From the Sunday just before Ash Wednesday, Jesus said: “A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of a store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45). What is in your storehouse ready to pull out when needed? Lots of things. Moral discernment begins with family of origin experience, what we take in with our eyes, our ears and in all manner of choices we have made. And in the experience of the consequences of those choices. They form memories, which become our thoughts, which are played out in word and action, forming habits, developing character, all leading to the person we are becoming.
We see the goodness in the storehouse of our hearts in the manner in which we face temptation – a theme of the gospel just after Ash Wednesday. And that brings us to this 2nd Sunday of Lent – and it is still a question of the character we are forming, the person we are becoming.
It seems to me there are at least two kinds of courage. One is the immediate and situational courage of the person who, in a moment of extreme need, summons the courage to face an imminent danger. This is the courage of the by-stander who jumps into a raging river to save someone struggling to swim at great risk to him or herself. Courage is not born in that moment, it is not just a spur-of-the-moment thing but ultimately is a display of character, a culmination of action and beliefs developed and exercised over the course of one’s life leading them to act courageously in any given moment.
There is a second kind of courage as well, this one not displayed in a single moment or act but plays out in facing a daunting challenge, in not turning away from it, in meeting it head on. This is also a matter of character – character that has emerged from the willingness and experience of facing fears and shouldering burdens. Character that is being forged in the very moment of accepting challenges and responsibilities that one could avoid.
It is in the life of the single parent fixing dinner for the kids, helping them with homework before leaving for the second job. It is the life of the nurses and healthcare professionals who each day re-entered the front lines of the pandemic war. It is in the life of everyday people, like you, that have accepted daunting challenges embedded in everyday life, decisions and consequences. It is in the life of a Ukrainian man, having escorted his family to safety, returns to defend his homeland. All the while there is so much to fear. But as Franklin Roosevelt said, “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
Abraham and Sarah overcame their fear and uncertainty. When the Lord called they moved their family and lives from the comfort of their home in southern Iraq to the unknown land of Israel. There was not an immigrant impulse for a better life. There is not a wanderlust for adventure and new lands. There was something more important than fear. There was the call to serve God. There was patient waiting to see what would unfold in that promise larger than all the stars in the night sky.
Sometimes there is the courage to remember the words of the psalm: “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The LORD is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?”….“Wait for the LORD with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.” It is a call to be courageous when there are other calls, other temptations for other choices. It is the call to the community of Philippi in the second reading when Paul tells all to have courage to “stand firm in the Lord.”
For the apostles there was something more important than their fear. It gave them the courage to follow Jesus down the mountain. To follow the One who knew what awaited him in Jerusalem – the certainty of death with frustration, suffering, weariness, disappointment and loneliness along the way. I do not doubt that Jesus was tempted to turn from the road before him. Nonetheless, he will keep to the road appointed and meet his death. Along the way he will heal, teach, liberate, pray, pursue justice, and call all who would hear to a new life of courage.
What enables one to walk the dark days and moments of life in the light of Christ? “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Perhaps it is the light of that moment on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured.
What lies behind us is the memory and promise of Christ on full display on that mountain top. What lies ahead is the promise of redemption, salvation, a life wholly complete – all fulfilled in Christ. What lies along the way is a journey of courage, fueled by the hope given to us in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. This is the Lenten journey. This is the journey of life.
There will be temptation, suffering, and voices telling you to turn from the path of holiness and hope. There will be memories of this gospel, stories of courage, and a fountain fullness of grace overflowing into your life from this Eucharist – the presence of Christ helping you to choose, to build character. So, fear not; have courage.