Fr. Patrick Fitzgerald-Lombard, O.Carm., is parish priest of the parish of St. Thomas of Canterbury, Mayfield, Sussex. He is a member of the Aylesford Community. Today, Fr. Patrick is reflecting on the readings from yesterday's Mass. Please read Fr Patrick's introduction to these reflections and please look at the readings for Sunday Mass here (these will open in a separate window for ease of reading):
“Transfiguration of Christ, transfiguration of Christians”: Many years ago I wrote an article with that title, one which sums up the readings we hear this Sunday. Every year for the 2ndSunday of Lent we hear the Gospel of the Transfiguration, that scene on a mountain top where three chosen disciples had a glimpse of Jesus in glory. This year, we hear the account of StLuke which is rather different to that of the other two Synoptic Gospels. We also hear St Paul writing to the Philippians about our transformation or transfiguration, that like Jesus we too may enter into glory. We need now to explore the great implications of this for our Christian lives.
The background is that the Temptation and the Transfiguration are the pair of Gospels which always begin Lent. Last Sunday we heard of Jesus enduring great suffering in the desert as he went without food for forty days and was tempted by the devil. Now we hear of Jesus seen in his glory. Suffering is therefore one pole whilst the glory shown in the Transfiguration is the other. St Paul reminds us that we must share his suffering in order to share his glory. And there is already glory present now in suffering which anticipates the future fullness of glory. Along the way we are transformed ourselves to become more like God. Here, glory is the visible aspect of the holiness of God. There is the call to become holy as the Lord our God is holy.
As last week with testing and tempted, so this week we again have two English words for one Greek word which we can usefully distinguish.
However, this Greek word has entered English as metamorphosis. That is a change of state, here from suffering to glory and from human to divine.
For the New Testament, transfiguration or transformation is used. “Transformation” can be used to describe the process by which we are transfigured. Transfiguration into glory then becomes our goal, our destination as citizens1 of heaven. That is what we are exploring here. It is traditionally summed up by the saying that he became man so that we might become gods.
We begin with the Gospel scene. The incident of the Transfiguration is carefully placed at the centre of the Gospels. The disciples have declared Jesus to be the Christ. He in response then predicts his fate of suffering, dying and rising again. He goes on to predict the same for his followers, with Luke adding the point that taking up the cross must be daily Luke also mentions the Son of Man coming in glory which sets the scene for what follows. By this point, encouragement is needed so the three evangelists continue with the episode of the Transfiguration. The link with what precedes, between the suffering and the glory, is made clear by the reference to the eight days days.After that, the way will be down the mountain and all the way to Jerusalem.
Three disciples therefore go with Jesus up the mountain, the traditional meeting place between heaven and earth, between God and humans. Much could be said about what follows, I will just highlight the distinctive emphases of Luke. Only Luke says Jesus went to pray. As he prayed, he changed. This could well have happened every time Jesus prayed, only there would have been no witnesses. This one occasion is recorded because the link between suffering and glory needs to be made at this turning point of the three Gospels. Only Luke says that the conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah is about Jerusalem; the word used is “exodus” with all its overtones of the first exodus from Egypt many centuries previously.
The word “glory” appears once again at this point. Peter not surprisingly wanted to hang on to the experience. However, they enter the cloud, the presence of God, and heard the voice “This is my Son… listen to him”. So far from hanging on to this special moment, they had to go down to the mountain and meet the crowd. Perhaps it would have been better if this Sunday’s Gospel ended with the descent.
From this descent, the human Jesus as well as his disciples begin their transformation to glory through suffering. Jesus has to suffer and die so that he can enter into his glory as anticipated at the transfiguration. For his disciples in this world the same path must be followed. Over the centuries, martyrs such as the Carmelite Titus Brandsma soon to be canonised have become the glory of Christendom. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul says he wants to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing his sufferings by becoming like him in his death. This leads to what we hear this Sunday, the exhortation taken from a few lines later, that the Saviour will transform out humble body so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. Paul makes similar comments in two other letters so this transformation is an important for him. That could have the result of his own experience on the road to Damascus.
Just as transformation has become important for Carmelites. I have myself long been aware of the importance of the Transfiguration for both Jesus and ourselves as the article I mentioned indicates. It is therefore important for me that this has in recent years become important in Carmelite spirituality. The starting point though is not directly Paul but the metaphor in the Rule of putting on the armour of God. Last week, I considered the armour from outside, the armour as God’s protection over us. Putting on the armour means living within it and so learning about the attitudes and outlook of God himself. As we are sinners and weak, that will be a life long task. Armour must never become a false security. Thus by putting on God’s armour we will be steadily transformed as we grow within the sufferings of this world so as to enter eternal glory. Three quotations from the 2019 Carmelite Constitutions therefore to conclude:
Through living like Christ, in solidarity with events and hopes of the hman race, Carmelites will be able to make appropriate decisions to be open to the transformation of life, making it conform more closely to the will of the Father.
The overwhelming love of God leads us to a transforming experience; it empties us of our limited and imperfect human ways of thinking, loving and behaving, transforming them into divine ways. Our prayer is the way we related to God, both as individuals and as community. In prayer we become open to God who gradually transforms us through all the events of our lives, whether great or samll. This process of transformation allows us to sustain authentic relationships, it makes us willing eager to serve, as well as being capable of compassion and solidarity.
1 The current lectionary speaks of “homeland”. “Citizenship” is correct because Philippi was a Roman colony for retired soldiers, all of whom would have been citizens.
Such local detail gives a flavour to our reading.
Photo Credit:Anastazzo; The scene of the biblical event of transfiguration of Jesus Christ - fresco in the Church of the Transfiguration, Mount Tabor, Galilee, Israel.