Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain and is transfigured before them. The Father speaks to them in the cloud that surrounds them saying: “This is my chosen Son, listen to Him.” The experience of the transfiguration, though they did not know it at the time, helped them understand the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection at a later time. The greatness of God’s love is expressed in the offering of His Son.
For now and throughout the public ministry, the experience of the transfiguration and the words of the Father echo in their hearts and ears: “This is my chosen Son, listen to Him.” The words of Jesus they had just heard before ascending the mountain were: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For the one who wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it….”
The observance of Lent helps us to prepare for our annual celebration of the Lord’s passion, death and resurrection which is the center of our faith life. As Jesus is transfigured on the mountain he gives a glimpse of his glory to Peter, James and John – a glory they will experience again when they encounter the Risen Lord.
Christ’s victory over sin and death is made manifest in his resurrection from the dead. This victory fulfills the promises of old.
The first reading for Sunday’s liturgy recalls one of the accounts of the covenant with Abraham. In this passage God takes Abram (whose name would later be changed to Abraham) outside to look at the nighttime sky. “Look up at the sky,” the Lord says, “and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram makes an act of faith and the Lord “credited to him as an act of righteousness.”
The faith of Abraham is brought to fulfillment for us in Christ Jesus who puts his faith in the Father. In representing us before the Father, Jesus justifies us and makes us righteous. This faith culminates in his passion, death and resurrection.
St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians speaks of the consequence of this faith in terms of citizenship. “Our citizenship,” he writes, “is in heaven.” In other words, life in this world is transitory. It will not end in death. Something more awaits us — eternal life. This life is not something that should be taken for granted. Jesus wins this life for us through his passion, death and resurrection.
Hence Paul writes so emphatically and with much emotion to stress the centrality of this faith. He writes: “for many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.” He continues: “Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things.”
The glory of Christ and the great victory that is his — a victory that we share through the sacraments — can never be separated from the cross.
And so we like the early disciples hear Jesus’ words: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Lent provides us the opportunity to embrace the cross of Christ and so to be renewed in our discipleship. The communal practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are some practical ways by which we are renewed.
Prayer is the means by which we grow in our relationship with the Lord. Through prayer we “listen to him.” The forms of prayer are numerous and varied, which is helpful for our journey or situation in life. At the heart of prayer is an expression of gratitude to the Lord for his goodness and of our salvation in Christ Jesus. In the exercise of prayer we seek to “know his will” and then to live it out. This is the essence of “listening.”
Fasting is an act of sacrifice. We abstain from something that is good as an act of penance. The practice also helps us to grow in our awareness that all good things come from the Lord. We also learn that we are not dependent on these things for life but on the Lord himself and his word.
Almsgiving provides us an opportunity to live out the law of love. Giving to the poor and needy is an expression and act of love. Jesus tells us that the two greatest commandments are the love of God and love of neighbor. Almsgiving is one of the ways in which this command is fulfilled in our lives.
Like fasting, this practice also helps us grow in our awareness that we are dependent on no material possessions for life. Our dependence is on God.
Today Jesus takes us up onto the mountain with Peter, James and John. The glory of the Lord, glimpsed in the transfiguration, is made known to us through Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. In and through Jesus we come to life, eternal life. And so the words of the Father ring in our ears moving us forward on this path of life: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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