A few weeks ago, I was applying for a fellowship in my graduate program that I really wanted. It frightened me how badly I wanted it. In the weeks leading up to the deadline, I would sit in front of my computer screen with the application open in front of me, almost paralyzed in fear. The application was easy enough, I just needed to sit down and do it. But I didn’t. I delayed for days and days, convincing myself it might not even be worth applying, because, what if I didn’t get it? The pain of trying and losing was too much for me to bear, so maybe it’s better if I just don’t do it. At least, that is how I reasoned with myself.
I think we can all recall times when our deepest longings were too much for us to handle, and I hope most of us have experienced the longing for an intangible God, the one whom our hearts were made for. It’s that pull deep in your chest, a longing so deep and so strong, it physically hurts. And when you focus on it, it becomes too much for you to bear alone. And sometimes, that longing turns into doubt. What do you do with that?
Today’s readings for the second Sunday of Lent remind me of the constant back and forth between longing and doubt. In the first reading from the book of Genesis, God promises Abram descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky. Imagine being shown a future so bright, one literally promised to you by God. Abram immediately puts his trust in the Lord but expresses some doubt. ‘O Lord God, 'he asked, ‘How am I to know that I possess it?’ The Lord asks Abram for an offering, to bring him a heifer, a she-goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon and so he does. And he waited and waited and waited for the Lord, until the sun was about to set and a ‘trance fell upon Abram and a deep terrifying darkness enveloped him.’ I picture myself as Abram here, on the cusp of something great, something the Lord had promised me. But, as time goes on and on, and it gets colder and darker, my enthusiasm for that something great wanes. Doubt grows. And I think of Abram sitting in that terrible darkness, unable to see what was coming but believing in God and choosing to stay. Would I have stayed? I’d like to say yes, but I’m not sure.
The Gospel for today tells the story of the Transfiguration, a literal encounter with God. This was so powerful, so marvelous, so wonderful and so…terrifying, that it was only shared with a precious few. Jesus takes his disciples Peter, John, and James up to the mountain to pray and reveals himself to be the son of God. His face changes in appearance and his clothes become dazzling white. Elijah and Moses appear alongside him, speaking of what was yet to come. Peter then says, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying, Luke’s Gospel tells us. Luke continues: While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.”
Here I want to note a key difference between the disciples and me. While they stayed and faced this unknowing, even though they were afraid, I don’t know if I could have done the same. I want to believe I could have but my lived experiences tell me otherwise. It always feels like something terrible is going to happen right before God reveals himself to us. And why do we feel the urge to want to run away? What can I do to make me stay? The answer lies in what the Gospel says: This is my son, listen to him.
Our hearts can tell us what our minds can’t comprehend. They urge us to stay. As we enter Lent this year, let us sit in the certainty of what our hearts tell us, these hearts that were created by God, for God. Let us cry out what the psalmist says: ‘Hear, O Lord, the sound of my call; have pity on me and answer me. Of you my heart speaks, you my glance seeks.’ It’s up to us to stay and wait…long enough to let the Lord show up and speak.
Vivian Cabrera is a writer and editor in New York. She attends the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University.
Prior to her graduate work, Vivian worked at America Media as the assistant editor for digital media. Vivian’s writing has been featured in America, the National Catholic Reporter, and FemCatholic, and she contributed an essay to the book Interrupted Presence: Eleven Stories of Finding God in Times of Trouble.
The second of three volumes from the Catholic Women Preach project of FutureChurch offers homilies for each Sunday and holy days of the liturgical year by Catholic women from around the world. The first volume for Cycle A received awards for best book on Liturgy from both the Association of Catholic Publishers and the Catholic Media Association.
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