Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Second Sunday of Lent: On Being Transfigured
There are objects and people in our lives that we have become so accustomed to that we take them for granted. For example, we are so used to electricity that we assume that everything in our homes will always have the necessary power. And then a hurricane hits. And we lose power for hours. The refrigerator doesn’t work. You can’t cook anything unless you have an outdoor grill, not really useful in a rain storm. The air conditioner isn’t working, and its getting hot in the house. Worst still, there’s no TV, God forbid! The same thing with relationships. We are so accustomed to our loved ones always being at home that we enter into a bit of a shock when a child goes to college. Or far worse, someone we care for dies. Then we really feel rotten for taking their presence for granted.
Perhaps, we do this regarding our church. We are so used to coming into the Church that we tend to forget that we are coming before a special presence of God, the Sacred Presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We take it for granted that Jesus is there with us, but we are so used to His Sacramental Presence, that we don’t give this Presence the reverence it deserves. Maybe we are so bound in the physical world that we overlook the reality of the spiritual.
Today’s readings help us to refocus on the spiritual in our lives, to refocus on the mystical. The mystery of God has entered human history in the covenant God made with this wandering Armenian, Abram, whom He now names Abraham. St. Paul tells the Philippians that they should not be like the Pharisees who are so concerned with Jewish dietary laws that “Their God is their belly,” and so proud of their circumcision that “their glory is in a shameful part of their body.” The problem was that they were not allowing mystery, the mystical, to enter their lives. "Our citizenship is in heaven," St. Paul says. The spiritual is what matters. We have to allow God to transform our minds by his spiritual reality. We cannot allow ourselves to be reduced to a mere external following of physical laws. The spiritual must reign. The spiritual must transform the world.
We come upon Jesus at prayer on the Mountain. Even though the Transfiguration is presented in all three of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, only Luke begins the account with the Lord at prayer. This is significant. The Lord is opening Himself to the presence of the Father. At peace, at prayer, He is transformed, transfigured, into a state that reflects the glory of God. Moses and Elijah appear. They also are radiant, reflecting the glory of God. Moses, the representative of the Books of the Law, Elijah, representing the Books of the Prophets, come to speak to Jesus, the very Word of God. They are speaking of God's plan for his people, the conquest of the spiritual. Of course, the disciples, Peter, James and John, don't understand this. They are still looking for a physical kingdom. The spiritual is beyond them. The voice in the cloud is meant for them and us: "This is my Beloved Son, Listen to Him."
God wants to transform the world. He has established the Kingdom of the Spirit and called us as the new Chosen People. Following him does not mean merely performing certain external actions, like not eating pork or being circumcised, or simply coming to Church, showing up to get married, having our children baptized, receive communion or be confirmed. Following God means entering a spiritual, mystical relationship with him, a relationship that is present through our daily duties as well as when we are together at prayer.
We have to nourish our spiritual lives, our relationship to God. We have to feed our spiritual life the food of union with God. The spiritual must conquer in our lives. If we become spiritual, then we can fulfill the call to evangelize the world.
This is exhibited in a story about a meeting of leading African catechists who were discussing how to best to spread the Gospel. Various methods were suggested running from literature to videos to radio announcements. Finally, a young woman arose. She said, "When we judge that a village is ready for the Lord Jesus, the first people we send in is a devout, determined Christian family. It is their lives that will inspire the villagers to think seriously about becoming Christian. They are better than a hundred books or videos or radio announcements. Then she used this expression: She said “They will be the keyhole through which others will peer to see the Lord Christ. To spread the Church Christians must not so much promote as attract.” The woman's views carried the day.
This is what the Missionaries of St. Thomas do in India. We were blessed to have had Missionaries of St. Thomas here serving our parish and still up at Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Port Richey. Their main ministry is to go into a village or town where they are the only Catholics or Christians. They serve the people for generations, until finally, the people, perhaps the grandchildren of the people there when the first Christians arrived, decide to become Catholic. Soon after this the whole village become Catholic. The presence of Christ in others attracts them to faith.
We all need to be less concerned with devising ways for people to hear about the faith and more concerned living the faith in a way that attracts people to the faith. We can only do this through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. The Holy Spirit is the Mystical Power of God. This Holy Mystery is a Holy Magnet. "This is my Beloved Son, listen to him," the Sacred Voice calls out from heaven. God's plan is that we share in the Glory of the Lord and that we share the Glory of the Lord. We have to be people of mystery. We have to be people of prayer. This is how we can listen to Him. We have to have a prayer life. We have to respond to His message in our hearts. We have to listen. We have to grow. He is transforming the world. He is transforming us.
On the Second Sunday of Lent we consider the way we are following the Lord. Do we allow ourselves to be exposed to the spiritual? Do we pray, really pray? Do we allow the spiritual to become real in our lives? Are we allowing God's plan to take effect in our world? Are we living as citizens of heaven, or is our glory the mere external following of our religion? If someone were to ask any of us, “What exactly is a Catholic?” in what terms would we form our answer? If we were to answer the question in terms of religious practices, such as “a Catholic is a person who goes to Church on Sundays, receives the sacraments, says the Rosary, etc,” we would be giving far too much importance to what we do and not enough importance to what God is doing. However, if we were to answer the question, “What is a Catholic?” in terms of what God does, if we were to say, “A Catholic is someone united to God in such a way that others experience the Mystery of God working in him,” then it is God and his works that are the essence of lives. Few people are drawn to Catholicism because they want to do the things that Catholics do. People are drawn to Catholicism because they want to experience God as Catholics experience Him.
Spiritually alive, living with God, united in the Holy Spirit, we can become the Divine Magnet for the world.
We began today’s Gospel with Jesus at prayer, in union with the Father, entering into the mystery of his Being. He is transfigured. The disciples call out, “It is good for us to be here.” Yes it is. It is good for all of us to be here in the presence of the Lord. We also are called into the mystery of our being, the depth of whom we are where physical and spiritual unite. We are called into our depth, into union with the Holy Spirit so others might say, “It is good for us to be here.”
Transform us Lord. Transfigure us, Lord. You want the spiritual to be real in our lives. You knock on the door of our hearts. Help us to let you in. Help us to fight for the reign of the spiritual, the mystical. Help us to be vehicles of your presence.