Bottom line: Our citizenship is heaven. In Jesus we find the country we long for, our true home.
This Sunday Jesus invites us to climb a mountain. He wants us to go with him, like Peter, James and John do, for this purpose - to pray. On that mountain Jesus gives Peter, James and John a glimpse of his glory. That experience prepares them for what is coming. Jesus desires to give us a similar experience - a brief look that will reveal our future. We may not have the same exact experience as Peter, James and John, but we do receive tiny glimpses of where we are going.
A writer who described these intimations was a Cambridge university professor named C.S. Lewis. He wrote about a "longing" that sometimes overcame him. It wasn't an ordinary craving or desire; it was a mysterious yearning triggered by some unexpected experience. He gives this evocative description:
that unamable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of a bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of The Well at the World's End, the opening lines of "Kubla Khan", the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.Now, a person might think, What's he talking about? Bonfires, cobwebs, ocean waves? These very personal examples might make someone scratch their head or even smile. I knew a guy who was like that. He scoffed at things that seemed "sentimental." One day, however, he mentioned to me (somewhat shyly) that he was going to purchase a certain DVD - not to watch the movie, but because he wanted hear again the song at the end of it. It had struck some cord deep inside him.
Almost everyone has that experience - something unexpected that sparks a profound yearning. This inner longing has a purpose. God placed it there to wake us to something beyond this world. You notice today that the after the three disciples received a glimpse of Jesus' glory, they fell silent and did not tell anyone what they had seen. This is not because they were introverts. They were normally quite talkative - especially Peter - but they fall silent. They saw something beyond words: a distant place, a future made present in Jesus. It was both hard to express and easy to misunderstand.
Besides being mysterious and difficult to articulate, the experience contains a danger. A person can start seeking the experience as an end it itself. We can imagine that something in this world will satisfy the inner longing. St. Paul warns about this danger in today's second reading. He speaks about those who "conduct themselves as enemies of the cross." (Phil 3:18) He explains that they have become enemies of the cross because they place their hopes in things of this world.
Then Paul surprises us by focusing on a sin we don't think very much about: gluttony. "Their god," says Paul, "is their stomach." Now, gluttony does not mean enjoying a good meal. And it doesn't have much to do with a person's waistline.* Gluttony is more subtle than that. I would like give you the eight signs that food has become a false idol:
--I plan my day around food. --I get irritated if I don't get the food I want, when I want it. --I insist on food being prepared "just right." --I never experience hunger because I am always eating junk food, --meanwhile, fruit and vegetables spoil in the fridge. --I choose fast food over a family meal. --I dive into food so quickly that I don't thank God by saying grace. And... --Instead of enjoying the meal I am eating, I am thinking about...my next meal!Gluttony is the picture of every other sin. You can define sin as the attempt to fill oneself with something other than God. That's why St. Paul says that the gluttons "conduct themselves as enemies of the cross. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; they glory in their shame. Their minds," he says, "are occupied with earthly things."
By way of contrast St. Paul says, "our citizenship is in heaven." As pastor of a parish with many immigrants, I often hear people say how they miss their country - the food, the rivers, the sunsets, family members and friends. Every immigrant desires to return to his home. But if he does, it does not fulfill his hopes. The hills are not as green as he imagined them to be, the family gathering does not result in the pure joy he hoped for. His country of course has changed, but the truth is this: The country he longs for is not Mexico or Ireland. The country for which he longs is heaven.
All of us feel a nostalgia, a sadness to deep to express. It's an ache for where we belong - our true country. We can try to anesthetize that ache - food, sex, drugs - those things promise relief, but deliver what St. Paul calls "destruction."
Today's Gospel offers a genuine alternative: To climb the mountain with Christ. There we hear Jesus tell about his "exodus" - that is, his suffering, death and resurrection. None of us wants to die. Woody Allen said, "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." We fear death, but perhaps even more, we fear dying to ourselves. I remember talking to a man who had a drinking problem. He knew it was destroying everything he valued - his family, his health, his future. But he told me that he just could not stand the thought of never drinking again. It was only when he finally died to that desire that he could really live.
It is easier said than done. In the Lord of the Rings, Frodo could not throw away the ring. It had to be torn from his hand - along with his ring finger. God sometimes has to take drastic measures so a person can achieve genuine freedom. He wants us to arrive at our true country - the home we yearn for.
A Presbyterian pastor named C.R. Wiley writes that "Christianity has always been the home of the homesick."** If you sense a longing that nothing in this world can satisfy, I invite you to continue the Lenten journey with us. In four weeks we will celebrate Palm Sunday - the beginning of Holy Week. We will immerse ourselves in what Jesus speaks about today - his Exodus. By dying with him - by dying to sin - we will find the purpose of our existence. Jesus, as St. Paul says, will "change our lowly body" and "bring all things into subjection."
Our citizenship is heaven. In Jesus we find the country we long for, our true home. Amen.
*St. Thomas Aquinas was quite stout (fat). So was G.K. Chesterton. But they were not gluttons. Chesterton did eat and drink a lot, but what saved him was his profound sense of gratitude and his joy, his irrepressible joy in God's creation.
**From "Lost & Found in the Cosmos - The Alternate & Alternative Worlds of H.P. Lovecraft and C.S. Lewis" in Touchstone Magazine, February 2013. The citations from Lewis come from that article.
From Archives (Year C homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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Seattle Men's Conference
March 2, 2013 at St. Mary of the Valley, Monroe
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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