Sunday Scripture reading, March 8, 2020: Do not be afraid
Second Sunday of Lent
1) Gn 12:1-4
Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
2) 2 Tm 1:8-10
Gospel: Mt 17:1-9
When World War II broke out in 1939, Karol Wojtyla, the future St. John Paul II, had just turned 19. At that point in his young life, he had lost his mother and his brother. His father would die soon after the war began, leaving the young Karol alone. During the chaotic destruction of his home country of Poland under Nazi occupation, Karol would be separated from close friends and trusted neighbors.
Under the Nazis, he experienced the humiliating conditions of forced manual labor in a stone quarry and chemical factory. When the war ended, Poland exchanged one oppressive regime of Nazism with another totalitarian system of communism. As a young man and then as a priest and bishop, Karol Wojtyla knew only tyrannical political systems and repressive social conditions.
Having experienced personally the fear and terror of war and the degrading conditions of life under oppressive political systems and totalitarian ideologies, his first words to the world on his election to the papacy were extraordinary. "Do not be afraid!" said St. John Paul in his inaugural homily, "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"
"Rise, and do not be afraid!" says Jesus to the disciples Peter, James and John in Matthew's account of Jesus' transfiguration on a high mountain. And as we ponder God's word on this Second Sunday of Lent, we might be surprised at the choice of this Gospel reading.
We might wonder why we read of Jesus' glorious transfiguration as his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light in the midst of the Lenten season when we prepare to enter into the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that Jesus' transfiguration was a foretaste of the kingdom of God that he came to bring to earth. The whole Trinity appears at the transfiguration: God the Father in his heavenly voice, his divine son Jesus in the flesh and the Holy Spirit in the shining cloud, just as was revealed at Jesus' baptism in the Jordan.
Before he began his public ministry, Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. Before his Passover on the cross, Jesus was transfigured so that the faith of the disciples would be strengthened to persevere through the events of his suffering and death on the cross. Jesus' transfigured body is a preview of our sharing in the Lord's resurrection through the Holy Spirit who acts in the sacraments of the church.
God's word invites us today to see that Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection are offered as the pattern of our daily life. Jesus walks closely with us on our journey of faith, showing us by the witness of his own life that we are made new, transfigured as it were, by conforming our lives to his way of self-giving love as we pray, "speak to me, Lord."
How does God's word strengthen your faith today?
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Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.