2nd Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
A missionary told this tale. Some African Christians were sitting about at a retreat. The subject was how 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 a pagan village is ready for the Lord Jesus, the first people we send in is a 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. They will be the keyhole through which others will see the Lord Christ. To spread the Church Christians must not so much promote as attract.” The woman’s views carried the day. As Albert Schweitzer, who was a superb keyhole in his own life, testified, “Example is not the main thing. It is the only thing.” This then is what we are aiming for while Lent remains very young. Like the Christ of today’s Gospel, we too must become transfigured.
The Teacher is saying to us, “Do not dwell on my Transfiguration overly long today. Rather, continue or perhaps begin to work on your own.” The Christ is betting on each one of us here to become an attractive keyhole. Someone asked Mother Teresa how he might better spread the Gospel. She replied simply, “Smile more often. Live as though you believe there are 542 references to joy in the Scriptures.” But we are in luck. The Transfiguration of course occurred in a microsecond. There is no such time pressure on us. We have almost six weeks to accomplish our own transformation. Happily each of us is not acting alone. For we shall be attempting to become forty day wonders in communion with our fellow Catholics throughout the globe. We are – all of us – looking inward to remove the stains, wrinkles, and wounds from each of our lives. The entire Mystical Body of Christ is groaning to give birth to more attractive Catholics.
In seminaries, monasteries, and convents, this period is traditionally called Quadraginta. In Italy, our fellow Catholics call it Quaresima. In Spain, Cuaresima. In France, Careme. And, among my ancestors in Eire, Corghas. But it makes no difference really what one calls this season. As Vatican Council II reminded us, we are all members of a Church always needing reform. Cleansed or, perhaps better, transfigured at Easter, we will move out of our churches ready to transform others. We will pass on to others what we our own selves have first achieved. And those “others” desperately need us.
“We are becoming the kind of society,” says former US Secretary of Education William J Bennett, “that other nineteenth century societies sent missionaries to.” So, our work is obviously cut out for us. But, as the late John Tracy Ellis would point out, a knowledge of history is comforting. It tells us that the Church has had a long practice in saving and redeeming civilizations. Why then not this one? But here is the rub. As one sage has written, we must be the change that we want to see in the world. And so there rises the absolute necessity that this be the best Lent that each of us has ever had. “If ever this society was in need of Catholicism,” said Secretary Bennett, “it is now. If 60 million Catholics were to live and vote their faith, it would transform American society.” And, if Catholic throughout the globe were to live their belief in the Christ, it would transform world society. Remember this message from an unknown author as you go about transforming yourself. The Jesus you wish to imitate came not to dominate but to motivate, not to condemn but to forgive, not to oppress but to free, not to compel but to teach.
Peter, James and John climbed the mountain as his disciples, but after their experience of theophany on Mt. Tabor they had become indissolubly his friends. Forever after, their lives and destines would be bonded by a love that would prove strong enough to endure the betrayal and the shame on the cross. Peter crying out, “let us build three tents” is something like St. Paul saying, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ?” The disciples may have thought they would remain forever in ecstatic bliss. But soon afterwards Luke tells us “Jesus was found alone” (v 36). The time would come when Jesus would suffer and they would need to recall the memory of Mt. Tabor to encourage one another.
He Started to Change: Let us look this story from another perspective. People around Jesus expected that Jesus would change their situation and living conditions that he would change the world, which in their imaginations what the Messiah would do. That was in a way, even the devil wanted him to do: change the stones of this world into bread; interrupt the laws of gravity and become famous; rule the world as no one ever ruled before. That is what his disciples also wanted him to do.
In the gospel of today we see Jesus taking Peter, James and John aside. He brought them up the mountain and heaven opened, Moses and Elijah were seen. Their expectation would have grown almost wild. Is it the time? The three must have been sure it was about to start, a totally new world. Suddenly the change did start, but not in the sky or earth, nothing around them changed. It was he who started to change. It was he who started to shine. In this way he made it clear to them and we who read this report what should happen to this world: We should change and start to shine. He assures us that we too can change and shine.
In the second reading St. Paul assures us, “He will transfigure our lowly body, making it like his own body, radiant in glory.” While he shone everything around him picked up that shine. Change and shine everything around us will follow.
Fr. A. Francis HGN