Transfiguration and the Second Sunday of Lent : Wholly Fire and Wholly Light
The struggle we engage is about turning away from sin. But it is also about turning toward the total transformation of the integrated human person. It will only be complete in the Resurrection of our Bodies. However, it begins now. It is not accidental that the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent was the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert (Lk. 4:1-13) and the Gospel of the Second is the Transfiguration on the mountain. They are connected.
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The Transfiguration of the Lord
P>CHESAPEAKE, VA. (Catholic Online) - On the Second Sunday of Lent, I read these words from the Holy Gospel at Mass. It is Cycle C so I proclaim the account of the Transfiguration from the Gospel of St. Luke (Lk. 9: 28b - 36):
"Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him."
"As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen."
Every year I am asked the question: Why, on the second Sunday of Lent does the Church offer us an account of the Transfiguration? The inclusion of this account is an ancient liturgical practice. We also hear the account proclaimed on the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Whether during Lent or on its own Feast, the Gospel account is meant to focus us on the "end" of the Christian life and our own vocation."End" in the philosophical and theological sense means purpose or goal.
We will all be transfigured, as the Lord Himself was transfigured, when our redemption is complete in the Resurrection of the Body. Then, we will live, in the new heaven and new earth, in the fullness of the Communion of Love. This reality is meant to affect the way we live our lives - beginning right now. It also helps us understand one of the purposes of undertaking our ascetical practices during these forty days.
In the Eastern Christian Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, the First Week of the Great Lent is called Clean Week. The focus of the week is to enter fully into the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving with fervor. It is setting the pace for the forty days by running the first lap with vigorous effort. Strict fasting is encouraged, along with frequent prayer and almsgiving.
The intensity of the first week is intended to cultivate the proper disposition needed to achieve the desired end of the forty days of Lent, ongoing conversion of life reflected in a new way of living. Our freedom was fractured by sin. The way it can be healed is through the application of the Splint of the Cross. However, that cross must be embracedl.
The call goes out to clean house, to be rid of all sin and entanglements which hold us back from reclaiming the freedom the Lord desires for each one of us. In fact, in many Orthodox and Eastern Catholic communities the actual houses of believers are cleaned and stripped of excess, a symbol of the interior dynamic of the week and the very essence of Lent.
During the forty days of Lent we called to enter into a holy struggle against our disordered passions and weaknesses so that we can become more fitting vessels for the life and light of God to dwell within, making us new.
Eastern Christians have retained some of the more austere practices and customs which were a part of the ancient practices of the early Church. However, all of the lenten practices focus us on the effect of our disordered passions and appetites. They expose the division within us - and around us. All of this is the result of sin and its lingering effects. The Church as mother and teacher invites us into a spiritual battle to strengthen us.
The struggle we engage is about turning away from sin. But it is also about turning toward the total transformation of the integrated human person.It will only be complete in the Resurrection of our Bodies. However, it begins now. It is not accidental that the Gospel of the First Sunday of Lent was the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert (Lk. 4:1-13) and the Gospel of the Second is the Transfiguration on the mountain. They are connected.
An ancient homily reminds us "Just as the body of the Lord was glorified on the mountain when it was transfigured in the glory of God and in infinite light, so the bodies of the saints will be glorified and shine like lightning. "The glory which you have given me I have given to them" (John 17:22). As countless candles are lighted from a single flame, so the bodies of all Christ's members will be what Christ is. Our human nature is transformed into the fullness of God; it becomes wholly fire and light" (Pseudo-Macarius, 15th homily)
From the earliest centuries, the Church emphasized the centrality of the Transfiguration of the Lord in the Christian life and the plan of God for the whole human race. Our experience of our life in the Lord now is only the beginning of what is to come in the kingdom. However, our life is already a participation in that new reality, right now. The Church, in the words of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, is a "seed of the kingdom" to come. Our life within the Church is actually a participation in the eternal realities of the life to come in a new heaven and a new earth.
Our second reading from St Paul's letter to the Philippians (Phil.3:17 - 4:1) this Sunday is also important. Paul warns those in the early Christian community who had failed to remain vigilant in their faith. He says their "end is destruction.Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things." He then reminds the Christians of the early Church - and us - that "our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself."
The Transfiguration account on this Second Sunday of Lent invites us to reflect on what this means for us. This event on the Mountain was meant to strengthen the faith of these three disciples. They were about to witness the events that would lead their Lord and Master along what would appear to be an ignominious path, up Golgothaďż˝s lonely hill, to be crucified, a fate reserved for common criminals. Their own faith would be shaken, tested and tried. These three would also be with him in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36 ff) He loved those who were His own in this world (John 13:1). And, as many beautiful writings in the Tradition remind us, the Lord wanted to encourage them - and to encourage us - on that Mountain of Transfiguration.
However, this One who came from eternity and took upon Himself the limitations of time, was about to open the portal of eternity which would never again be closed to those with eyes to see. He would reveal to Peter, James and John the eternal now of His own glory. He was doing more than encouraging them. He was showing them who He was - and who they would become in Him. He was revealing to them what had already begun; and giving them a vision that would forever change the way they viewed themselves, their daily lives and their mission, after He would return to the Father.
As they learned to live their lives no longer for themselves but for Him they also began to undergo their own trials and walk the way to their own transfiguration up Golgotha's Hill. This is the path of all who bear His name Christian and carry forward the redemptive mission of Jesus as members of His Body. We entered through the waters of the womb of Holy Baptism into the life of the Church - which is His Body. We are now in process, works in progress. We are being re-created and transfigured in Him. He has brought heaven to earth and earth to heaven, through the Paschal mystery. We live in Him, bridging them both.
On that Mountain, Jesus revealed before mortal eyes the Transcendent Truth of who He is - and who Peter, James and John ...and each one of us - will become in Him. They were invited to exercise their freedom and embrace the path that He had prepared. So are we, right now. He was grounding them in the eternal Truth, and opening up for the countless millions who would hear this story from their faithful witness a glimpse of the Glory that is to come as we also choose Him in our daily lives.
Peter would later write of this experience: "His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love...."
"We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain." (2 Peter 1)
The Christian is called to a "participation in the Divine Nature." (2 Peter 1:4) which begins now. We are being transfigured in Christ as we cooperate with God's grace. This transfiguration will be complete when our entire person, including our body, is fully redeemed and transformed. The effects of the transfiguration involve the entire created order as well. It will finally be reconstituted in Jesus Christ and handed back to the Father. The followers of Jesus, the Transfigured One, now walk in His Way and are being transformed into His likeness, to shine as lights in a world steeped in darkness.
The Beloved Disciple John used this event of the Transfiguration as a "hermeneutic", a lens through which he gave the early Christians a deeper insight into their difficulties, struggles and mission in the context of our progressive transformation. In his first Letter to the early Churches, he encouraged them to persevere and live differently by referring to the event that occurred on that Mountain. He encouraged them to not be surprised or discouraged that the "world" did not recognize them, but rather to persevere in love through holding the vision of a transfigured life before them:
"See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure." (1 John 3)
The Lord Jesus has also shown us the way up the mountain. He has invited us into a new way of living in Him through living within the communion of the Church. Living in that Church we are invited to go into the world and invite all men and women, through the waters of the womb of Baptism, into the new communion of love where they can begin the process of conversion and transfiguration. Born again, we are all invited to join with Peter, James and John and cry out in our day: "It is good for us to be here."
As we reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus on this Second Sunday of Lent, let us enter into the mystery by living in the Transfiguration now. It truly is good for us to be here. Let us draw encouragement from the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ and respond to the invitations of grace in our daily lives in order to grow more fully into the Image and likeness of Jesus Christ our Savior.
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We are invited to reveal His Transfigured glory to a world waiting to be born anew. Our Lenten observance is an invitation into an ongoing transformation in Jesus Christ. It is a call to become - Wholly Fire and Light! It begins even now.
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