I am of more or less half Croatian and half Irish ancestry, with perhaps a little bit of German stock added in way back. This year the second Sunday of Lent happens to fall on the seventeenth of March, the feast of Saint Patrick, and so naturally my Irish side (and eyes) are smiling today. Alas, for the sons and daughters of Erin the world over our great feast day humbly defers to the Lenten Sunday, but if we are careful we can find some inspiration in today’s scripture readings that forecast the powerful movement of faith that would characterize the life of Saint Patrick and the people he came to adopt as his own.
We begin in the Book of Genesis, with the account of the covenant the Lord made with Abram. Hoping for a sign from the Lord, Abram bemoans his childlessness and his need for an heir, and at that moment the Lord calls him forth from his tent and says: “‘Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so, shall your descendants be.” The author of Genesis adds: “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness” (Gen 15:5-6).
The Irish have very often stood in need before the Lord, and have lived their lives through strong faith, on both counts resembling our forefather Abram. They have indeed endured great hardships and injustices, some of which were visited upon them precisely on account of their faith in God, and they withstood these things with the spirit of Saint Paul, who in the reading today from Philippians reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:20).
The lesson in this is that none of us escapes life without some measure of uncertainty and vulnerability (like that felt by Abram), and suffering (like that endured by Saint Patrick and the Irish people). Further, we learn from Abram and Saint Paul that finding the strength to bear such things in faith is not a weak-minded “pie in the sky” attitude but is instead a very natural response—to trust in the goodness of humanity and to look beyond it in the hope that a greater and definitive good lies at its source.
Still, faith doesn’t make the uncertainties and pains of life go away; rather, it helps us to look past them and to see the end toward which we are moving, and the glory that awaits those who abide, like Abram and Saint Patrick, in God’s righteousness. This is where today’s gospel reading catches us: Peter, James, and John saw Jesus “transfigured” before their eyes, if only for a moment: “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). They had a glimpse in faith of what awaited them beyond the hardship of Jesus’ passion and death. But they first had to endure with Christ in faith—just as Abram, Saint Patrick, and Saint Paul endured their hardships in faith—before they tasted his victory.
The glimpse of Christ’s exaltation seen in the Transfiguration today was the fulfillment of Abram’s dreams and gives us hope as we follow his footsteps in faith. Let us pray in this Lenten season that we might persevere through the difficult moments in life with the spirit of Abram, Saint Patrick, and Saint Paul, so that one day in the presence of Christ we might join with all our ancestors of every nation in saying “Master, it is good that we are here” (Luke 9:33).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.
Illustration: Saint Patrick stained glass window from Cathedral of Christ the Light, Oakland, CA.