Pope Benedict XVI in one of his homilies for this Sunday linked last week and this week’s gospels together. He said that the Temptation in the Desert and the Transfiguration are the perfect pair of gospels to prepare us for Lent. He said that just as the temptation prepared us for the Passion and Death of our Lord, the Transfiguration prepares us for the Resurrection.
Having done this, though, he makes one important clarification. He says that the Transfiguration is also closely linked with the Garden of Gethsemane. In both events, Jesus takes the same disciples with him. Both events are defined by prayer. Prayer is the context through which we can approach them.
There is another similarity that he doesn’t note: that is, what happens afterwards. After the Transfiguration, Jesus and his disciples go down the mountain and are immediately confronted with an extreme case of suffering. Some gospels have it as an illness, others as a form of possession, that requires serious prayer and fasting to remedy. And of course after the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus goes right down to the bottom to suffer death.
There are therefore many things we can take to prayer this week when we think about this gospel and last week’s as part of our Lenten preparation. But I would like to focus again on what we looked at last week, namely, that idea of repentance, of metanoia.
Last week, we considered how one of the fundamental spiritual mistakes was to see the world in terms of myself. To see the world other than in terms of relation. We saw Adam and Eve get possessive, while we saw Jesus always refer back to his relationship with the Father. Perhaps this week we are seeing the outward expression of his interior transformation. What do I mean by this?
Last week, we were trying to get back to an original holiness. We were being called to return to God and believe in the Good News. Perhaps the Transfiguration is what this looks like. And I would like to give to example of this.
The first example is a banal one. It is the experience I think we have all had of not understanding something. Or of not recognising someone. Or not being able to see what to do. No matter how hard we try, we can’t put the pieces together. The situation in front of us doesn’t make sense. The question doesn’t seem to have an answer.
But often when we turn our minds to something else, when we forget our problems for a bit, or when we notice something seemingly unrelated, suddenly we have an insight. We have a eureka moment. The pieces fit together to make a new whole. There is a recognisable patter. Or we suddenly know what needs to happen next.
Perhaps such moments are very low level participations in the truth of the Transfiguration. There is a little burst of light, a little bit of glory. Suddenly, there is a window into a slightly fuller truth, an existence, a relationship to life that is slightly more colourful, more beautiful.
The second example I want to give, however, is of completely different order. Apologies if I said this before, but I want to share with you something we do as part of our parish baptismal preparation. We usually have a couple of sessions. In the first session, we discuss with the parents what kind of life they want for their children. Then we reverse-engineer what that means for them as parents. Then we consider what kind of a community helps or hinders that. Then we ask whether the reality of death affects any of those answers. And finally, based on these questions, we leave the parents to consider their image of God and how that fits with the rest.
In the second session, we do all the same things but through the Rite of Baptism. We work our way through the ritual showing how the Church asks and answers the same questions. We look at how the ritual paints a picture of life. How it seeks to transform our perspective, basically, bring about a fundamental change in attitude. These discussions are normally good, but I can always tell whether it has hit home or not, when we get to the end.
The final part of our formation session is right here at the foot of the sanctuary. I tell the parents that as a former lawyer I have to make sure that they are fully informed before they proceed. I point at the Cross and say that this is our product disclosure statement. But the real moment of insight happens, when I ask them: “Just to be clear, this is what baptism looks like. Is this what you want for your child?”
There is usually a serious silence. But the moment of Transfiguration seems to happen when I ask them a follow-up question. “Do you think Mary was ever more proud of Jesus than when he was on the Cross? To see your child stand up against all the evil in the world and die out of love for humanity. Imagine your child turned out that way. Imagine your friend did this. Could there be anything better?”
I think this is the moment of Transfiguration. The moment where the horror of the Cross becomes the blinding light of love, a love that overcomes sin and death. A love that can never be denied because it has already accepted all the denials and shines even brighter in the face of it.
Perhaps in our Mass today we might pray for such a transfiguring of our sight. May God’s Holy Spirit so lift up our hearts that we can see the divine light shining on and through every single aspect of creation. May that light so suffuse us our hearts that we become one with it, such that when it is our time to go back down the mountain, when it is our time to go back into the world, we take that light, that prayer, that vision with us. Taking it with us because we have become one with it, one with him who is the light of the world.