Second Sunday of Lent
Mk 9:2-10
February 28, 2021

I am by no means a fan. However, when insomnia hits, I’ve been known to watch one of the late-night talk shows.

Well, insomnia hit last week, and I ended up watching Stephen Colbert virtually interview Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and George Clooney. It was the same with each of the three guests, who were sitting in front of a computer screen in their own homes. After a little small talk, Colbert explained that he had put together a series of questions that he was going to ask each “movie star” so that the audience could get to know them better.

Not exactly a high priority for me…getting to know these people better…but as I said…I had insomnia.

Hanks was first up. He worked his way through several pretty silly questions. In case you’re interested (I was not), he prefers oranges over apples. His favorite sandwich is ham on rye. His favorite smell is a fresh baked apple pie. And, it went on like that.

As I was reaching for the remote to check out Jimmy Fallon, Colbert said: Last question! What happens when we die?

I froze. And it sure looked to me like Tom Hanks did as well. He appeared to be totally blindsided by such a serious issue at the end of a list of pretty silly questions. He tried to laugh it off. But, when he realized that Colbert wasn’t joking and was waiting for a response, Hanks began to look uncomfortable, maybe even embarrassed. He hemmed and hawed…and finally gave a very shallow…very disappointing answer. I was embarrassed for him.

But now I was hooked. I wanted to hear how Meryl Streep would answer that last BIG question.

When Colbert finally got to it and said: Last question! What happens when we die? She didn’t miss a beat. She seemed almost excited to share her beliefs. There was joy in her voice when she replied: Oh! We are reunited with all the people we love who have already died. And then, together, we do what we can to help our loved ones who we’ve left behind.

I was so impressed. Whether she knew it or not, her answer described what we Catholics refer to as “The Communion of Saints.”

George Clooney was the final guest of the evening. When Colbert asked him: What happens when we die? Clooney got a very thoughtful look on his face. He stared right into the camera, and in a very serious tone of voice he said: You know Stephen, like yourself, I was raised Catholic. Over the years, I somehow got away from all of that.

On national TV, he basically confessed to having lost his faith. But then he went on to say: Now that I’m getting older, I’m renegotiating things. It’s under negotiation.

I think what he was trying to say is this: I don’t know what happens when we die…but now that my own death is getting closer… I’m reaching back to what I was taught, what I believed to be true, trying to figure it all out.

Now, if you happen to be thinking, “Who cares?” Who cares what three Hollywood celebrities think about the spiritual life? What do they know? They aren’t theologians. Well, then, you’re probably thinking the same sort of thoughts that many of the people of Jerusalem felt after Easter Sunday.

When Peter, James, and John…poor, uneducated fishermen from the backwoods area of Galilee, began to proclaim The Resurrection, many folks probably just shook their heads and walked away, muttering…What do you know? Who cares what you think?

I can tell you this much: The Late Show did not help with my insomnia. When I turned off the television and went to bed, I tossed and turned for a couple more hours, doing exactly what the three Apostles did, as they walked down from the mountaintop. I laid awake, questioning what “rising from the dead” means.

And while I was tossing and turning, it occurred to me that those three celebrities had given me some very interesting insights into this Sunday’s Gospel. I really didn’t have any interest in getting to know them better. But, through their answers to that last BIG QUESTION, I feel like I got to know Peter, James, and John just a little bit better.

Tom Hanks helped me to better appreciate Peter’s reaction to The Transfiguration of the Lord. Peter was taken totally off guard by the preview of the “afterlife,” which he was privileged to witness. Like the movie star, the Apostle “hardly knew what to say.” They were both made giddy by the reality they were confronted with LIFE AFTER DEATH…THE ULTIMATE REALITY. Their responses were equally embarrassing and inappropriate.

George Clooney reminded me of the somber, quiet walk down the mountain. James and John were terrified as they watched Jesus break through to the “other side.” They didn’t know what to make of it. And, as they came back down the mountain, they began to struggle with the last BIG QUESTION: What happens when we die? WHAT DOES RISING FROM THE DEAD MEAN?

Much like Clooney, they probably reached back in time, remembering all they had been taught, all they believed to be true, all that they had learned from Jesus, in hopes of sorting it all out. The Lord’s Transfiguration became a very important part of their “negotiations.”

When the Easter morning news filled them with wonder and awe, they quite likely looked back and remembered that day on the mountaintop when The Lord shone like the sun. And it helped them “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection.

I don’t think that Meryl Streep was acting. Her response to the BIG QUESTION was too spontaneous to have been just another of her academy award-winning performances. It occurs to me that, somehow, some way, at some point in her life, she heard the echo of that mind-blowing Voice from the cloud…THIS IS MY BELOVED SON! LISTEN TO HIM. Her very profound description of The Communion of Saints demonstrates an understanding that, in the end, it is all about love.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.
As we begin the second week of Lent, it might be helpful to consider that whether you are a fisherman or a talk show host…an Apostle or a movie star…a believer or a searcher…a saint or a sinner…no one, while in these earthly bodies, can know just exactly what it means to be “raised from the dead.”

And so, on those occasions when we consider the stark reality of our own death, we can easily succumb to feelings of uncertainty, confusion, doubt, and maybe even fear. It is then, when we are struggling to “negotiate” this great mystery of Resurrection, that it’s so important to remember what God has taught us through Jesus Christ…IT IS ALL ABOUT LOVE! And by these weeks of special prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we are telling God: I love you, too!