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Second Sunday of Lent

February 21, 2016
Reflection by Professor Thomas Groome
Director, Church in the 21st Century Center

Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is completing his fortieth year of teaching at BC. He also serves as Director of BC's Church in the 21st Century Center. Tom is widely recognized as one of the leading Catholic religious educators in the world and is known for his commitment to integrating faith with the everyday of life. One of his many widely read books is What Makes us Catholic: Gifts for Life (Harper Collins).  

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent:
Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18
Philippians 3: 17-4:1
Luke 9: 28B-36

On Being a Jesus Catholic

If you play association-of-ideas around Christian denominations you will likely find that people’s first thought about Baptists is Bible, about Evangelicals is Jesus, and for Catholics it is Church. At least so says a friend of mine who likes to play such games at family gatherings - and I believe him.

One way to interpret what Pope Francis is up to in our time is that he is trying to shift Catholic Christians from first thinking “Church” to thinking “Jesus” as the center of their faith, with their foremost identity being to live as his disciples. For Jesus’ invite “come follow me” can’t be just to “talk the talk”; to abide in Jesus means “to walk just as he walked” (1 John 1:6). Of course to walk the way of Jesus, we need the Church, the sacraments, the scriptures and traditions, etc. These are all very important. Yet we can’t miss the wood for the trees; Jesus is the heart of all Christian faith – not just for evangelicals.

Pause and Reflect

  • Honestly, what is your own first association with your faith community?
  • Why might Catholic Christians need to refocus on the historical Jesus – what he actually preached and practiced during his public ministry? Imagine the difference this might make.

At the Heart, a Person!

 

Easter

There are many reasons why Catholic Christians don’t think first of the historical Jesus as the center of our faith. We readily confess him as the Risen Christ, the Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. But that Jewish carpenter from Nazareth who walked the roads of Galilee, working miracles to feed the hungry, heal the sick and drive out evil, and welcoming all into a radically inclusive community; that Person is not typically our first association with being Catholic.

One reason is that the doctrinal section of the old Catholic catechisms (beginning with Trent’s Catechism and then Baltimore, Maynooth, etc.) were structured around the Apostles Creed, catechizing each of its articles. But remember, “born of the virgin Mary” is followed immediately by “suffered under Pontius Pilate” – skipping over his life and public ministry. So, there’s nary a word in the Baltimore Catechism about Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes, or his great stories like the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, etc. The stories by and about Jesus are simply missing!

The current Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) at least sets the record straight.  Of Catholic faith it says, “At the heart . . . we find a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father” (CCC #426). Notice that it emphasizes both – Jesus the historical person, and the Christ of faith, God’s own Son. And we need both, the one who showed us how to live and then mediates an “abundance of God’s grace” (Paul) to make it possible for us to so live.

In today’s Gospel reading, Luke’s version of Jesus’ Transfiguration, God’s voice from heaven says over Jesus, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Lk 9: 35). This surely represents God’s confirmation of “the way” that Jesus taught us. To listen and follow in his footsteps as disciples is at the heart of all Christian faith!

Reflect and Decide

  • What changes or shifts in emphasis might it bring to your own faith to place the historical Jesus at its center?
  • What values do you find most attractive in the life of Jesus (hint: Pope Francis emphasizes compassion, mercy, and care for the poor)? How might Lent be a time to renew your effort to walk in Jesus’ footsteps?

The Promise: A New Exodus in Jesus

Today’s Gospel has Moses and Elijah, the great symbols of the Law and the Prophets, speaking with Jesus about “his exodus.” This was a code word for what faced him in Jerusalem and the death he was about to die there. But remember, the first Exodus was God’s intervention in human history to let slaves go free. Likewise, the new Exodus in Jesus can set us free from all that holds us bound and free for doing God’s will – “on earth as in heaven.” To put Jesus at the center of our lives brings true liberation.

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