountain-gospel story. How can we respond to it? Should we go off to the Rockies, sit there and wait for a vision? Go to a desert on a "vision quest" and don’t come back till we get one? That would be nice, but not really possible. Maybe someday. But in the meanwhile, we can bring the mountain here, to where we are now in our lives. In fact, at this liturgical celebration, we are on that mountain now. We are trying to be attentive to hungers we feel in our hearts, the incompletion we sense in our lives. With those realities before us, we stop our busy lives and come apart to hear what God wants to say to us, to receive the daily bread that will nourish us. We do that each time we gather as a community in church, but especially these Lenten days when we want to follow the Voice that draws us to Jesus and invites us to listen to him. We know that Voice has our best interests at heart.

If we wanted to be even more intentional, we could put some moments aside each day for deliberate listening. Just say the ancient prayer, "Speak Lord, your servant is listening." And then try to be quiet. We might spend a few moments a day in prayerful reading of the scriptures, for example, the upcoming readings – click on the link below. Are there special classes offered at the church during Lent? – that would be another listening post. The possibilities are numerous, if we imagine Lent as a mountaintop time during which God has something good to say to us.

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/030820.cfm