Here’s A Beautiful Lenten Gospel Reflection Just for You
The Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Lent recalls the Transfiguration of Our Lord at the top of a mountain. In this famous scene, Our Lord takes Peter, James and John up a high mountain and, once there, He is transfigured before them. His face shines like the sun, and his clothing becomes as white as light. After seeing Jesus thus transfigured, and hearing the Father identify Him, Saint Peter, the head of the apostles, makes what seems like a reasonable request: that they may remain on the mountain with Jesus, enveloped in heavenly glory. However, after apparently a brief moment, the Transfiguration ends, and Jesus and the three descend back down the mountain. This miracle may be puzzling to us because it doesn’t seem to accomplish anything. Most of Jesus’ miracles end up with someone cured, or bellies fed, or a person raised from the dead, but what did the Transfiguration actually “do”? It is appropriate to reflect on this miracle during Lent, because it actually holds a lot of insights that can help our Lenten journeys to be spiritually fruitful. In this post we will look at three details of the Transfiguration, as presented in the Gospel of Matthew, and see how they can enhance our Lenten journey.
“I will make three tents here.”
Saint Peter’s reaction to seeing his Lord in glory, surrounded by the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah) is a natural one: he wants to stay there. A tent is a dwelling place. You “pitch your tent” when you intend to stay in a place for an extended period of time, or even forever. Saint Peter clearly wants to hold on to the experience of the incarnation. And why not? The Transfiguration revealed Christ’s glory - which was normally “hidden” under his humanity - unveiled for the three Apostles to see. It is natural and reasonable for Saint Peter to want to remain atop the mountain, gazing upon God in His glory and beauty. However, Christ does not accede to Peter’s wishes. He does not allow him to build three tents. Instead, He leads Peter, James and John back down the mountain.
Why does Christ not allow them to linger atop the mountain? Because the spiritual life is about more than consolations. There are times in one’s spiritual journey when things are going well; we can easily feel God’s presence, our prayer life is fruitful and pleasant, and our faith feels strong. However, this is not what the spiritual life is all about. It is not all consolation. At times, we must make do with spiritual desolations, with the “dark night of the soul,” a sensation which was experienced by many of the greatest saints, including John of the Cross, Faustina Kowalska, and Mother Teresa. Perhaps Jesus did not let Peter and the Apostles linger atop the mountain because He wanted to teach them that there must be times in life when we don’t feel consolation, when we don’t feel the glory of God surrounding us. Yet, God is still with us, even in those difficult times. With its emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, Lent is a time when we must move forward in faith, despite not having consolations present.
“Listen to Him.”
What God the Father says to Peter, James and John is quite revealing: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” What does “listen to him” mean if not obey him and follow his example? The entirety of Christ’s earthly life - his thirty hidden years, as well as his three years of public ministry - is an example for us today. How does Christ’s life provide an example for us today? The answer can be found in His command for us to take up our crosses and follow Him. Christ did not live for Himself; He lived for others. His public life began with forty days of fasting in the desert; similarly, our Lenten journey consists of forty days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in imitation of Him. Why do we do these things? Not for psychological satisfaction, losing weight, and tax deductions, but to become more like Christ, and to live more simply so that we can live for others. When we give up things that are naturally dear to us, such as food, money and free time, we free up our lives and our resources so that we can redirect them towards our fellow man. In this, we become more conformed to Christ. So, by saying “Listen to Him,” God the Father is telling us, “Imitate Him; take up your cross and follow Him.” Indeed, imitating Christ is what Lent is all about.
“As they were coming down from the mountain…”
The miracle of the Transfiguration only lasted for a few moments, after which Jesus accompanied Peter, James and John back down the mountain, and they resumed their daily lives, Christ’s public ministry. How disappointed the Apostles must have been! After seeing Jesus with His glory revealed and unmasked, and accompanied by two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, it must have been a letdown for them to be told that they must then go back down the mountain and resume their day-to-day lives. But this is how we participate in Christ’s redemptive mission: not by seeing great things or experiencing great consolations, but rather, in being like Christ, who was not ashamed to live a humble, workaday life for thirty years. Even during His public ministry, there must have been times when it was tiring, difficult and even challenging. But these times require patience and trust in God. This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for great holiness in our lives, but rather that holiness sometimes comes through simply doing what we are obliged to do, day in and day out. We cannot merely rest in consolations, but must take the fruit of our prayers into the world to serve our fellow men and women, and to bring Christ to them.
What does this mean for us?
Although in merely material terms, the miracle of the Transfiguration doesn’t seem to accomplish anything, the way that Peter, James and John react to it, as well as Christ’s behavior towards them both during and after the miracle, do provide for us a blueprint or example for how to live our lives. In this it is similar to the season of Lent, which is a sort of mini course in the Christian life. While there are times for great joy and consolation, there are also times in life when we need to take up our crosses and follow Christ in obscurity.
So that we might not give up in the midst of difficulties, God performed the miracle of the Transfiguration to remind us of our goal. Because it is difficult or even impossible to reach a goal when you’ve never seen it or don’t know what it is, so God gave us the Transfiguration to let us know what we have to look forward to at the end of our lives. We know that after we’ve done our best down here on earth - at the bottom of the mountain - and if we die in a state of grace, we can look forward to seeing Christ in all His glory, as He was at the Transfiguration. Only after we go through this difficult life, this Lenten season, can we enjoy the glory of Easter.