2 nd Sunday of Lent 8 March 2009
As we progress further into this pilgrimage of Lent, we come upon our First Reading, one of the most heart-wrenching stories in all of Sacred Scripture. The Jewish people call this “ The Binding”, when Abraham binds up his only son Isaac, the one whom he had been waiting for all his long life, in response to God's call to sacrifice him. In the ancient world of Abraham's time, child-sacrifice was all too common, and since Abraham at this point did not know what God was going to call him to, he simply obeyed. Yet, it is very possible that Abraham was very confused at this request from God, because God had promised him a multitude of descendants, and Isaac would seem to be the one through whom those descendants would come.
Anyone who is a parent, either physically, spiritually, or those aspiring to be parents – anyone for whom human life is precious – this story should disturb us at the deepest level. We feel what Abraham must have felt at the time when God asked him to sacrifice his son, and what he must have felt during that whole time of putting the wood on Isaac's shoulders, leading him up that steep mountain. He wanted to cry every time he so much as looked at his son, but he knew he couldn't for fear of tipping his hand and letting Isaac know what was about to happen.
The Lord in the end stayed Abraham's hand, but also left him – and us – a valuable lesson. Everything we have in life is a gift from Almighty God: our families, our possessions, everything. We may say that we've worked hard to have all these things, but let's stop to think: who was it who gave us the ability to work hard in the first place?
Just like Noah in last week's First Reading, Abraham also displays a characteristic that is essential in the spiritual life of all who worship God, especially Christians: Humility. To be humble before God means to obey God and to trust Him. Not everything that God asks us to do will be pleasant. Not every path that God asks us to follow will be smooth. Yet Scripture assures us that God will not give us a task that is too heavy for us.
The beginning of the Twentieth Century saw the emergence of a great and holy priest, whom the world would come to know as Fr. Solanus Casey. He grew up in a simple life in the midwest, helping to tend his parent's farm. Times got rough, and Bernard (as he was first called) had to go find work in the nearby city. As a streetcar operator in the big city, Bernie witness something that would change his life: the murder of an innocent pedestrian. For years after that, Bernie contemplated how human beings could do this to one another, and for the first time discerned a call to the priesthood. His first attempt failed, as the classes at the seminary at the time were all taught in Latin and German, neither of which he was able to learn.
He went back home, dejected but able to accept his lot. Then, while in prayer during the feast of the Immaculate Conception, he received a call from Our Lady: “Go to Detroit.” This could mean only one thing: join the Capuchin Franciscan Monastery. This he did, and faced the same setbacks as his first attempt, only this time, his superiors said: “Ordain him. He will be another John Vianney.” So he and one of his classmates were given the stipulation that they would be ordained without the faculties to preach doctrine or to hear confession. His colleague immediately wrote to Rome to request faculties, while Solanus let it be and accepted his lot.
He then became porter at every monastery to which he was assigned. Since he was the first face people encountered at the monastery, he met a great many people. They all found him to be gentle, kind and compassionate. He became one who had people flock to him to hear their stories and to ask for his prayers for relatives who were sick or in the hospital. He was often able to communicate what would happen to them.
After a long life of serving as “the Brother who says Mass”, Fr Solanus' superiors felt that he needed a lighter assignment, but wherever they placed him, people kept coming for his help. He could not refuse anyone. Even at the age of 75, his superiors still were very harsh to him, but he accepted it all with humility.
Ten years later, on July 31 st, Fr. Solanus died. He lay in state for 2 days and his funeral was scheduled for August 3, 1957. As was customary when a priest died, his records were reviewed. Because of all the miraculous wonders Fr. Solanus was able to predict, his file was quite large. Yet at the back of the file were a few papers. These were his priestly faculties, apparently filed at the same time his colleague received them. Yet, Fr. Solanus never knew they existed and continued in humble service of his God and the people of God.
What was Fr. Solanus' secret to bearing this difficulties with humility? Constant and fervent prayer. Fr. Solanus was known to have spent all night in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This gave him a close and personal relationship with God, his Father, and with Jesus Christ, his Lord and Savior.
The story of Abraham's sacrifice is the ultimate lesson for us regarding faith in God. This story also prefigures the sacrifice that God the Father Himself made in giving His only Son, sacrificing Jesus Christ, so that our sins would not be the eternal death of us.
God has given us the ultimate gift of His Son on the Cross. Let us trust Him with our lives and with the will and path that God has set before us.