Recently, I heard friends in Ecuador talking about miracles they had experienced. Those events included the Virgin Mary protecting a town from the rage of an active volcano, a downpour following a novena in a little farming village just about to lose everything to drought, and the inexplicable cure of the single mother of two little children for whom a community prayed while the doctors told them to give up hope.
It goes against my better judgment to believe in these things -- but they really happened to people I know and trust.
|Second Sunday of Lent|
|Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
That leads me to wonder what Peter, James and John thought when Jesus led them up the mountain. Were they just going along for the hike or did they anticipate something special?
Whatever they thought, the experience surely surpassed their expectations. For a brief moment, they beheld the truth about Jesus. They perceived his place within their faith tradition, including the mystery of his suffering.
What happened on that mountain was, as they say, the mother of all peak experiences. It went beyond their capacity to comprehend. Their mountaintop encounter was like a spiritual walk on water. How to explain it? Was it more real than unreal, or vice versa?
After the vision vanished, they had to rely on the faith that says, "I know, though I know not how." They faced a basic challenge of faith: to believe in what was beyond them or cling to their concrete experience. Could they let God be God?
By nature, faith is always a call to humility. It leads us beyond reasonable expectations and prods us toward the unknowable, including unpredictable transformation. The risk of that kind of faith sometimes seems beyond our capacity.
As Paul pointed out to the Philippians, we need models to show us the way. So we turn to Abraham. Today, our father in faith invites us to revisit the scene in which God made him the most extravagant promise imaginable.
"Look up at those stars," said God. "Can you count them? Well, even if you could, they don't begin to symbolize the future I have in store for you and your descendants."
Then good Father Abraham, pleased with all that God said, had just one complaint. In the quiet sort of voice that expresses both humility and love, he said, "With all due respect, dear Lord, I've lived a long and wonderful life, and I am so very grateful to have everything I could want -- except, as you are aware, I have no children."
As we know from Genesis, that problem, so obvious and definitive to Abraham, was but a minor detail for God. So what was Abraham to do? Today's reading says that he put his faith in God, and God counted it as an act of righteousness. Abraham gave God space to work with the emptiness in his life, and that was all he needed.
The faith to which we are called is no impressive intellectual undertaking but the human task of recognizing our littleness before our great and loving God. That's what the disciples learned on the mountaintop and why the church teaches that the poor are privileged in this area.
People who have always lived with the fact that they can't understand or control what happens can teach us, if we are willing to learn. The faith-filled poor, a group that includes everyone who stands truly and humbly before God, are all around us.
Look at the saints who run the soup kitchens, who, like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, rely more on God than on reserve funds. They do everything they can, they understand that it is not enough, then they laugh at hopelessness and set the table because they know the food will come.
Having watched some of those models, I suspect that such faith is like riding a bicycle -- no amount of theory suffices, only practice.
Today's scriptural models offer us two approaches applicable to different moments in life.
When we know our need far outstrips our possibilities, Abraham and the witnesses of contemporary miracles teach us to trust that God works in ways we can't imagine.
When we don't know how to face the problem of suffering, when we wonder where God is, when our concept of God has proven too small, the disciples who came down the mountain in silence remind us that we can comprehend only a glimpse of the mystery of God's plan -- and that it will always exceed and upset our expectations.
The call to faith is often an invitation to distrust our better judgment. It is always a call to let God be God, to expect more than is reasonable and not to bother trying to count the stars -- God's got miracles in store for us.
[Mary M. McGlone is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. She is a freelance writer and executive director of FUVIRESE USA.]