Second Sunday of Lent
The Transfiguration of the Lord has been proclaimed as a Lenten Gospel from the first days of the Church. Along with last week’s Temptation in the Desert, next week’s Samaritan Woman and the Man Born Blind, these Gospels form a sort of Catechism of our Salvation.
Today’s lesson is a meditation on the glory of the Lord, a foreshadowing of the Resurrection and that day at the end of time when the Lamb slain for our sins will take the place of the sun and the moon as the eternal light of our heavenly home.
As told by the Evangelists of the Synoptic Gospels, the Transfiguration is set on Mount Tabor, where the Lord’s face is seen to change in appearance and his clothes become dazzlingly white.
This unequivocal manifestation of the divinity of Christ was said by Saint Thomas Aquinas to be the Lord’s “greatest miracle,” not only providing us with a glimpse of heaven, but a reminder of who Jesus is when, as at his Baptism, a voice thunders from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him”
But is there something more going on here than a mere revelation of the divinity of Christ, as hinted at by the Preface in today’s Mass, which gives us a look at what the full meaning of the Transfiguration really is. Here’s what it says:
For after he had told the disciples of his coming death,
on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory,
to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets,
that the passion leads to the glory of the resurrection.
What then is the greatest secret of life which the voice from the cloud insists we should listen to? What is the deeper meaning of the Transfiguration? That the passion leads to the glory of the resurrection.
In the Transfiguration, then, we have the first real glimpse of the Mystery which we will enact during the Sacred Paschal Triduum. That Easter Glory is always preceded by the Passion of Good Friday; that the dazzling light of the Resurrection is always preceded by the dark sorrow of the death of the Lord; and that Eternal Life is a gift which comes only through the Cross.
There are hints of this all through today’s Gospel. Who does Jesus take up with him to Mount Tabor? The same three who will fall asleep when he goes up to pray while weeping blood on the Mount of Olives. Tabor is a rehearsal for Olivet, the same cast of characters, the same script. But Tabor is glory, while Olivet is passion. Two sides of the same coin, two essential dimensions of the same saving mystery.
Which brings me to various news reports of recent days. Each time I click to a different blog, I am tempted to think we are back in the presidential primaries, with tales of political intrigue and struggles for power.
But with each new blog report, they get it wrong. For the new Pope will be the vicar of him who promised that the first will be last and the last will be first. And the road to the papacy is not a road to personal glory. It is Peter crucified upside down, it is a half dozen martyred popes, and it is the man who will walk out on that balcony in a couple weeks...who will have given up his life, his freedom, and everything he has always known and enjoyed, in order to ‘stretch out his hands and be led to places he did not want to go.' (John 21: 18b)
You may have heard of a part of the medieval rite for the election of a pope at which the great procession of pomp and circumstance was stopped as a bunch of dried flax would be held before the new Holy Father and ignited. As it quickly burned, the Papal antiphoner would remind the Holy Father, “Sic transit gloria mundi. Thus passes the glory of the world.”
Cardinal Rivasi in preaching the Lenten retreat to the Roman Curia in the presence of the Holy Father yesterday lamented the “divisions, dissent, careerism, and jealousies” which so compromise the life of the Church. Unlike the world of politics, our life and our Church is not about exploiting divisions, but about making all one in Christ. It is not about fomenting dissent to personal advantage, but helping all men to see the truth. It is not about building an ecclesiastical career, but seeking out the last place that we might be conformed to our Blessed Lord and Savior who washed their feet and then opened his arms on the cross to die for our salvation.
So what is done in the Sistine Chapel and in the halls of Saint John’s Seminary is really hard for the media to get. Just as the Transfiguration is hard for us to understand. It is not about us, but about Christ, to whom is due the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.