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2/25/18 Second Sunday of Lent - Fr. Reggie

We are still at the beginning of Lent, this season of repentance and penitence, but today the Church is already talking to us about the Resurrection. In the transfiguration of Jesus in today's Gospel, Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of Christ's eternal glory, the glory he claimed fully after the resurrection. St Paul, in today's Second Reading, writes passionately about God's power and faithfulness as revealed in Christ. And he actually changes his emphasis mid-sentence to take the spotlight off Christ's death on the cross and let it shine on his glorious resurrection. And in the passage about Abraham and Isaac, which narrates events that took place almost 2000 years before Christ, the release of Isaac from his bonds gives him new life - this too is a symbol of Christ's resurrection. Even today's Psalm, when it speaks about walking with the Lord in the Land of the living and God "loosening the bonds" of his servant, is pointing our attention towards Christ's glorious resurrection.

And yet, Easter is still more than a month away!

What's going on here? It's very simple, really. Lent is indeed meant to be a time of repentance and penitence, a time of sacrifice and reflection in which we acknowledge the weight of suffering in the world and in our lives, suffering that always has its roots in sin. This suffering is always part of the story of every human life, with or without Christ; but with Christ, it is not the end of the story. Crosses purify us of selfishness, if we allow them to, teaching us to lean more on Christ and to have a greater experience of his wisdom and joy - his resurrection.

In our Catholic faith, the cross and resurrection are two sides of the same coin; we must never allow ourselves to think of one without thinking of the other.

Ryan Hall, the professional marathon runner who competed for the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, understands this concept well. Ryan is a Christian, and his running career has always been linked to his faith. While in eighth grade and doing a 15-mile run in his hometown of Big Bear Lake, California, he suddenly felt a calling to compete in running at the highest levels: "I felt God had blessed me with this talent," he said in an interview years later. Since then, Ryan has been trying to glorify God by developing his running talent and bearing witness to his faith. His wild success in high school and college enabled him to launch a professional career.

While training for the Olympics, his daily schedule was like this: rise at 7am, eat breakfast, run 10 to 12 miles; eat lunch, have a massage or an ice bath to ease the muscles; take an afternoon nap to recover from the morning workout; run another five to six miles, go to the gym for strength and flexibility exercises; eat dinner, go to bed.

That schedule is similar to most professional marathon runners.

But on the night before a big race, Ryan's schedule breaks the mold. Instead of relaxing or listening to music, he watches Mel Gibson's movieThe Passion of the Christ, to get mentally prepared. The example of Christ's suffering and resurrection helps him manage his pain during the race. He recalled being in agony in the final two miles of the London Marathon in April 2007, where his top performance shocked his competitors. His body was being stifled by a combination of 70-degree heat and a suffocating pace he had set earlier in the race. How was able to keep up his pace? Here's how he explained it: "I actually saw visions of the scarred body of Jesus, and it made me able to go on."

If we bear our crosses with Christ, we will also experience the power of Christ's resurrection - the two always go together.

This balance between the cross and the resurrection, sorrow and joy, helps make sense out of a lot of confusing aspects of the spiritual life.

Since both are necessary for our growth in holiness, just as sunlight and darkness are both necessary for the growth of plants, God allows us to experience both, in accordance with the timing that he deems best. In the resurrection moments, God grants us exceptional clarity and satisfaction in our Christian journey. But, like spoiled children, we tend to hold on to those good feelings as if they were God himself. We echo Peter's comment in today's Gospel: "Lord it is good for us to be here! Let's just put up some tents and never leave!" But earth is not heaven, and God loves us too much to let us settle for anything less than the fullness of his friendship. And so, he leads us down from our high mountains and walks with us to Calvary, letting us share the weight of his cross. On mountaintops he strengthens our hope, but with crosses he strengthens our love, as we learn to cling to him more than to his gifts.

And that's what Christian wisdom is all about.

What can we do to speed up our Christian wisdom learning curve? The easiest way is to work together. If we decide never to let those around us carry their crosses alone, then we can be sure someone will do the same for us. By carrying each other's crosses, we combine the joy of Christian charity with the pain of our earthly exile - keeping perfectly in mind both the cross and the resurrection.

As Jesus comes to us in this Mass to help us carry our crosses, let's promise him that we will do the same for those around us.



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