The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on March 4, the Second Sunday of Lent, at the Church of the Nativity in Burke.
A very unusual event, recorded in St. Luke's Gospel, is being projected before us by today's Gospel account: Christ's physical appearance — His body — underwent a change or transformation. The word used in the original Greek means "a profound change." That same Greek word is used only two more times in the entire New Testament and in each of those passages, the "profound change" refers to an individual Christian's life being transformed.
Now let us recall a basic principle in Christian living: what happened to Christ must then happen in His disciples; what took place in Christ's physical body must take place in His Mystical Body, His Church, and that includes you and me. So then, because there was a profound change in Christ's physical body, there must also be a profound change in Christ's Mystical Body, His Church, including you and me. "For the transfiguration that we witness is destined to transfigure us" (Magnificat, March 2007, Vol. 8, No. 14, p. 63).
Is this not the very purpose of Lent? Through this 40-day pilgrimage, are we not being called and challenged to become more like Christ, to experience a profound change? Yes, Lent is the season for us to reclaim our identity as people recreated into the image of Jesus. Lent is the most favorable season for conversion, renewal, a profound change!
So, early in the season of Lent, in the second week just beginning, we are being instructed once again not only that we must change and be converted, but also how we must experience a profound change and an authentic conversion of mind and heart.
In fact, both the first and third Scripture readings today point out this "how" of change and conversion. What was Abram doing when he became more aware of the identity and role which God was giving him? He was offering a sacrifice, he was involved in a sacred ritual, he was praying. What was Jesus doing when his physical appearance was radically changed and He was heard speaking with Moses and Elijah about His forthcoming exodus or suffering in Jerusalem? Jesus was praying. "While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white."
The point is clear: the "how" of our profound change into a clearer image of Jesus, the way to authentic conversion in mind and heart as members of Christ's body the Church is prayer. Venerable Louis of Granada puts this so well: "Consider also that the Lord was transfigured while he was praying and understand that in the practice of prayer, devout souls are frequently transfigured spiritually. They receive a new spirit, a new light, and such strength of heart that they seem to be changed and transfigured" (Ibid., p. 69-70). The lesson for us is so clear: a profound change — transformation — can occur within us only through prayer. And the prayer to which we are being invited involves not so much saying words — although vocal prayer is important — as much as entering into an experience of prayer.
Now there are some key elements in genuine prayer common to all of us and these are found in today's Gospel account of the Lord's Transfiguration.
The first key element for some genuine prayer is quiet time and space. "Jesus went up the mountain to pray," that is, He found an out-of-the-way spot, away from the ordinary and the usual, the hectic and the busy. So too with us. We must also find some quiet time and a quiet space: our own "mountain-top," so to speak. We too must make time to be with Our Blessed Lord in order to listen to Him. Perhaps, that means getting up five to 10 minutes earlier in the morning or putting off the television five to 10 minutes sooner in the evening; perhaps, it means re-arranging our daily schedule so as to be able to stop by a church on the way to or from work. Whatever the concrete ways we do this, we must, like Jesus, go to the mountain-top of quiet time and space.
A second key element for a genuine prayer-experience is listening and responding to God Who speaks to our hearts through His Son Jesus Christ. As we heard in today's Gospel account, "Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my chosen Son, listen to Him.'" Yes, genuine prayer necessarily involves the dynamic of attentive, patient and persevering listening along with a generous, wholehearted and obedient responding. Listen to Jesus; keep your eyes fixed on Him. The Scripture readings for each day's Mass can be a starting point, especially the Gospel.
Through the experience of genuine prayer, a profound change can take place in us as individual members of Christ's Body the Church. If each individual member becomes changed, then so too does the Church, Christ's Body, for we are members of His Body and form His Church. Thus, the words of today's second reading slowly but progressively become realized in us: "He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorious body."
Yes, a very unusual event happened to the physical Body of Christ while He was praying: His Body underwent a profound change. But, that event did not happen only once. It continues to happen in the Mystical Body of Christ, in His Church, in you and me, the members of His Church while we are praying. This Lent, a profound change can truly take place in each of us if only we enter into the experience of genuine prayer each day because prayer in union with Jesus is always transforming!