Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Mt.17:1-9)
In the days following my ordination, I had the good fortune to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. It was a memorable experience. To walk where Christ walked, to see what He saw, to celebrate Mass on Mount Calvary: these moments helped to shape and encourage the initial days of my priesthood. One of the most significant moments in the Holy Land was celebrating Mass on Mount Tabor, the place of Christ’s Transfiguration. But in order to ascend the Mount, one has to traverse a number of elevated switchbacks. The large tour buses that can clog the Holy Land Highways can only go so far up. Unable to navigate the steep turns, the luxury liners sit idly side by side at a base parking lot. If you want to reach the peak, you have to be nimble, traveling a bit lighter than the normal tourist. The summit is scaled only by those willing to relinquish unnecessary and burdensome baggage.
As we continue our Lenten journey, we are encouraged to put aside whatever baggage and extraneous creature comforts might keep us from ascending to our own place of transfiguration. This is the whole reason for the Lenten discipline of fasting. By giving up certain good things we enjoy, we prepare ourselves to receive the best: a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives.
But the journey up the mount is challenging. We need encouragement to keep going. This week’s Gospel story of Christ’s transfiguration gives us that encouragement. Aware that He will soon travel to Jerusalem and be rejected and killed, Jesus reveals his divine nature to Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor, so that they will not lose heart when they witness His Passion. Jesus manifests His divinity in order to infuse His friends with the lifeblood of hope. It is as if he says to them: “No matter what happens in the coming days, no matter how bleak and dark life becomes, know that I am God, I will be victorious, and I can transform all things, making them new.” (cf. Rev. 21:5) This is Good News for us! After the initial spiritual surge of Ash Wednesday, the routine of reality returns. Often, the Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that we undertake can wane and even fall by the wayside. So for us, Christ’s moment of transformation is a reminder of the dynamic power of celebrating Lent.
Last week, the Gospel reminded us that we can expect temptations to assail us at the beginning of our Lenten journey. This week, we are given encouragement that if we persevere on our journey, we will be transformed. The good things we do, the superfluous thing we give up, the ways in which we lift up our minds and hearts in quiet prayer to God; these are the moments when change happens. For whenever we turn to the Lord with our hearts, He fills them with his life and grace. And so as we face the labors of Lent, whether it is endeavoring to give up chocolate or struggling to break an addiction or bad habit, we climb the mount with Jesus, we encounter the power of his glory and we pray: Transform me, Lord.
~Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.