So who says the Bible is boring? I’m sure you’ve seen movies or TV shows where some terrible thing is going to happen unless a bomb is defused, or a computer program is stopped, or a missile is destroyed. The first reading today from the Book of Genesis is as compelling as any one of those stories. Abraham and Isaac are hiking up the mountain where Abraham will kill the only son that he bore with his wife Sarah. A few weeks ago, we heard the story of Isaac’s birth being promised by God. You might remember that when Abraham and Sarah, heard this, they laughed. Sarah and Abraham had been trying to have children for a very long time. She was past menopause, and Viagra would not be invented for more than 2,000 years. And yet, finally, in their old age they were blessed with this wonderful boy. You can imagine the thoughts going through Abraham’s mind as he walked up the mountain with Isaac, knowing that his obedience to God would cost him the son that he had waited for so long.
And then at the last second, Abraham heard the word of God through an angel. Some paintings of this scene show the angel grabbing Abraham’s arm, but it was only the word of God that Abraham heard, and he stopped.
The parallel between Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac, and God sacrificing his only son – his “beloved son” – is unmistakable. St. Paul said in the second reading today, speaking about God: “He…did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us.” There was no last-minute rescue for Jesus – no Hollywood stunt double to take the fall. God’s only son was killed – for us.
And after Christ’s death, his ultimate act of obedience, he was raised – transformed. Again, in the words of St. Paul: “It is Christ Jesus, who died, and indeed, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God…” We see a foretaste of the glory of Christ’s Resurrection in the Gospel today as Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John.
These readings speak to us about transformation, and indeed, that’s what the season of Lent calls us to – transformation. Last week Father Paul used the word conversion, and he shared two compelling stories about how God can speak to us from the mouth of a homeless person in a movie theatre, or a suffering man in a hospital emergency room. He talked about experiencing conversion by finding God “between the cracks” of our lives.
Today’s readings talk about transformation – conversion – through obedience to God. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his only son at God’s command, and Jesus laid down his own life in obedience to his Father. And we saw what happened in both instances. Abraham became the father of a great nation – more children than stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. And Jesus took his place in glory at his Father’s right hand.
I had two conversations this week that dealt with a particular aspect of obedience – or should I say, disobedience. I was talking with one of the grade 12 students from our Catholic high school, and she was saying that most of her classmates – her Catholic classmates – don’t go to Mass on the weekend. And they couldn’t understand why she went. And I spoke with a mom who told me that she’s having a really hard time getting her 10-year-old to come to Mass – “It’s too boring.”
Attending Mass is a commandment from God – and coming to Mass is, among other things, a sign of obedience. God isn’t asking us to sacrifice a son or daughter, or a brother or sister, or even a pet. God is asking that we give him time and attention. And he’s not asking this for himself. God will continue to be God whether you’re here on the weekend or not. God wants you here to celebrate the great mystery of his son’s death and resurrection. He wants you to celebrate with your immediate family and your larger Catholic family. He wants to show himself to you. He wants to tell you about himself. He wants to give himself to you – for your benefit – not his.
Do something for me – close your eyes – and keep them closed. [Deacon Pat takes a single red rose and goes to the altar steps.] Now, with your eyes closed, I want you to appreciate this beautiful thing that I’m showing you. I want you to be amazed at the beautiful thing that God created and that is here for you. Open your eyes.
Now you were probably thinking: “Deacon Pat’s been into the altar wine.” But I wanted you to understand the impossibility of being able to appreciate this beautiful rose without looking at it, smelling it, touching it.
In our prayer after Communion today we will say that there is nothing more beautiful than our relationship with God. Well, if we’re not here at Mass, we have about as much chance of growing in our relationship with God as you had being able to appreciate the beauty of that rose from a distance, with your eyes closed. And if our children are not here – how can they ever develop a relationship with God, with Jesus Christ, with the Church? How can they be transformed?
And although being here on the weekend is an act of obedience, our conversion, our transformation will enrich our lives. The baby steps we take each week in developing this beautiful relationship with God can and should become the most important thing in our lives.
Now you may be saying: “Deacon Pat, can you come home with me and say this to my kids, or to my husband, or my wife?” And, well, I can’t – but you can. And I would encourage you to keep trying – softly and persistently – make a special effort this week.
But then you might say: “Why are you saying this to me? I’ve done what I’m supposed to do – I’m here.” Well, if you’re sitting in the pews thinking about the chores you have to do this afternoon, or what to pick up from the grocery store on the way home, or the work that’s waiting for you on Monday morning – then you’re not really doing what you’re supposed to do. I think one of the reasons that some people feel that Mass is boring is because while their bodies are here, their minds are somewhere else. I’m guilty of it myself sometimes.
Try this today. One of the most wonderful prayers that we have in the Mass is the Eucharistic Prayer, and it’s one of the easiest to miss – just because our mind is wandering. It’s just after the Holy Holy – when we kneel. The Church calls it “the centre and summit of the entire celebration.” Father Paul begins by saying: “Lord, you are holy indeed, the fountain of all holiness.” Then he calls on the Holy Spirit to make the gifts – our gifts – holy. And then through the words and actions that Jesus used on the first Holy Thursday, these humble gifts of bread and wine become the body and blood of our Saviour. I think that if any of us actually understood the mystery of this event, we wouldn’t be able to contain ourselves – and yet we get to experience this mystery each weekend. We then proclaim the Paschal mystery – the central mystery of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”
Then as the Eucharistic Prayer continues and we thank God that we are able to be here, and we join ourselves to all Catholics throughout the world, including our leaders, the saints, our friends who have died. And finally this whole wonderful prayer culminates in the great Amen, when Father and I raise the body and blood of Christ. Now you may wonder why we get so excited about this Great Amen – why we always sing it. Well, if you listen – really listen – to the Eucharistic prayer – you’ll understand why the Great Amen is great.
God calls us to conversion by obeying him – in big things and in little things. He does this for our benefit – not his. When we respond, we become better people. Our lives become better. In the Eucharist, God shows himself to us so that our relationship with him – our beautiful relationship with him – can grow. But just as we have to open our eyes to see the beauty of the rose, we have to be here – present in body and mind. Surely, there is nothing more beautiful.