Second Sunday in Lent at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Gen 22:1-18;  Rom 8:31b-34;  Mk 9:2-10

One day a seven-year-old girl was dancing playfully in the center of the living room while her father was reading a book. Her whirling motion caught his attention. He watched her spin, her arms flinging wide and her hair tossing as she twirled gracefully about. Suddenly, in the delightful expression of her smile, and the charming manner in which her soft hair fell across her cheeks, and the play of sunlight falling across her beautiful form, he experienced a moment in which he saw his little girl not as a child of seven, but as the grown woman she would become at twenty-one. It was a wonderful moment, and frightening as well. Then she stopped in front of him, the light changed, and she was a child again. It was wonderful because he saw her as the beautiful, mature woman she would become. It was also frightening because he saw that he could not hold on to his little girl forever, and he knew the pains she would experience in growing to maturity.

In the Transfiguration of Jesus, we catch a glimpse of the future, a revelation of Jesus in the fullness of glory, in all his loveliness. “The mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration is the unique moment in time when the Father seduces our hearts with the beauty of his Son.1 In ecstasy, Peter cries out, “It is good for us to be here…” The Greek word he uses is kalon, which means not only good but beautiful.  It is a wonderful, overwhelmingly delightful moment that Peter wishes would go on forever and ever. For a short time, the three apostles see Jesus in the fullness of what is true, good and beautiful.  Jesus radiates a happiness that sweeps over them and inside them, ravishing their hearts. Before this vision, the apostles were captivated by the mystery of Jesus. Now they fall in love with him.

For the first time in the history of creation we see humanity as God wanted it to be, fully transformed with the power and pleasure of divinity. We won’t see it again until we enter the kingdom of heaven. Even after the Resurrection, the beauty of Jesus’ humanity remained mostly hidden. Now, on top of Mount Tabor, for a brief moment, we get to see Jesus as God the Father and the Holy Spirit see him. And we see the future in a blinding light that hides more than it reveals.

As the rays of light burst forth from the body and clothing of Jesus, the voice of the Father bursts out of the bright cloud as it did at the baptism of Jesus. The Father’s words here and at Jesus’ baptism are almost identical. Once again we hear the only thing that the Father is ever recorded as saying in the New Testament: ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'”2 Remembering this experience many years later, Peter writes, “[We] do well to be attentive to this [vision] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Pet 1:19).

Why? Because the Transfiguration of Jesus’ humanity is a revelation of our own future. God has destined us to be conformed to the image of his Son. We will also be transfigured. Such is our Father’s love for us! And yet because of us, Jesus was not yet on the way to his kingdom in heaven but on the way to his cross on the hill of Calvary. And that is another sign of God’s love for us, as the following true story about a father and his teenage daughter illustrates.

The girl always came home late for supper. There was no reason for her tardiness, and no amount of discussion seemed to help. Finally, in desperation, her father sat down with her and said, “If you’re late again, bread and water will be put at your place for supper, and nothing else. So, please, be on time.” She nodded. But a few days later she was late again. Her parents were waiting for her. When she approached the table, she saw a delicious steak and mashed potatoes covered with hot gravy on their dinner plates, and glasses of wine at the side. But at her place there was a lonely glass of water next to a single slice of bread on a bare plate. Her parents waited for the full impact to sink in. Then her father quietly took the girl’s plate and glass of water and put them in front of himself. He took his own plate and wine and put them in front of his daughter. Years later the girl said, “All my life I’ve known what God’s love is like by what my father did for me that night.3

Jesus, the Father’s Beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased, shows us by his Transfiguration on Mount Tabor the high calling for which we are destined. Then Jesus takes our place, takes our punishment upon himself by going to Calvary, so that we may have a change of heart, and be transfigured like Jesus forever.

  1. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, vol. 2, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 561.
  2. Ibid, p. 555.
  3. Rev. Bill Bausch, in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers.





Second Sunday in Lent at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Gen 15:5-12, 17-18;  Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36

Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Vita Consecrata, reads the story of the Transfiguration as being descriptive of consecrated contemplative life.  The Transfiguration not only revealed Jesus’ glory, but prepared Him for the Cross.  In short, it made Him receptive; able to live in the truth.  His receptivity was His glory.

By contrast, in Eden Adam & Eve believed a lie. The lie was that we can gain control of our existence by some action of our own and that God does not want us to have that power. So we became acquisitive in preference to receptivity. Eventually, though, we came to the monastery and asked to be received: “Receive me Lord, according to Your word and I shall live…” He received us and in imitating His receptivity, we become receptive.

When Jesus came down from the mountain there was only one thing He could be certain of: the direction He wanted his life to go.  When Jesus came down from the mountain and when He met the mob at Gethsemane, He completed a time of deliberation, of making a decision. His decision was for receptivity.   Spiritual journeys -moral purposes- always begin with making a decision.  Decisions are always about what means will achieve what end.  Being certain of His direction, of His end, the decision had to be about what action to take and what conditions to allow.   Deliberation touches only things that can be affected by our actions.  If it is obvious there is nothing we can do, then there is nothing to decide.  (Continued deliberation is called “worry”!)  We take actions for the sake of something beyond the action.  It is that for the sake of, that intention that gives Jesus’ and our decisions a moral or spiritual quality. That quality is called Christian character. That certainty of direction, which He freely preferred, guided His choice of actions. The conditions he would allow were whatever his foes decided. He was clear about His purpose. What He shows us here and at Gethsemane, is the power of purpose. When we know what we’re about, obstacles melt in our path.  He received His purpose. So must we.  

When Jesus came down from Mt. Tabor He decided to give His consent to the events He was about to undergo; He would do whatever they required.  You see, when a man and woman are certain of their direction, they are certain of their purpose. It means they know what they have set their heart on; they know what they love most. They have adopted an aim as exalted as Christ’s: total discipleship. Jesus decided to squander His life on the Father. 

When we completed novitiate, we, too, completed a time of deliberation.  In imitation of Christ we make one decision; we set one purpose.  We set it before we entered the monastery. It is tested in novitiate (and all the time after that!). It is a decision about the direction of our lives.  When we, like Jesus, are receptive about the end or purpose of our lives, then all the decisions about means, about our actions, about how we shall live are also received.

The primary, guiding decision, though, is about a person. We make a decision about Jesus Christ, His Father and how we will relate to Him.  Like Christ, we make an IRREVOCABLE decision.  No future decision can be successful if it conflicts with that decision.  The church asks this of us because it knows we are capable of it and that it is good for us. Such a decision is a form of co-operation with God’s action in our hearts. We imitate Christ, too, in deciding the conditions we will allow. We will allow situations over which we have no control, over which we will have no decision to make. We will do this for two reasons which we will learn on Palm Sunday.

At that time we will see that the more our identity moves away from our petty concerns toward an increasing devotion to Christ, the less reason we have to be defensive, frightened, or even affected by things that shouldn’t happen. And because of this irrevocable decision, this firm purpose, we find these difficulties to be occasions for looking to the Cross and remembering another certainty: we were saved by what shouldn’t happen.