I have always been a big fan of sleep. The little late afternoon “cat naps” can be very refreshing. From what I understand President John F. Kennedy would take a brief afternoon nap every day to help him with his chronic back ailments. Also, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI takes a 45-minute nap every day. In today’s readings we are introduced here to a very different kind of deep sleep or “trance.”
In today’s First Reading from the Book of Genesis 15, God promises Abram as many descendants as the stars in the sky. He gives him very specific liturgical instructions on how to offer sacrifice. Then God placed Abraham in a deep sleep. The Revised Standard Version of the Holy Bible gives the most accurate English translation from the original Hebrew and Greek languages. The RSV says: “a deep sleep fell on Abram; and behold, a dread and great darkness fell upon him.” Then the Lord made His covenant with Abram. This passage about God making His covenantal promises with Abram and hence with us in Genesis 15 reminds us of the marital covenant God made with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:21-24 when He God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and while he slept God took one of his ribs and fashioned it into a woman – Eve. This institution of the one flesh union between man and woman is the only true and legal marital covenant, because the Creator instituted it and no man or woman can design another, anything else is counterfeit. True marriage is designed by God to be intimate (one flesh 2:24), heterosexual (man and woman, 2:23), mutually supportive (helper, 2:18), and procreative (multiply, 1:28). Jesus teaches from this text that God alone designed and fashioned marriage in His Own Image (the Trinity) to be a permanent, indissoluble union of spouses (Mt 19:39). It symbolizes the permanent and indissoluble bond between Christ and His bride, the Church (Eph 5:21-33). This is all profoundly explained in Pope St. John Paul II’s catechesis called “Men and Women He Created Them-A Theology of the Body.”
The sleep God puts both Adam and Abram in precedes a covenantal forging between them and all of humanity with God. It is enduring, alive, binding and cannot be set aside by any Supreme Court, since God alone has the right to institute or dissolve His covenants, which should be seen as acts of love and not exclusion. The Psalm that responds to the First Reading from Genesis is taken from Psalm 27 reasserting that God alone is the true light and that we need to be stouthearted and persevering, waiting for the Lord to deliver us from a world that chooses to ignore God and His covenants. St. Paul reminds us who we truly are: “citizens of heaven.” Even though we have broken God’s covenantal relationship and many are “occupied with earthly things,” He still loves us and is faithful to us. He wants to change our mortal broken bodies into glorified ones like He shows us in the Transfiguration Gospel from Luke 9.
This Gospel passage today not only gives us a little glimpse of what St. Paul is talking about in the Second Reading today to the Philippians of our “glorified bodies,” but it also reminds us that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets and that He did not do away with the Old Testament covenants, but fulfilled them. So, the covenants with Abram and with Adam/Eve, including the marital covenant and ALL its precepts are not only still binding, but have been raised up to an ever deeper level by the shedding of Jesus’ Precious Blood on the marital bed of the Cross at Calvary on Good Friday. Here, on Mt. Tabor, the sleep of Peter is better translated again in the RSV translation in Lk 9:32: “now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep but kept awake, and they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” This sleepiness may have been more natural rather than supernaturally induced by God, as was in the case with Adam and Abram, but nonetheless, still used by the Lord to manifest the fact that we must not grow drowsy, because we do not know when God’s glory will be manifested in our lives. This “almost being overcome” was not from the Father, but possibly from the Evil One and the spirit of sloth trying to have Peter and his three companions miss God’s very important manifestation and message He wanted to give them. Christ reveals His glory to buoy the apostles from the shock of the first Passion prediction and also mirrors God’s manifestation to Moses on Mt. Sinai. St. Hilary points out that Christ invited Peter, James and John to signify His desire for the salvation of mankind. How? Well let’s remember that the human family was wiped out with the flood and that the new covenant was made with Noah and his three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The three apostles are now the new covenants representatives of the human family and is being elevated with the symbolic ascent up Mt. Tabor. Jesus Christ will restore the dignity of the human person on the marital bed of the Cross, foreshadowed here on Mt. Tabor. It is the Theology of His Body and the Theology of our Bodies, because it is the Theology of the Body – Man and Women He Created Us. Amen.
Download this Homily as a PDF file – 2nd Sunday of Lent Year C
Father Tom DeSimone was ordained a priest on May 13, 2006, the Feast day of Our Lady of Fatima. He most recently served as Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in White Plains, NY. He joins the staff of the Theology of the Body Institute on a three year leave from the Archdiocese of New York, to become the Institute’s first full time spiritual advisor and Director of Clergy Development.