The season of Lent is, more than any other, a period in which the Word of God invites us to set out on a journey. An “important time”- our deputy parish priest, Fr. Paolo reminded us when we were young – many years ago, when he prepared a true and proper “agenda” for Advent and Lent for every one of us, with references to Readings for each day. He aimed to give us a useful tool to encourage us to read the Bible more often than at other times during the liturgical year.
The journey, the vocation to which God calls us, does not always seem straightforward. On the contrary, it requires us to take a “ leap in the dark”. I have always been struck by Abraham’s experience; he went out leaving everything and everyone behind and, as the Letter to the Hebrews points out subsequently, “by faith” he obeyed God “and went out not knowing where he was to go”. Here a fundamental aspect of the journey into faith comes into play: trust, confidence, in God. Many of us have no doubt that God exists and believe that Jesus Christ is His Son, the Saviour who came into this world to redeem us, the firstfruits of the Resurrection which we, too, will experience. But there is a huge leap to be made from our faith in Jesus Christ to unconditional trust and confidence in Him.
This is often the weakness in our faith: to trust God and entrust ourselves unconditionally to Him. Trust which God mapped out from the minute he became flesh as a defenceless child, who could only live if cared for and loved by Mary and Joseph. God himself was the first to make an act of trust towards men and women, first creating them and then descending into the womb of Mary, entrusting himself into the hands of a family, “an ordinary family”, which in turn placed its trust in God and pursued the extraordinary vocation to which it had been called. Not without times of darkness and uncertainty, some of which emerge from the stories in the Gospels.
There is a beautiful image which I keep in my heart, painted by the Little Sisters of Charles de Foucault (see image below). Mary is holding Jesus Child in her arms and, instead of “cuddling ” in the safe arms of His Mother, He is stretching out His arms as if to be taken by the first passer-by who wishes to welcome Him. This original “iconography” reminds me again of the idea of the trust the Lord has placed in men and women, to the point of giving His own life for them, for each one of us and all of us together. Trust that He has asked us Christians to live, we that have believed “even though we have not seen”. Acts of trust which are not just asked of us once in our lives. Later, Abraham was even asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. The meaning of which is that, in addition to the “small”, “daily”, acts of trust in God which we Christians are asked to do in our day to day lives, there can be many larger ones during our lifetime.
The saints are a luminous mirror of this unconditional trust in the love of the Father and followed Him always and no matter what, often persevering when the paths are dark and unclear in their souls and in their everyday lives. For me, saints are a great consolation because they have shown us that life’s bitter moments can be overcome humanly and lived in the way the Lord asks us to do, with the aid of grace.
But we see that the temptation of taking “shortcuts” , the alternative to the “leap” into the dark, appears immediately in the hearts of men and women, even those who were closest to the Lord and who gave everything, his life, for Him. In today’s Gospel which follows the First Reading on the vocation of Abraham, the liturgy proposes the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Lord, Peter, James and John are walking “up a high mountain”. Often, when the Lord is preparing something special as in this case, the Gospel tells us that we start walking, generally under difficult, hostile situations or circumstances. Climbing the mountain, as in this case; the environment of the shepherds – the marginalized ones at the time – or the Magi from the East deceived by Herod when Jesus was born…..Once Jesus and the disciples reached their destination, Peter proposed to prepare three shelters and stay there, just them alone. “Let us leave everything behind us, abandon this world with its hardships” Peter seems to be wanting to say. Or even, perhaps: “Let the three of us enjoy the company of the Lord”. It has happened to me on more than one occasion to experience or to meet people who have experienced this temptation. “Give everything up”, to say it in everyday language and perhaps in a more effective manner; “keep our faith only for us”, within our parish or Christian group, far from the world that “does not know” or even worse “refuses” the Lord…. The Liturgy of the Word which was wisely “put together” by the Second Vatican Council tells us in these Readings that instead we must not stop but –paraphrasing the words of Jesus in the Gospel today – we must “rise and not be afraid”, like Abraham did. We must walk on our pathway and, after enjoying the light of Jesus, we must, in turn, bring it to the world, to light those dark paths on which we often find ourselves and walk along during our lives. The Christian vocation does not mean to live in shelters by ourselves, but, as Pope Francis would say, it means opening the doors, go out, and bring Jesus to the world and let anyone who so desires come in.
May this Season of Lent, which I have always considered a propitious gift in my faith pathway, help us to light the small lamp of our faith and our trust in God, which already have not been disappointed, with the promise of Resurrection.