Second Sunday of Lent
Celtic Cross Mass
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist
Savannah, GA | March 12, 2017
Most Rev. J. Kevin Boland Homily
“It is the beauty of Ireland that has made us what we are,” declared the playwright, George Bernard Shaw. “If that is so,” he continued, “Ireland’s misty mountains, shimmering lakes, and green mantled lands must possess some special magic. For there is nowhere like Ireland and no people quite like the Irish.”
If George Bernard Shaw were here this morning, and prayerfully he is with us in the heavens, he’s looking down and saying “it’s quite true! Look at that scene at the cathedral in Savannah.”
Our beginnings as a people reach back to the pre-Christian era and this morning, as successors of the Mission of Patrick in the 5th century AD, I welcome all to the cathedral to celebrate firstly our Irishness and secondly – and just as important – to celebrate the second Sunday of Lent and also what has been classified as the Celtic Cross Mass.
We recognize the presence of the Grand Marshal Dennis Counihan and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. But also I want to recognize all the following societies here present. As I call the name, you could briefly stand and sit down. Don’t remain standing. If you’re not able to stand up, then stay sitting down. The Hibernian Society, Sinn Fein, Fenian Society, Irish Heritage Society, Clan Na Erin, Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, Shenanigan Society, (I’d like to read your bylaws, by the way), Ancient Order of Hibernians, Daughters of Ireland, Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians, Police Emerald Society, Fine Gael Society (your political party in Ireland is in trouble), and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee. With all of those who were not requested to stand, why don’t we recognize all of these people who are here this morning.
You could say that there is one thing we all have in common and that is we appreciate the color of green and also for the most part, the Catholic faith. The vast majority of you, I am presuming, are Catholic. Of more significance and importance is that you’re celebrating St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. I wish to emphasize one gift above all others that he bequeathed to his scattered missions – not only in Savannah but throughout the world. It is the gift of faith. The gift to believe. The gift to accept, in our case as Catholics, that the Lord Jesus is the Son of God, and the Son of Mary, a central cord of our faith. Also to believe in the gift of God’s love, the gift of joy, the gift of forgiveness. The gift of the Lord Jesus, our Redeemer. He gave His life so that we could live forever in His kingdom.
At the end of this mass, you will reverence the Celtic Cross. Ireland is full of crosses from ancient days, one of the most celebrated of Irish High Crosses is the Cross of the Scriptures. That cross has a Crucifixion scene and three parts of the Passion carved on the cross itself. And it stands in front of the ruined Cathedral of Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic settlement of learning on the River Shannon, in County Offaly. And so the cross is a symbol of who we are, a symbol of how we live, and a symbol of Who we look up to. The cross of Christ, and it is in that context that I want to say some words about this powerful gospel of the transfiguration.
It’s such a simple story, profound in its meaning. This gospel is read every year, not every third year. Every year it’s read on the second Sunday of Lent.
You heard it proclaimed by the deacon that Jesus was walking along and he invited three people – you could say three of his closest friends and/or advisors, or people who would die for him – Peter, and James and John, the fraternal brothers. Peter, James and John accompanied him up the side of the mountain and it was there that Jesus was transfigured.
In our human terms, we do not know exactly what that meant. But you could say spiritually that His divinity shone through His humanity. He was in sparkling white clothing. So much so that it frightened Peter, James and John, and they knelt and prostrated themselves on the ground.
Standing beside Jesus were Moses and Elijah. Moses, the great leader who brought the people out of slavery to the Promised Land, a massive figure in Old Testament history, and Elijah the great prophet. By prophet, I mean not someone who foretold something, but a spokesperson on behalf of God’s people. These prophets were greatly put upon precisely because they spoke so bravely concerning God’s word.
So here we have the transfigured Jesus, Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament, and to cap it all off, a voice from Heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That’s the second time in the scriptures that that statement is made by God. The first is at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. When the baptism took place, again that voice, the voice of the Father, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Peter, James and John are frightened, scared, they didn’t know what it was all about. They bowed down. Peter, the impetuous one by character, he immediately said “let us build three tabernacles here, or three kind of places of prominence to honor these three people, Moses, Elijah, and of course, Jesus.” Jesus went and tapped him on the shoulder and said “Come with me. This is not what it’s all about.” Coming down the mountain, he said “Tell no one, until the Son of man has risen from the dead.” Can you imagine that secret that they have to keep within their hearts and minds? The public life of Jesus of about three and a half years, followed by his crucifixion and death was in the future.
That’s the nucleus of who we believe as Catholic Christians and so this mountain-top experience is a reminder to us that Jesus is truly the Son of God in His divinity, and the Son of Mary in His humanity. And so we show a deep abiding love for Jesus in the sacraments and the daily mass that we come to and the weekly mass on Sunday. And we should hear the voice of the Father, or remind ourselves of that voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
As you go about your blessed tasks today of celebrating, in a sense, your Irishness, you’re also celebrating your faith. You’re also celebrating the fact that you believe in the God of mercy and forgiveness. And you believe that that is the gift of gifts. Because the gift to believe, the gift to accept, is God’s gift, and we must accept it, nourish it, and be proud of it.
There are two potentialities in the human species, Good and Evil. And very quickly, I’ll mention evil. We’re experiencing a certain amount of it in the world today, if not indeed a great amount of it. Hatred, bitterness, cruelty, greed, lust, envy. All of these corrupt the heart. They disfigure the heart. They disfigure who we are. On the other hand, Goodness is portrayed by love, joy, peace, kindness, mercy, compassion, forgiveness. These purify the heart. They transfigure us and make us human persons aligned to God’s goodness. When we feel downcast, and when we feel bad, hopefully there is a friend who calls and says hello to lift our spirits.
We are made in God’s image. Christ is the Son of Mary. We are the sons and daughters of our ancestors, our parents, and those who went before us. And we must always believe that sin tarnishes us. But we’re all able, as we are this morning, to be joyful and happy as we celebrate the faith of Patrick, which is a unique and special gift, and which we should cherish with happiness and joy. Amen.