26 Feb Second Sunday in Lent
Deacon Blaine Barclay
February 25, 2018
I decided to give this homily a catchy title. ‘Transfigured transformation’; and to begin with a quote from the Catechism that ties together last week’s gospel on the Baptism of Jesus and this week’s gospel on the Transfiguration. (CCC # 556). ’’Jesus’ baptism proclaimed “the mystery of the first regeneration”, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration “is the sacrament of the second regeneration’’: our own Resurrection’’. The Transfiguration speaks to our transformation on so many levels. The story of the Transfiguration comes to us in the middle of Lent, as a fore-taste, an anticipation of the Resurrection of Jesus, of Easter joy and gladness. There are present in this story all the typical elements of an Old Testament experience of God’s presence, the in-breaking manifestation of the presence of the holy; the overshadowing cloud, the bright light, the fear and trembling, the proclamation of the law and the prophets in the persons of Moses and Elijah, the voice of witness, the imperative to listen. You could almost say that there is nothing new in this typical story of the tremendous mystery of God’s in-breaking presence, presence that makes us tremble. Of course, there is always a radical newness, a disruptive, surprising, otherness, to the experience of the presence of God. The Transfiguration event, however, is all of the Old Testament experiences of God’s presence condensed and distilled into the focus point of the personal presence of the person of Jesus. “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him’’! The whole of salvation history, the long, storied journey of God’s saving intervention and presence to his people, is contained and fulfilled in this story. The cloud is dissipated, the Presence of God is unveiled in the face of Jesus.
What are we to do with this in-breaking, unveiled presence, or, rather, what will we let it do with us? How can we allow this unveiled presence, shining forth in the person of Jesus, to transform, transfigure, metamorphosis, our ‘cocooned’ lives?
How does St Peter react to the Transfiguration? He delighted in it, even while he was disoriented and terrified by it. He grasped the dynamite of its transformative power so much that he wanted to camp out, linger with it, draw it out as long as possible. This is not surprising, we all do this on those occasions where we experience God’s consolations, the healing balm of God’s saving presence in our lives; we too may want to camp out, linger with it, to simply delight the presence of the Savior. But like Peter, James, and John, we need to come down off the mountain of Transfiguration, to labor with the Lord in the vineyard of the world. The Christian life is not all, and not often, ecstatic mystical delight, anticipatory Resurrection experiences. More often than not, it is the long haul of the disciplines of discipleship, the duty of the moment, athletic struggle, Ascesis, the Way of the Cross.
The Christian life is exercised in the back and forth movement between the theological virtue of Hope, animated by Jesus’ Resurrection and our participation in it; and the theological virtue of Faith, our trust in the Lord’s promise, uncovered in the midst of struggle, of life’s inescapable suffering, our participation in the Way of the Cross.
St. Paul, in our second reading, paints for us a picture of this movement of the Christian life. He begins with utter confidence in the love of God poured out for us in Christ Jesus. He asks, ’’Can anything separate us from the Love of Christ’’? He then goes on to list a number of experiences than one might think to be detrimental, or inimical to faith. Things that might cause us to give up hope, to question or doubt the love of God for us, and lead to a subsequent crisis of Faith. He asks, ’’Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword’’? Will any of these experiences, as horrible as they might sound, ever be able to separate us from the love of Christ?
Saint Paul’s answer is really the answer of the Transfiguration, an anticipation of the Glory of the Risen Jesus. ’’No’’, he says, ’’In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us’’. Other translations speak of our ‘sweeping, overwhelming, complete victory’ over the forces arrayed against us. We may not yet face some of the hardships St. Paul enumerates, overt and systematic persecution with all its social dislocations. But we do face the powerful engines of persuasion that try to sweep us along, the seduction into trivialities, the torrent of public opinion, the soft, more hidden violence of a culture of death. Whatever the Cross we are called a carry, Christ has already been there, Christ has already achieved victory over the Cross and the Grave. The Transfiguration gives us a little fore-taste of that Victory in order to encourage and strengthen us during our Lenten journey. Yes, whatever the difficulties we face, past, present, or future; ’’We are more than conquers through him who loved us’.