Now we are in the thick of Lent as we celebrate the Second Sunday of Lent and, once again, visit the famous Transfiguration. Why do we return to this scene now, at a time of penitence and denying our senses? I will be one of the first to admit that I’ve never fully comprehended the deeper meaning behind the Transfiguration, though I have tried on numerous occasions. But a few comments from great thinkers recently struck me so as to understand more fully why the Church wants us to contemplate the Transfiguration during Lent.
When I was growing up, Lent was always the dreaded season in the Church calendar in which we all were forced to “give something up” again, only to return to the bad habit later on; for my younger brother and me, it was usually something trivial, such as candy or pop, and this act never was substantive enough to invoke the resolve within us to continue the sacrifice long after Lent had passed and the Easter season was in full swing. The very word Lent conjured up images of suffering, ashes, all that is dead or dying to self, and naturally what child growing up in middle-class America would be lured to such a season (unless, of course, s/he was already a saint)?
But the Church, in her genius, as Matthew Kelly puts it, knows that humans need more than the message of perpetual self-denial. We need more than the Cross, our cross as well as meditating upon and loving the Cross of Christ. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains that the Transfiguration is actually a foreshadowing of the hope of the Resurrection:
“…when one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: For a moment they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials.”
So the Transfiguration was essentially Jesus’ gift to Peter, James and John that, though much anguish and sorrow would be necessary for the salvation of mankind (and, thus, would be necessary for individual sanctification), all is not lost. Jesus Glorified on that mountain became Hope Incarnate as He radiated the light of His resurrected body. He wanted to send the message, not just to His apostles, but to all of humanity to not be afraid, because our hope is in what happens after the Crucifixion.
It is appropriate, then, to interject such a grand event in the midst of lamentations, fasting, and increased intense prayer. For what good is all the sacrifice in the world if we do not have the hope in what is to come? What becomes of our faith if it is only based on exterior signs rather than a conversion and humility of heart?
Consider this beautiful, mystical reflection by Servant of God Elisabeth Leseur on what the Transfiguration means for each of us today:
“When you look beyond yourself, beyond all the sorrows and the heavy burdens of life, you feel comforted, happy, ready for any sacrifice. These are the shining lights, the interior illumination through which the good Go gives back the little courage that we need so much in our great weakness…”
So in essence, the Transfiguration can become a personal transformation in each of our lives as we navigate the eternal purpose and plan of our particular crosses, sufferings, trials, heartbreak, ailments, etc. The Transfiguration somehow meshes and melds the suffering with eternal hope and joy that is promised to us if we persevere in our faith, despite the difficulties that continue in our lives. It is the beautiful and bittersweet marriage that seems to be present in much of the spiritual life: that of suffering in joy and joy in suffering.
So let us look upon Lent as a time not exclusive to penance and sacrifice, but rather a time of pruning, purgation and the refining of our souls. Let us experience this Lent with a gratitude for the gift of salvation and with the hope that, one day it, too, will be ours.
Ponder: How do I approach Lent each year? Is it with dread? Do I avoid suffering in my life? How can I continue my Lenten journey by offering up my sacrifices out of love and with a renewed hope?
Pray: Dearest Jesus, thank you for the gift of the Transfiguration that serves as a reminder to me of the healing and peace that awaits me in Heaven someday. I know that I must carry my cross each day, but I pray that I will always remember the hope in the message of the Transfiguration, the hope of the Resurrection. Amen.