(Readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9: 28-36)
Introduction to Mass
Today's readings testify to the strong and constant desire God has to make contact with us, to invite us into the mystery of his life, to raise us to holiness. He reveals himself and calls us into a Covenant of faith with him. The great biblical figures who responded to God's call nevertheless remain very human and fallible individuals, and from that fact we should ourselves feel encouraged in our efforts to live up to the exacting demands of the gospel.
To prepare ourselves to celebrate Mass today let us recall our weaknesses, our failures and lapses, and we ask God to forgive us and to strengthen our faith.
Abram, in the first reading, and the disciples Peter, James and John in the gospel, experience something very similar: a mysterious, dramatic, frightening, but unequivocal revelation of God.
We have to remember of course that the books of the Bible, Old and New Testaments, aren't history books: the story of Abraham, particularly, written and no doubt embellished centuries afterwards, can never be known fully and precisely.
But the books of the Bible aren't works of pure fiction either. At the core of these stories there's always an original event or experience which the author is testifying to, from the standpoint of a later and more developed faith.
In Abraham's case the original event is the first contact with the Lord God, the true God, or more to the point, the first communication from God.
What becomes clear very quickly is that God doesn't only make his existence known and leave it at that. As Abraham discovers, in the very act of revealing himself God draws us into a relationship with him, a relationship which makes demands on us, on our side. We can either answer "yes" to God and put our faith in him, or we can answer "no" and refuse the vocation or the journey into his life that God invites us to embark on.
In the Old Testament Abraham is the man of faith, the man who says yes to God and surrenders himself in trust to the Lord. But the authors of the book of Genesis don't romanticise Abraham's response or portray him as a type of super-hero.
Like many others who heard God's call and entered into Covenant with God, Abraham often failed to keep to his side of the bargain, often lapsed from his original commitment. Even the memory of the overwhelming experience of God's presence, described in today' first reading, wasn't enough to prevent Abraham from being tempted to put his faith in other things and not to trust completely in God.
Then when we turn to the gospel passage, we can see a parallel between Abraham and the three disciples. When they first met Jesus, his miracles, his exorcisms and his preaching won them over. Peter, characteristically, was the most fulsome in committing himself to Christ.
Then they witness Jesus' transfiguration, this strange, terrifying revelation of Jesus' divine nature and his unique closeness to the Father. And again it's Peter who responds with the greatest excitement and the most inflated language.
But of course, as we know, even after these events, the disciples' greatest failures and betrayals - especially Peter's - still lie ahead. As in Abraham's case they go back on their original decision to put their faith in Jesus.
In the context of Lent, with it's extra emphasis on repentance and the searching of conscience, there are maybe a few things we can say about these great biblical figures, separated by thousands of years but joined by faith in the one true God.
One is that God does not ask for consistent and unfailing perfection from the moment of our first conversion. He knows well the weakness of our nature and our tendency to become distracted from him and to allow our attention and our devotion to be divided.
What God does ask is that when we fail, we should always recognise what has happened and turn back to him. As both Abraham and the disciples discovered, we may break faith with God several times, abandon the discipline of spiritual life through tiredness and a sense that our failings are too deeply-rooted and that we never make any progress, or simply because we hanker after other goals in life, which the values of the gospel obstruct.
But God never ceases to call us, to wait for us, and never ceases in his willingness to renew his Covenant.
In our spiritual and moral life it's important to persevere and never to seetle into resentment of the fact that we feel trapped in a cycle of sinning and presenting ourselves, with a sort of simmering humiliation and wounded pride, before an all-perfect God: "me again, same sins, same flaws".
The keynote perhaps in our relationship with God is humility, rather than humiliation. Our Covenant with God involves on our side a clear recognition of the fact that we are creatures, made by him with a purpose and vocation determined by him, which we must discover with prayer and searching and quiet thoughtfulness.
Abraham, Peter and the other men and women God approaches and chooses, were people like this: not heroes, but in many ways frail and all-too fallible. But they were men and women of faith who gave their basic allegiance to God and - despite personal failings - abandoned the pride and self-affirmation that alienates us from God.
And since this was their basic stance concerning God and concerning their their purpose and direction in life, even their faults and apostasies often became the occasion for greater growth - in honesty, in knowledge of God, in integrity and holiness.
Letís not forget the conviction found in both the Old and News Testament, that even our human sin and evil work towards salvation, if they bring about thoughtfulness and repentance and lead by way of contrast to a deepening appreciation of goodness, holiness and salvation.
So as we continue in the spirit of the Lenten season, reflecting and in a sense accusing ourselves of wrongs done and good undone, let's feel heartened by the witness that today's scripture readings give to God's unfailing fidelity to his Covenant, and the example of these great figures of faith, who turn out to more like us, perhaps, than we are often inclined to think.