Dear Parishioners and Friends,
More than 40 years ago – it’s hard to believe it’s been that long – when I was a young friar in formation, I spent a year at one of our Province’s retreat houses. It was a lovely place reminiscent of the Franciscan friaries in Tuscany with red tile roofs and a chapel with a tall bell tower. It was situated on a hill top with commanding views of the surrounding hills and farmland. About once a month we held a weekend retreat for high school students called “Search.” By the end of those weekends on Sunday afternoon, many of the students who had arrived on Friday evening, shy and fearful of what was going to happen over the next few days, didn’t want to leave because they had made new friends and experienced something new and wonderful about themselves and their relationship with God. It was as if they had experienced a transfiguration and, like Peter, wanted to preserve the moment and remain on that hilltop, at least for a little while longer.
Throughout the Bible we encounter people who lived and died by the Lord’s blessing. Abram, for example, left his home, his family, all that was familiar to him, with nothing more to hang onto than God’s promise that he and all his descendants would be blessed among the nations. Jesus, too, is transfigured by the revelation “This is my beloved son.” Like Moses and Elijah, he hears and recognizes God’s call and responds to the challenge to fulfill his destiny and the destiny of his people.
Lent challenges us to go beyond our familiar and safe routines and habits to a sacred space where we might hear God’s call and receive his blessing. Perhaps more than any other season, Lent gives us permission to focus on our spiritual lives, to take time apart from the everyday demands to listen to what God might be asking of us.
In Peter, James and John, we see images of those who hear the call through the filters of age-old beliefs. Peter wants to build a little tent city, to preserve this timeless moment. They are overcome by something so new and unfamiliar. They want to reduce the challenging revelation to something they can understand. But God rarely breaks into our lives in familiar and expected ways. God constantly challenges us to go beyond, to be transfigured. Like the apostles, we often try too hard to fit new experiences of faith into familiar patterns, and in the process we reduce those experiences to something far less than they actually are.
We should allow our experience of God to transform us into something we never dreamed we could be. The dazzling white Jesus wears in today’s Gospel suggests the white robes of the newly baptized in the early Christian community, as well as those in our own time who are preparing for baptism at Easter. Like Jesus, they enter into conversion of body, mind and soul. Their experience can challenge us to examine our own commitment to our faith.
Peter, James and John struggle to accept the revelation in the limited terms of their own past, seeing it only in its external manifestation. Their inability to grasp it terrifies them. But Jesus, coming out of the very heart of the experience, reassures them, calms them, and leads them down the mountain to the continuing challenge of living the vision day in and day out.
The transfiguration reminds us that Lent is a time of renewal and purification, a time of going beyond our often self-imposed limitations. Even during Lent we know that the blessing of Easter is ours in Jesus Christ. But we only arrive at the fullness of the resurrection through the passion of the cross. Just as Jesus and the apostles were given strength and inspiration in the vision on Mt. Tabor for the daily routine of ministry in Galilee, we celebrate the sign of God’s promise for our lives in the Eucharist. And thus, we go back down the mountain, back to daily life, not to just resume our usual pattern of living, but to embrace the new, the unexpected, the demanding reality of life in Christ, or rather, life and death in Christ – the dying and the rising of the One who makes all things new.
Fr. Tim Shreenan, O.F.M.Pastor