2nd Sunday of Lent. February 21, 2016.
Gen 15:5-12,17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28-36
Our arduous journey to God
Filipino boxing icon, Manny Pacquiao, got into trouble for comments made last week regarding same-sex relationships. These are his exact words, “It’s common sense. Will you see any animals where male is to male and female is to female? The animals are better. They know how to distinguish male from female. If we approve [of] male-on-male, female-on-female, then man is worse than animals.” His words can be interpreted to mean that if same-sex relations are not natural among animals, then we human beings would be worse than animals if we approved of it. Manny has received harsh criticism from within and outside the Philippines for his words, lost his Nike sponsorship and lots millions of his followers on social media for this statement.
We can debate about his choice of words and his comparison. But if the question is if he is right or wrong about us human beings being worse than animals if we approve of same-sex relations as something natural, then he is certainly 100 percent right. He is right because, in truth, no sinful action is natural to us as human beings and every sinful action, including sexual relations between persons of the same sex, degrades the person(s) involved and makes them less than what they are meant to be.
God is the Author of our human nature and He has created us human beings in His image and likeness. Because this image of God in us is never static or fixed but meant to grow in likeness to our Creator, we human beings have a natural desire to improve through all the hardships and toils and to better our conditions through our intelligent and free choices. We are naturally above the irrational animals because we have one foot in this world by our human bodies and one foot in eternity by our immortal soul, a soul that cannot but tend to God by initiating and performing embodied acts that direct the soul to God. Our undeniable vocation is to journey into full participation in God’s glory.
Since all sin destroys and thwarts this natural movement towards perfecting God’s image in us and disfigures this divine image in us, no sin is natural to us in any way; all sin is unnatural and beneath the dignity of our nature. What is natural to us as human beings is our readiness and willingness to struggle against all things, especially sin, that hinder our flight to God. To embark on this arduous journey to God is what is natural to us on this earth.
The Psalmist in today’s Responsorial Psalm reflects this journey to see the face of God in the midst of trials and hardships, “The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid… Of you O Lord, my heart speaks; you my glance seeks…Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me.”
St. Paul writes to the Christians in Philippi who are tempted to become complacent in their spiritual life in the self-indulgent, pleasure-seeking, materialistic culture of their time. St. Paul reminds them of two things. First of all, they are not just Philippians but they are now citizens of heaven and heirs of the promise of eternal life, “But our citizenship is in heaven.” Secondly, they must struggle against all that will hinder them from attaining that promise. The Philippian Christians are not to imitate those who refuse to struggle against self-centered living, i.e. those who “conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ… and whose end is destruction.” The Christians are to avoid those who worship themselves to the point that “their god is their stomach” and their minds are “occupied with earthly things.”
On the contrary, they are to struggle constantly in imitation of St. Paul who was so committed to the Lord Jesus that he willingly accepted imprisonment for His sake. They are to struggle relentlessly until Christ’s glorious return when He will “change our mortal body to conform to His glorified body by the power that enables Him also to bring all things into subjection to Himself.” Until our bodies become are perfectly conformed to Christ’s glorified body, the struggle against sin and sinful tendencies will endure. Unless they are ready to struggle with what hinders the perfection of the image of God which they bear, they will not enter into the promised inheritance of heaven.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, no matter where we have been or what we have done in this life, we still bear this image of God in us all and this is the source of the God’s undying love and mercy for each of us and the reason why we are all heirs of heaven. But this promised paradise is not automatic; we must strive constantly against all that hinders us from seeing the face of God for which we are created and for which we exist today.
Some of us struggle with sexual attraction to people of the same sex, some are sexually attracted to adolescents, and some are attracted to persons who are not their spouses. Some of us are attracted to gambling, drugs, drinking, pornography, the goods of others, the good names of others, etc. These are sinful attractions that our vocation to see the face of God demands that we struggle against throughout our lives. No human being is dispensed from this struggle. To sin i.e. to succumb and act on any of them is never natural to us but a choice to live beneath our dignity as human beings.
God’s promise to us of eternal life is fulfilled in the death, resurrection and glorification of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the perfect man who alone leads us to see the face of God. In today’s Gospel passage of the Transfiguration, Jesus Christ leads three of His disciples to the top of Mount Tabor where His face is transfigured. Notice that Jesus does not tell them what to expect at the top of the mountain. The Transfiguration does not take place at the foot of the mountain but at the very top. This shows that only those who willingly follow Jesus by faith and who strive to climb the high mountain with Him by struggling against all that blocks their journey to God, will see the Transfigured face of God. Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it is good that we are here,” because he saw on that transfigured face of Christ a glimpse of the glory that we are made to behold in God’s presence for all eternity.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us recall the great promise that we have as citizens of heaven today. Let us recall the price that Christ has paid that we have an eternal home with the Triune God. Let us recall that He has merited for us every grace and every virtue that we need to enter into this promised inheritance. The grace that He has won for us is infinitely above our nature (hence it is called supernatural). God’s grace is giving to us to lift us up to God, to repair the image of God in us and to perfect it through our free actions in response to God’s grace. While grace lifts us up to God and allows us to share in His own perfect freedom, sin brings us down to the level of animals who have no freedom.
In this Eucharist, we encounter this same Jesus Christ, the Author of our nature and the Author of every single grace. The grace of God is not given to us as a coping mechanism in this life or for easy compromise with sin. The grace of God is given to us to lift us to God and to strengthen us in our arduous journey back to God as we struggle with all forms of temptations to sin. Though our wounded nature will always be drawn to sin, every sin will always be unnatural to us. Only our journey back to God is natural to us. If we ignore this journey back to the God who created us in His own image and likeness and who constantly draws and calls us to grow more in His image, and if we pretend that any sin is according to our nature, we will indeed be choosing to be less than human.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!