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March 12, 2017
Homily of the Most Reverend Larry Silva, Bishop of Honolulu
Second Sunday of Lent, Year A – [Maria Lanakila Church, Lahaina; Sacred Hearts Mission, Kapalua]
Last year as we were preparing the diocesan budget, we decided to give our employees a 2% cost of living increase. This is modest, and our employees work very hard. It is also something that most employers do every year. I am not an economist by any means, but it occurred to me that if all employers give their employees a cost of living increase, doesn’t the cost of living increase? And in the long run does anyone really benefit from this? If we look at the issue from a broader perspective, what seems to be a good thing may not be so good after all.
As our legislature debates the issue of physician assisted suicide – which, of course, we are told we should not refer to as suicide but as compassion in dying – it seems to make some sense that a person who is suffering a great deal from an illness that is terminal should not have to needlessly suffer through such pain, but may freely ask for a drug that will hasten death. But if we look at it from a broader perspective, that could open the door to great abuse by heirs who wish to hasten the death of a loved one, or by an insurance company which simply finds it cheaper to end a life than to give the fine and effective palliative care that can relieve pain at the end of life. As the population ages and it becomes more expensive to support us “old folks” the door is open to simply eliminating old folks from the population. Of course the community with handicaps and special needs is particularly worried about this bill and its long-range implications for them. Then, of course, there is the consideration that if one makes oneself god by willfully disobeying the command “You shall not kill,” one may find that escaping from suffering in this life may only result in even greater suffering in the next, from which there is no pill that can ever bring escape.
Then there is the couple who start their marriage with such great hope and joy. They are so in love that they think their honeymoon will never end. And when it does, they think it is the end of the world, therefore that the marriage must end. A broader perspective will help them see that difficulties can be an opportunity for further growth and a deepening of love, not the other way around. But they must be willing to go up to a mountaintop to see the big picture and not be focused only on this difficult moment in their lives.
In so many situations in life, if we look only at the obvious, at the present moment, and what is before us “on the ground,” we might make decisions that are, in the long run, destructive.
I think this is why Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up to the top of a very high mountain. From a mountaintop you can see things differently. You can see the whole picture, and not just a part of it. And so it was that, while they were on the plain, they saw Jesus as a great healer, teacher, and prophet; but the coming crucifixion could have been the end of their faith in him if he had not given them this mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration. This seemingly ordinary man was transfigured into a person of such brilliance that they knew he was God. Not only their eyes, but their ears experienced this when they heard the voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased: listen to him.” Not only that, but Moses, the representative of God’s law, and Elijah, the representative of the prophets, were speaking to him. This glorious experience on the mountaintop enabled them to maintain hope even when things seemed hopeless during the dark days of Jesus’ betrayal, passion, and death.
Abram, too, was asked by God to do something very difficult: to leave his homeland to go to a land he did not know. But God gave him a broader perspective on the matter when he pointed out that it was not for the sake of suffering and deprivation that he was asking this, but so that Abram could become a great nation, from which all communities on earth find their blessing.
And St. Paul reminds Timothy and all of us to bear our hardships for the gospel, because if we look beyond them, we will see that this will lead to life and immortality. The hardships are still hardships, but when we take this mountaintop perspective, these burdens can become much lighter.
During this Lent, the Lord invites us to go to the mountaintop, to take time away from our normal routines and our limited perspectives so that we may see more clearly the glory that comes when we follow God’s law and are faithful to God’s prophets. We are called to look at our sins so that we may repent and be freed of them, but we are also called to prayer and fasting, so that we can see from a different perspective the root causes of our sins. We are called to give alms to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, but also to reflect on why there are poor people in the first place, people who are not living with the dignity that they deserve as human beings, and to ask what we can do about the causes of poverty.
Although we live our lives on the plain, in the day-to-day fray of human striving and struggle, it is essential that we know that our ultimate destiny is to share the glory of the risen Christ, so that such a vision can give us the strength that comes from God.