(Sometimes, between when I write--and post online--my homily, and when I deliver it, it undergoes some significant revision. Today was one of those days. The added text will be lighter shaded.)
You may be wondering what that first reading is about.
To understand what's going on, it's necessary to realize
that something about our world makes it hard for us to appreciate this scene.
If you and I go out, tonight after dark, and look at the stars, how many will we see?
The truth is, we will not see most of them, because of all the light.
The light of our cities makes it impossible to see what Abram saw.
I have a confession to make. I'm 50 years old, and I've never seen the Milky Way!
Because I've always lived in the city.
And I don't particularly like to go out in the wilderness,
where there are no bathrooms or showers--
which is what you have to do to see the stars Abram saw.
And it isn't just the artificial light--
it's also all the ways we entertain ourselves.
Every hour I spend watching TV, or surfing the Internet,
is an hour I can avoid thinking about the deeper things of life.
Which is what happens when you look up into that sky.
The key is the question by Abram--
his name hadn’t yet been changed to Abraham.
He asks, How will I know I am to possess this land?
What follows is a covenant ritual.
They cut up animals, and the people who made the covenant
walked between them: the message being,
“may this happen to me if I do not keep my word!”
Notice: Abram was not the one who walked the walk.
The flaming torch was the sign of God doing so.
God made a vow to Abram and his descendants,
To accept death if he failed.
Now, consider this: God didn’t fail;
And yet he still accepted death: death on a Cross!
God performed a covenant ritual and Abram witnessed it.
And then, on the night before he died, he does it again, with his disciples:
We all know the words:
“Jesus took bread, blessed it, and broke it, saying,
This is my Body…this is my Blood…”
Just as the ritual Abram witnessed was God’s solemn promise to him,
In the same way, the Cross and the Eucharist are God’s promise to us.
So how does the Gospel we just heard fit in?
As Pope Saint Leo the Great taught,
the purpose of this vision of Christ’s glory
was to give the Apostles the strength
to endure what happened on Good Friday.
They would see the Lord humiliated and cruelly murdered.
Would they keep their faith?
And of course, this works for us, too.
We see or hear things that shake our faith.
Maybe we wonder, like Abram, if God’s promises will be kept.
Or when there’s a scandal with a bishop, or priests, or religious.
And then the media crow about it and we feel humiliated.
That’s when we remember
that the glory of the Lord is often hidden--but it’s there.
The dome of artificial light that shields
the glory of the heavens from our view isn't God's doing.
We did that. But the glory, though hidden, is still there.
We remember that as much as we may want God to show his power,
what he actually does is show his love--
and that’s something different.
That’s what the Cross is. That’s what the Mass and the Eucharist are.
That’s what we put our faith in.