Second Sunday of Lent (Year C)
Saint Leander of Seville, Bishop; Blessed Agnellus of Pisa, Franciscan
The Lord is my light and my salvation
Transfigured on the Way
“The Gospel on the second Sunday of Lent is always the account of the Transfiguration” says the Homiletic Directory (no. 64) which further explains authoritatively: “The Transfiguration holds an essential position in the season of Lent because the entire Lenten Lectionary is a lesson book that prepares the elect among the catechumens to receive the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil, just as it prepares all the faithful to renew themselves in the new life into which they have been reborn. If the first Sunday of Lent is an especially striking reminder of Jesus’ solidarity with us in temptation, the second Sunday is meant to remind us that the glory that bursts forth from Jesus’ body is a glory that he means to share with all who are baptized into his death and resurrection” (no. 67). This is what Saint Paul affirmed in today’s second reading: “He [Jesus Christ] will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil 3:21). Thus, we are all invited to deepen some aspects of this important event in the journey of Christ and his disciples for our renewal of missionary Christian life.
1. “At that time” – The Transfiguration on the Way of Mission
The first important aspect to be clarified is the temporal context of the event (which is expressed in the Lectionaries in various languages with a generic note “at that time”). The transfiguration of Christ took place after Peter’s confession about Jesus (“You are the Messiah of God”), immediately followed by the first prediction of the Passion to the disciples, with which Christ reveals his true messianic mission (“He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised’”; Lk 9:22). Moreover, with this revelation, He invites all to follow Him on the way of the cross and self-denial to “enter into glory,” (Lk 9:23-24: “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it’”; cf. Lk 24:26). Thus, the transfiguration of Christ is not an isolated episode to show a “divine spectacle” on the mountain, but it is entirely part of the mission’s journey that He makes with his disciples with a clear pedagogical-parenetic purpose for them.
In this regard, the original temporal annotation of the Evangelist Luke “about eight days after” (Lk 9:28a) for the transfiguration (in comparison to “after six days” in Mk 9:2 e in Mt 17:1) seems to indicate even more the close bond between the event and the resurrection of Jesus on the eighth day (the first day after Saturday, seventh day of the week), which will be the ultimate goal of the mission. Furthermore, Saint Luke will be the only one to highlight the content of the conversation between Jesus with the two representatives of all Scripture, Moses (Law) and Elijah (Prophets): “[they] spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” It clearly alludes to the Passion of Jesus, to His “passage/departure” that is Paschal Mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection, which is fulfilled according to the Word of God foretold to the Chosen People in Sacred Scripture. Jesus’ mission is therefore a “new exodus,” long-dreamt of by the prophet Isaiah (cf., e.g., Is 43:16-21). It will be the definitive exodus that brings the people out of the oppression of sin and death, to pass to the fullness of life in God. However, it will also pass through the desert with temptations, struggles, sufferings, but it will always end with the entry into the Promised Land. If Jesus’ mission is like this, will that of his disciples be different?
In this perspective, in the prayer of the Preface this Sunday, “As the Eucharistic prayer begins, the priest, speaking for the whole people, wants to give thanks to God through Christ our Lord for this mystery of transfiguration: ‘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’” (Homiletic Directory no. 65). In the same vein, the Catechism of the Catholic Church emphasizes, “The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming (…). But it also recalls that ‘it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22)” (no. 556). This “must…through many persecutions” for glory, of course, does not mean that Christ’s disciples will have to look for troubles or even create it at will for pleasure (like masochists!). It simply affirms the truth that the disciples’ mission will reflect that of their Master. This mission will have to face difficulties, sufferings, everyday crosses, for the Gospel and for the Kingdom of God. The Mount of the Transfiguration is linked with Mount Calvary. We should not be surprised, then, if there are obstacles (including temptations) in the missionary Christian journey, but we must always remember the reassuring words of the Master: “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).
2. “While he was praying”
Luke the Evangelist originally mentions prayer as the moment in which “his face [of Jesus] changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” As in Jesus’ baptism, here too we see the fundamental role of prayer, understood as immersion in communion with God, in Jesus’ life and mission and therefore also in that of his disciples. Furthermore, as the transfiguration of Jesus happened “while he was praying,” one could even imagine that every disciple of Christ, who immerses himself/herself in authentic prayer with God, might be seen to be taken to a mountain and is in some way “transfigured.” This moment of intense spiritual experience with God opens Heaven, as happened in Jesus’ baptism, and makes the person praying “change in appearance,” as in the Transfiguration. In this way, those who live constantly in prayer, like St. Francis of Assisi (to the point of becoming “the walking prayer”), will be constantly “transfigured” with and in Christ.
If this is the case with prayer, it will be particularly true for every Holy Mass, in which we are immersed in prayer, in listening to the Word, in Eucharistic communion with Christ who is sacramentally united with his disciples. They are the precious moments Christ gives to his faithful on the mission journey, as a kind of weekly / daily sacramental transfiguration of Christ for us, so that we can also taste a pinch of our transfiguration with Him and in Him. In this regard, here is the inspired invitation from the sacred author, “Look to him and be radiant, and your faces may not blush for shame,” indeed, “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Ps 34:6,9). In fact, “what the chosen three disciples heard and beheld at the Transfiguration exactly converges now with the event of this liturgy in which the faithful receive the Body and Blood of the Lord. (…) While still on earth, the disciples saw the divine glory shining in the body of Jesus. While still on earth, the faithful receive his Body and Blood and hear the Father’s voice speaking to them in the depths of their hearts: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Homiletic Directory no.68).
In such a perspective, this Lent will perhaps also be an opportunity to renew our way of living every Mass, so that it may be more and more a moment of deep experience of the glorious Christ, like that on the high mountain in Galilee.
3. The Disciples of Transfiguration
At the moment of Christ’s transfiguration, the disciples’ behavior is somewhat curious and a little confused. First of all, as St. Luke says, they were “overcome by sleep.” (This “sleepy” attitude occurred again during Jesus’ agony at Gethsemane, while Jesus was praying [cf. Lk 22:45]). By the way, two thousand years have passed, but nothing seemingly has changed with Jesus’ disciples, who often fall asleep during moments of prayer and even with Christ’s presence mystically in their midst (especially during mass and particularly during the homily!). Nonetheless, on the Mount of Transfiguration, when the three disciples awoke, they could experience the beauty of the transfigured Christ’s glory to the point of exclaiming, “Master, it is good that we are here” and of wanting to stay longer by suggesting to make “three tents.” Peter’s proposal was rather motivated by strong emotion (so much so that “[Peter] did not know what he was saying.”). All this (including confusion) shows indirectly the intensity of experience a disciple could have at the vision of Christ on the mountain.
God’s plan for the event is not what Peter thought and desired. The transfiguration continued and culminated with a divine manifestation like what had already occurred during the theophany on Mount Sinai: the cloud over all disciples and the voice (from the cloud) confirming Jesus’ identity as the “chosen Son [of God]”, as happened during Jesus’ baptism. These are the exclusive words for Jesus, because “after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone,” as subtly indicated by the evangelist. In this perspective, the recommendation “listen to Him” of the divine voice, which resounds from the cloud on the mountain as on Sinai, has a fundamental meaning for the disciples: now in Jesus is manifested the fullness of the Word of God, given to Moses (Law) and Elijah (Prophets). Indeed, “in times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things” (Heb 1:1-2).
Like Peter, James, John, we all are called to become more and more disciples of transfiguration, that is, disciples of the transfigured Christ. We are called concretely to often climb the mountain with Him, to be more awake there, to “enter the cloud” of the Spirit without fear, and above all to listen to and follow Him as the only Way to the Father, to be all of us transformed too, indeed, transfigured with Him and in Him on our missionary Christian journey. And it is now time to start, from this Transfiguration Sunday.