At the start of this holy season of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded, among other things, of our human mortality. When ashes were imposed on our heads, we were told: “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Lent, a time of grace and salvation (cf. 2 Cor 6:2), is also a desert journey, a time for sober reflection on the reality of our life with all its pains and challenges, and a time to face the fact that our earthly life will come to an end.
However, the readings of this Second Sunday of Lent, especially the Gospel, give us a powerful message of hope for eternal glory. It is true that our earthly lives are beset with pain, struggles, and the eventual contradiction of physical death, but, when lived in union with Christ’s passion and cross, we will enter the glory of his resurrection. This is what Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain demonstrates.
St. Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying, “his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white.” To understand the meaning of this mysterious event, we can benefit from examining what happened just before it. St. Luke makes an explicit time reference, starting his account with the words, “About eight days after he said this, Jesus took Peter, John, and James…” What did Jesus say eight days earlier? He announced to his disciples: “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). He added that the condition of following him is to renounce oneself and take up one’s cross daily and follow him (cf. Lk 9:23).
Human nature is such that it recoils and shudders before any prospect of suffering. Therefore this announcement of Jesus about his impending passion and death, and his invitation to imitate him, must have shocked his disciples. The Transfiguration that takes place eight days later is connected to this announcement and its impact on the disciples. Jesus’ intentions on the mountain are: first, to let his disciples experience the splendor of his divinity – to let them know that he is God – since up to now they have only seen him in human form. Second, Jesus wants to dispel the shock in their hearts regarding his approaching passion and death. Third, he intends to make them understand that, however grievous our sufferings may be here on earth, life does not end in suffering. He is reminding them, and us, of the glory of the resurrection, which he announced would follow his own passion and death.
Sensible people know that human life does not end with physical death. God has planted in our hearts the longing for a glorious and joyful life for all eternity. All our hopes for earthly comfort and security are but indications of this deeper longing. An example of earthly signs of heavenly gifts is given in the first reading, where God reveals himself to Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham). God makes a sacred covenant with Abram and promises to bestow land on him and his descendants. This is an early revelation of God’s eternal plan for us, a promise which will be fulfilled only later with the coming of Jesus. In fact, the Promised Land, offered to Abraham and to all those who by faith become his spiritual descendants, is Heaven – our true homeland!
As we journey through this holy season of Lent, we ponder more intensely our heavenly destination, our “citizenship in Heaven.” How can we really enter the glory of Heaven which God offers us in Christ? It is by following the way of his passion and cross, through which he won it for us (cf. Rev 5:9). Today’s second reading, taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, addresses this matter directly. Paul acknowledges that those who make themselves enemies of the cross of Christ will end in destruction. They are people who remain “occupied with earthly things” rather than Heaven. He urges us who know that our citizenship is in Heaven to love the cross of Christ. The cross, as St. Rose of Lima tells us, is our only ladder to Heaven (cf. CCC 618). St. Paul also connects the glory we see in Jesus’ Transfiguration to our own future glory, telling us that Jesus “will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him to bring all things into subjection to himself.” With this in mind, we are to “stand firm in the Lord,” for it is only by sharing in the passion and cross of our Lord Jesus Christ that we can share in his glory.
What is my response to suffering? Do I try to join my pain with the cross of Christ? How can I focus upon the glory of Jesus even when I encounter the cross?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.