An Ordinary Viewpoint

The Journey of Lent - III



Transfiguration

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, notes that the Second Sunday of Lent traditionally goes by the name of "The Sunday of Abraham and the Sunday of the Transfiguration". This is because the first liturgical reading from Sacred Scripture on that Second Sunday always has something to do with the Patriarch Abraham, whom in the Mass we call "our father in faith", while the Gospel narrative that is read is always one of the accounts of Christ’s transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10; Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36; See also 2 Peter 1:16-18). The Pope remarks that liturgically this placement of those texts occurs because of the basic connection of the season of Lent with Baptism. It is the principal time of the year when catechumens are preparing for their Baptism at the Easter Vigil, and, at the same time, when those already baptized are being restored to their baptismal innocence by means of the penitential exercises of the traditional forty days, and are getting ready for the renewal of their own baptismal promises and commitments at Easter.

The Supreme Pontiff says, "Baptism is the sacrament of faith and also of divine sonship. Like Abraham, the father of true believers, we are asked by our Baptism to leave the worldly securities that we have created for ourselves and instead to place ourselves in God by means of trust. The transfiguration then gives us a glimpse of our ultimate destiny, when, due to our Baptism and our loyalty to its vows, in Christ, the Beloved Son of the Father, and our listening to Him, we too shall become authentic children of God."

Jose’ Granados says, "According to Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, the transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain was an ascent toward a higher grace not only for the three disciples who were granted the favor of witnessing it, but also for the other two witnesses, Moses and Elijah. This was indeed the fulfillment of an old promise that was made to them when they saw the glory of God on Mount Sinai. Here on Mount Tabor they were finally able to converse with their Lord face to face. The scene is linked with the vision of God and thus with the most profound desire that moves our lives until we are able one day, as Saint Augustine says, to rest and see, to see and love, to love and praise." The theologian Klaus Berger says that what happened on Mount Tabor was that God made visible to Peter, James, and John what we now, in our apostolic faith, recite in the Nicene Creed: "God from God, Light from Light". Many saints and thinkers have also noted that the transfiguration made visible in Jesus, the new Adam, the deeper meaning of the passage in the Book of Genesis: "And God created man to His own image, to the image of God He created him.."(Genesis 1:27).

Mountains

In the first volume of his great work "Jesus of Nazareth", Pope Benedict XVI writes about mountains in his treatment of the transfiguration, saying that in the transfiguration "once again the mountain (Tabor) serves, as it did in the Sermon on the Mount and in the nights spent by Jesus in prayer, as the locus of God’s particular closeness. Once again we need to keep together in our minds the various mountains of Jesus’ life: the mountain of temptation, the mountain of His great preaching, the mountain of His prayer, the mountain of the transfiguration, the mountain of His agony, the mountain of His cross, and finally, the mountain of the risen Lord (the Ascension), where He declares, in total antithesis to the offer of world dominion through the Devil’s power, ‘All power in heaven and on earth is given to Me’ (Matthew 28:18). But, in the background (of these New Testament mountains) we also catch sight of Sinai, Horeb, Moriah, the mountains of the Old Testament revelation. They are all at one and the same time mountains of passion and revelation, and they also refer to the Temple Mount, where revelation becomes liturgy."

"When we inquire into the meaning of the mountain, the first point, of course, is the general background of mountain symbolism. The mountain is a place of ascent, not only outward, but inward ascent. It is a liberation from the burden of everyday life, a breathing in of the pure air of creation. It offers a view of the broad expanse of creation and its beauty. It gives one an inner peak to stand on and an intuitive sense of the Creator. History then adds to all this the experience of the God Who speaks, and the experience of the passion, culminating in the sacrifice of Isaac, in the sacrifice of the lamb that points ahead to the definitive Lamb (of God) sacrificed on Mount Calvary. Moses and Elijah were privileged to receive God’s revelation on a mountain, and now (in the transfiguration event) they are conversing with the One Who is God’s revelation in Person."

Toynbee

There can be little doubt that one of the main purposes of Christ’s transfiguration was to prepare the Apostles for the coming shock and scandal of the cross (Luke 9:31). It was as well a clear trinitarian event and revelation, with the Father in the voice, the Son in the Man, and the Holy Spirit in the cloud, resonating the previous baptismal events involving Jesus at the Jordan River. Then too, it has links to the ancient Law and the Prophets in the persons of Moses and Elijah. It also is linked with the Jewish liturgical calendar, especially the Feast of Booths or Huts (Sukkoth). It is also linked with prayer, since Saint Luke tells us the reason Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with Him was "to pray" (Luke 9:28).

Jose’ Granados explains how "in the transfiguration the glory of God shines through Jesus’ journey in time, and expands to the pilgrimage in history of His entire Church. The importance of this event for the Christian vision of time was grasped by the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee. Toynbee understood the Tabor scene as the Christian answer to the upheavals of time. When a civilization is in crisis, he says, there are two different options: that of the archaist who wishes to remain in the past and that of the futurist who desires to move quickly toward a different tomorrow. If both fail, the temptation of escapism emerges, of a withdrawal from history, one that flees.... According to Toynbee there is another option beyond these, the Christian answer he calls transfiguration.... It consists of withdrawal from the course of events only in order to return to them to find in them the meaning that is able to save time from above by anchoring the instant in eternity."

Saint Augustine, preaching on the transfiguration, said "Peter did not then understand that ‘it is only through many persecutions that we may enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts of the Apostles 14:22) He wanted to remain on the mountain, but Jesus told him that his remaining would only come later after his death. In the meantime, he must imitate Jesus. Life goes down to earth to be killed. Bread goes down to suffer hunger. The Way goes down to be exhausted by the journey, the Spring goes down to suffer thirst...and you refuse, Peter, to suffer?" The transfiguration teaches each year some of the profound significance of Lent.

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