SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
The transfiguration: a peak experience
INTRODUCTION AND CONFITEOR
On Mount Tabor Christ’s disciples got a glimpse of the glory that was his as the Son of God. Here we get a glimpse of our own glory, for we too are children of the Father. This should fill our lives with hope and meaning. [Pause]
Lord, you reveal to us the mystery of the Father’s presence among us and love for us. Lord, have mercy.
You remind us of our dignity and help us to live up to it. Christ, have mercy. ‘
You accompany us when we have to walk through the valley of darkness. Lord, have mercy.
HEADINGS FOR READINGS
First Reading (Genesis 1221-4). This tells about the call of Abraham, our father in faith. God asked him to leave his home, clan, and country, for an unknown destination. Thanks to his obedience the whole world has been blessed.
Second Reading (Timothy 1:840). God has called us to holiness, and helps us with his grace to achieve this.
Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9). On Mount Tabor the three disciples got a glimpse of the glory of Christ. It was meant to sustain them when they would witness the shame and humiliation of his passion and death.
At times we all feel down, a prey to feelings of failure and worthlessness. But then suddenly something nice happens to us – a friend calls, or we get a letter with some good news in it ~ and suddenly everything is changed, and this is immediately reflected on our face. The truth, Of course, is that nothing has changed. It’s just that a spark of joy or hope or love has been kindled in our hearts, and we see ourselves and our lives in a new and better light. But there may occur in our lives moments when something more is needed. Such was the case for Ivan.
Ivan was exactly thirty years old. It was his birthday but he didn’t want to be reminded of it, for there was no way he could celebrate it even if he wanted to. He was stuck in one of Stalin’s prison camps, put there for no crime but simply because of his ideas. He was in a state of depression and hopelessness which he was unable to shake off. All thirty years of his life appeared one long chain of misfortunes. His whole past seemed to be an accumulation of mistakes, a mountain of black debris. .
He was married hardly a year when he was called up and sent to the front to fight the Germans. There he served with distinction, risking his life on countless occasions. But he was taken from the front and sentenced to ten years in a prison camp. However, there was no reason to believe that he would be released at the end of that time.
The worst thing of all had been the separation from his young wife, Nadya. Just as their love was beginning to blossom he had been called up. Now, due to the long years of enforced separation, their love was being trampled on and would surely die. Nadya would get tired of waiting for him. She would get a divorce and marry someone else. Therefore, even if he did get out of this hole, there would be nothing to go back to. The best years of his life would be over.
But then in the middle of this endless and meaningless suffering came an instant of indescribable happiness. And such is human resilience that, in a flsh, Ivan became a new man. Out of the blue came the news that Nadya was coming to visit him at noon. This meant that their love was still alive. Through all those years, years which must have been as hard on her as on him, she remained faithful to him. And he was to see her at noon!
Suddenly his thirty year old life appeared to him in a completely new light. It was a life taut as a bowstring. A life full of meaning in all its happenings, great and small. A life that went from one success to another. He now saw his war service, his arrest, his separation from Nadya, as steps towards his goal. It was only outwardly that he appeared ill-fated. Inwardly he had found happiness in his very misfortunes. He drank from this happiness as a thirsty man drinks from a spring of clear fresh water.
His hitherto dull, monotonous life became bright and beautiful – full of joy and meaning. Yet outwardly nothing had changed. He was still a prisoner, and his long-term future Was shrouded in uncertainty. But thanks to this experience of trust and love, he would go forward into this dark future carrying an invisible lamp burning in his heart. A light shone within him. His fellow prisoners knew that something wonderful had happened to him, for they could see the glow on his face.
What has this got to do with the transfiguration? We will never know exactly what happened on Mount Tabor, but that shouldn’t worry us. We must try to explore the meaning of the experience first of all for Christ himself, and then for us. Ivan’s experience will help us to do this.
Up to this time Christ had been mostly working in his native Galilee; Here he had known considerable success, but also mounting opposition from the religious leaders. Now that he was heading for Jerusalem, he feared the worst. He sensed that the same fate awaited him as befell all the true prophets – a violent death.
In his humanity, he recoiled from it. He saw no meaning in it. So he took himself apart, and with three of the disciples, climbed Mount Tabor. He needed to pray for strength and enlightenment. Up on the mountain he poured out his soul to his Father. It was while he prayed that he had a marvellous experience. Suddenly he heard the Father’s voice: “You are my Beloved Son, in you I am well pleased’.
In a moment the darkness lifted and life was transformed with meaning. His face shone with joy. The disciples saw this joy and were enthralled by it. When he came down from the mountain he was able to face that bleak future with faith, hope, and love. His Father wanted this, and his Father loved him.
At times life can become very dark for all for us. It is in those moments that we need our own ‘Tabors’. We need to experience our own worth and the meaning of our pain and sacrifices. Without meaning, sacrifices can destroy us. With meaning, they can transform us. It is love that gives them meaning. But where are our ‘Tabors’ to come from? From the love and support of our friends.
But at times even our friends can do little for us. All they can do is just stay by our side, as the disciples stayed by Christ’s side on the mountain. Then the only thing that upholds us is prayer and faith in Christ. He gave us a glimpse of our own glory when he revealed to us that we too are the Father’s beloved sons and daughters. In the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, we see the ultimate meaning of our own lives and deaths. But this great hope is only offered to those who followed him along the road to Jerusalem.
‘You can’t walk in a straight line to the victory’. (Saul Bellow).
‘I cannot, I may not, I will not live without love”; (Van Gogh).
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
Let us pray to Christ our Brother, who in his earthly life experienced moments of darkness and uncertainty as we do, and who himself needed encouragement and affirmation. R. Lord, hear us in your love.
For the pope and the bishops: that during times of crisis and uncertainty they may continue to lead the people of God with courage. [Pause] We pray in faith.
For the leaders in our society: that they may be courageous and strong when they have to make difficult decisions for the common good. [Pause] We pray in faith.
For all those who are experiencing failure or disappointment: that they may not grow discouraged. [Pause] We pray in faith.
That we may treasure those moments of light which give meaning and hope to our lives, and that they may help us to follow Christ in the moments of darkness. [Pause] We pray in faith.
For local needs.
Let us pray:
Lord, you have given us a vision of who we are and of the meaning of our lives. With faith in you we can transform even the darkest moments into moments of light and beauty. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Martin Luther King tells how he had his own Tabor.
In the height of the struggle for civil rights for black people,
one night he suddenly reached rock bottom.
He felt he could not go on.
He was tired Of the insults and injuries.
In this state of exhaustion and despair,
he threw himself on his knees before God,
and prayed like this:
‘Lord, I have taken a stand for what I believe is right.
But now I am afraid.
The people are looking to me for leadership.
If I stand before them without strength and courage,
they too will falter.
But I am at the end of my powers.
I have nothing left.
I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone’
He says that at that moment
he experienced the presence of God
in a way he had never experienced it before.
On the strength of that experience
he was able to continue the struggle.