In lectionary cycle B, the Church turns from Mark's Gospel for five weeks to contemplate…
Opening the Word: Go forth and follow the Lord to the foot of the cross
Comfort is quite natural to human beings. When we find ourselves in a location that we know, where we have enough food and drink, a place to lay our heads and friends close by, why leave? All of us, in the end, are basically like Tolkien’s hobbits, looking to enjoy the parochial comforts of hearth and home.
Such stability, of course, is not evil. Establishing roots in a place enables us to develop friendships, to live as creatures who depend on familiarity for our flourishing.
Yet, this stability can become a vice. It can manifest itself as complacency. We become complacent about where we live, our spouse, the gift of our children and our friendships. We grow comfortable in the spiritual life, happy to say our comfortable prayers, attend our comfortable parish, in our nice neighborhood, with a comfortable pancake breakfast after Mass once a month.
Catholicism is not especially compatible with a complacent comfort. We profess faith in the God who was born in a comfortless manger, who hungered and thirsted in the desert, who wandered from town to town preaching the kingdom of God, who spoke non-comforting words to those were religiously comfortable, who suffered death for the sake of men and women.
|March 8, 2020 – Second Sunday of Lent|
Ps 33:4-5 18-19, 20, 22
2 Tm 1:8-10
This God, the Word made flesh, was raised from the dead, never staying in one place. His ascension into heaven, at the right hand of the Father, means that his Church should also never get too comfortable. Our home is not St. Peter’s in Rome, St. Patrick’s in New York, or St. Pius X in Granger, Indiana. Our home is heaven itself, the beatific vision, where we will see God face-to-face.
For this reason, we Christians are always on pilgrimage. We’re like Abram, hearing the voice of God, telling us to leave everything behind, to move on to a land flowing with milk and honey.
The temptation to be too comfortable, to feel that we have arrived at our final destiny, may be seen in the transfiguration of our Lord on Mt. Tabor. The disciples see Jesus as he really is, as he will be when his flesh is transfigured in the fullness of divine love.
How fearfully comfortable this sight must have been to Peter, James and John. They want to set up tents, to dwell ever before the transfigured Jesus, alongside Moses and Elijah. They believe they have arrived.
And then the voice of the Father speaks. The transfigured one is the beloved Son of God, the one to whom we owe complete obedience. It is an obedience of love, a delight in the voice of the Son of God.
This is the voice that tells us to leave all things behind, to go forth to the very ends of the world preaching the kingdom of God to those who hunger and thirst for justice. It is the voice that cries out upon the cross, who tells Mary not to touch him for he is risen. It is the voice that ascends into heaven.
The Church needs to be a bit less comfortable in our listening to this voice. When we gather at Mass, we’re not just waiting to hear the words of a comfortable Gospel, confirming our lifestyle, promising us prosperity if only we believe. We’re hearing the living Word of God, requiring from us an obedient response of total, self-giving love.
Lent is a time for the Church to cease being comfortable. It’s time to leave behind our comfortable tents, to go forth and follow our Lord to the city of Jerusalem.
To follow him to the very foot of the cross.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.