Second Sunday of Lent

A classmate from 2nd grade is a missionary priest in Papua New Guinea. When Fr. Alex was celebrating his 50thbirthday, I was suddenly full of wisdom advising him to count his blessings. I’m only older by a month and a half. But it felt different that someone younger was approaching their half-century mark. I felt I was supposed to know where I was going, that I could give directions. Then I realized I’ve been giving directions for the longest time—to teenagers, young adults, married couples, parents, grandparents, seniors, widows, and widowers—like I know where I’m going! The irony! So I decided to always start with a disclaimer. “I’m not a licensed counselor. I’m not a therapist. I am not married. I am not a parent. I do not truly know what you are going through. But I can listen and tell you what I honestly think. And I’m not going to be disappointed if you ignore everything I say. But I won’t tell you what to do. Hit me.”

In recent years, people have talked to me about their journeys. I remember one man spoke about growing old. He hated that his body wasn’t as flexible, that he had more aches and pains everyday, that his memory was going, that he was becoming more impatient with others, that he was falling into despair. He spoke of his dry spirit, that prayer did not bring comfort anymore, that there was little joy in living. We talked about dark and stormy days, that the sun was shining beyond the clouds, and will shine upon us again. And if it helps, I suggested he carry a crucifix or a picture of the kind and compassionate heart of Jesus, or of the Blessed Mother, and gaze upon it often.

One lady was fearful of death. She was tired of being sick. She knew she didn’t have much time left. She said she wasn’t ready. I suggested she look at it as coming home to God, whom she has loved all her life. She said she was unworthy and sinful. I said God wants her to come home anyway. God has done so much to prove his love. Jesus showed us that God wants us to be at peace. He often tells us not to be afraid. I said Jesus will take care of her as he promised. Call on him often. He is always close by.

Another man was discouraged that other Christians and Catholics did not know their faith and what the church believed and taught, and that they were leading others astray by their bad example. I suggested he use that grace to help others along their way. But he must be gentle, not shaming them, and pushing them away. God is ever so patient as to allow us to work at our own pace, so we should give others room to work at their own pace. God is very much hard at work. So instead of asking God to help us achieve our goal and change their hearts, maybe we should ask how we can work with God instead in the way that works best for God’s plan.

A teenager was mad at the world and mad at God. She very much did not want to come to retreat. Her parents forced her. She wanted nothing to do with the church or with God. She didn’t even know why she was talking to me. I told her I would do my best to help in any way. 5 minutes passed or was it a half hour? I don’t remember. Nor do I remember what I told her. But she walked away less angry and actually more at peace. She was even willing to travel 45 minutes to come to church. I told her to talk to her pastor at her home parish. God doesn’t require of us that kind of hardship.

In every instance, I was just giving directions. I can’t possibly relate to being 80 or know what it’s like to be dying. I may know something about dealing with people with hearts grown cold and hard, but I can’t say I’ve always done the right thing. And I’ve never been a teenage girl. But I’ve been on the journey long enough, I think, to have some basic tools, and know how to use them. All I was doing was sharing what I’ve learned along the way.

God called Abram and Sarai to leave behind their security, their family, and their heritage for a distant land, an undetermined inheritance, and an uncertain future. God’s only assurance was that he would be coming with them along the journey. And after giving it serious thought, Abram and Sarai put their trust and confidence in God.

The apostle Paul had given his disciple and friend Timothy care of the church at Ephesus. It was late in Paul’s career, while Timothy was just beginning his. And along with instructions on dealing with false teachers, with older members of the community, with widows, the wealthy, and with slaves, he instructs Timothy to stay close to Jesus, “who saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace [he has] bestowed on us.” Jesus walks beside us on the journey. Let go of your fears. Trust him.

And Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop. Peter, James, and John saw him conversing with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets. Clearly, Jesus relies on the wisdom and experience of those who have walked the journey of faith before him. He had shared with his disciples earlier that he would suffer and be put to death, and that on the third day, he would rise. They did not really know what he was talking about. And by calling them to come follow him, he was also giving them a share of his suffering and death, and new life on the third day.

In each instance in today’s scriptures, the people God was leading were not always certain of the destination—the promised land, the new Jerusalem, life eternal with the Father? And we may not be doing any better ourselves. But we can always use some good directions, and tools for the journey. So we pay attention to the wisdom and experience of others who have been on the journey longer. Not everything applies in every situation. But we will need all the help we can get.

The journey of Lent is not about getting to some specific destination. Instead, it is about being changed or seeing with new eyes or becoming better disciples. What a journey like this accomplishes in a person with an open heart and a willing spirit can be deeply transforming. You become a different person from what you were before getting to wherever you were going. By then, it won’t matter at all where you were even going. You will know when you get there. And don’t be alarmed. If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are still on the journey.

Rolo B Castillo © 2023