Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
Divorced and Widowed Conference
Blanchette Catholic Center – Crest Hill, IL
The birth of glory is received in grief, and the worst kind of grief comes after losing the ones we have loved and, worse still, the ones who have loved us.
My prayer is that you all have known the experience of great support and the power of friendship as you have moved through these losses. You are aware, of course, that no amount of friendship or support can definitively answer those questions which begin to burn in our hearts when, although surrounded by so much love, we find ourselves alone.
Will life ever be the same? Will I ever be joyful again? Will I ever be carefree?
In the case of someone dying, there is the total absence of a personality which once filled the whole world. Divorce is different; in its wake, two people are left to grieve the loss of a relationship, and often times a very dear friendship, but the one they used to turn to in these times is the one who is gone.
In either case, and I think you will agree, there has been a death; someone or something, much more than a physical body or physical presence, has died.
Some of the more cynical among us might agree with certain modern biologists who posit that life is simply the movement toward death, and that death is self- understood, self-explaining, and that its meaning is readily evident. Perhaps this is insensitive, but I seriously doubt any of you would attend this kind of day if that were true.
“Is death self-understood? If it were, we should accept it with a sense, however heavy, of fulfillment. Where is there such a death? True, here or there we find someone who sacrifices his life for some great cause; or another who has grown weary of the burden of life and accepts death with a sense of relief. But does the man exist who, from the very essence of his vitality, consents to death? I have never met him, and what I have heard of him was [nonsense]…Death is not self- understood, and every attempt to make it so ends in immeasurable melancholy.” (Romano Guardidi, The Lord, 272-273)
The Gospel this afternoon is Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, when Jesus takes Peter, James, and John high up on a mountain and becomes dazzlingly white, utterly radiant before them. Peter’s response is to lock on to the moment, to build tents, and to remain there; Luke tells us that Peter “did not know what he was saying.”
Every time Jesus revealed a little of who he was, or of what he came to do, or of what he must undergo for that to come to fruition, the disciples become confused or, sometimes, indignant. They understood that the Messiah would be received in glory, but they had no idea what kind of glory or at what cost. “…the idea of a dying Messiah was simply inconceivable; yet even less conceivable must have been the idea of the Resurrection.” (Guardini, 270) Clarity of what Jesus meant when he said that he must suffer, die, and on the third day be raised would only become evident on Easter when they approached the tomb and were questioned by the angel, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?” The angel continues, “He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he spoke to you while he was yet in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise.” (Lk. 24:5-8)
In every case, in every prediction, in every fulfillment, one thing is clear: “for Jesus, there was no such thing as death alone. He accepted his death, spoke of it with increasing incisiveness, but always inseparably bound to resurrection.” (271)
You have come here to seek the living one. In the midst of your death, of your pain, of your grief, you have come to seek the one who lives now in glory. The one who wishes to extend to you, even now, and even if for now incompletely, a taste of this glory. The birth of glory is received in grief.
Everything that Jesus does in his incarnate life is a prefigurement of what is being promised to us. “The Transfiguration is the summer lightning” – the gentle, easy, soft-glowing light on the horizon of our night – “is the summer lighting of the coming Resurrection. Also of our own resurrection, for we too are to partake the transfigured life.”
What is being offered to each of you, to all of us, in our moments of grief is nothing less than the glory of God. This is your cross, this grief is your cross, and there are two choices now: throw it down and walk away, or pick it up and move slowly toward healing and freedom and life.
My own parents have been divorced since I was 13. I used to think that I escaped from this experience unscathed. After all, I wasn’t in jail, I wasn’t on drugs, and I didn’t flunk out schools; my pain did not match the statistical pain of other divorce kids. What I found, though, as I went through seminary is that the way I formed and maintained relationships was not built on authenticity or vulnerability, but on one phrase: “please just don’t leave me.”
I had to confront this mindset through counseling, spiritual direction, friendship, and some frank conversations with my parents and brother before healing could be achieved and I could begin to sense the dawn of glory coming up over the dark horizon of my life.
It hurt, it was painful, but I knew he was with me. I didn’t believe it the first time I heard on a retreat that “the birth of glory is received in grief.” I don’t think I wanted to believe it because it meant that before healing could come there’d have to be a little bit more pain, and I wasn’t ready for that when I was young.
But when the time was right, and in the way that was best, Jesus, through his Spirit, nudged me toward self-knowledge, toward grieving this thing that was in every way a death. What had to die? My idea of a perfect family, my idea of having the perfect parents, my idea of having the relationship with my family that we see in movies where, despite the conflict, everything comes together in the end and we all go on playing Yahtzee and Clue until the screen fades to black. Those were legitimate expectations and they had to legitimately be grieved.
Something earthly has happened to you, to you each of you, and now today, in this moment in this chapel, something heavenly is being born in you. Something new is being done for you, something new is beginning in you. The birth of glory is received in grief, and we must receive the love of God in faith and hope.
Remember the words of Paul today,
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
He has brought your pain, your experience, into subjection to himself. So there is no longer a need for worry or anxiety because even the most painful, and perhaps shameful, thing that has ever happened to you is now in the care of Jesus Christ, the Transfigured One, the Risen One.
In the Eucharist this evening, you will receive in faith and hope the one whom you have come here to seek; you will find that he has come so close to you as to be received physically in your body. My prayer is that this power and presence of Jesus fills you with a sense of hope; may he show you that the rest of your life is only beginning to unfold before you, that the glimmer of light you see on the horizon, that “summer lightning”, is not the sign of another violent storm but of a peaceful morning; when the sun rises, and, on Easter, when the Son Rises, perhaps we won’t feel so alone.
May God bless you.