The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde at St. Mary of Sorrows Parish in Fairfax, VA, on March 12, the second Sunday of Lent.
Why is the scene of Christ’s transfiguration placed before us so early in Lent each year, on the second Sunday of Lent? Why? To remind us of a basic principle in living the Christian life, namely, that transfiguration occurs only through a profound change. At the transfiguration, Christ’s physical body underwent a profound change. „And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.„
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ, the community of Christ’s disciples. Each disciple then who belongs to Christ’s Body must be transformed more and more into the image of Christ. Is this not the purpose of our annual Lenten retreat and pilgrimage: that we, already full members of the Church, seek to be more conformed to Christ even as we pray for and support the catechumens and the candidates, who are likewise seeking a new or a deeper union with Christ.
So then, just as Christ’s Body was transformed, so we, the disciples who now form His Mystical Body, must be transformed more into His image. Spiritual transformation, which involves changes, takes place through obedience to God’s Word, above all, to God’s Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This is precisely what God the Father told Peter, James and John on the mountain and what He is telling us this morning. „This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.„
Listening to the Son means obedience. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, „To obey (from the Latin ob-audire, to ’hear or listen to’) in faith is to submit freely to the word that has been heard, because its truth is guaranteed by God, who is Truth itself. Abraham is the model of such obedience offered us by Sacred Scripture„ (No. 144). In today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis, the obedience of Abraham is so clearly portrayed.
It is clear, then, that the transformation which is intended to take place within each of us disciples will occur to the degree that we truly listen to God’s Son and are obedient to the Word He speaks and to His Will.
Are we listening to His Word? He speaks to us through the Scriptures. Are we making time each day to reflect on His Word, for example, His Word found in the daily Mass readings? Do we listen carefully to His Word proclaimed in the first part of each Mass, called the Liturgy of the Word? Are we taking time not only to listen attentively, with mind and heart, but also to reflect on His Word and to find ways to implement it?
Whatever God’s Word tells us in particular, His overall call is the call to be holy, to become increasingly more like Jesus. Here, prayer and penance come into play „ two of the three great works of Lent. Genuine prayer deepens our transformation into Christ’s image and penance strengthens our will to keep faithfully attuned to Christ as well as to make reparation for the times we were not attentive or indeed, sinned.
Listening to God’s Son and obeying His Word and Will also involves our being faithful to the responsibilities of our individual vocation, whether that be priesthood, the permanent diaconate, consecrated life, marriage or the single life. I was impressed earlier this week by some advice given by Saint John of God, whom we remembered in the liturgy on March 8. „Each of us must walk along the road laid down by God. In whatever state of life God calls us, we can save our souls if we wish. We owe three things to God: love, service, reverence.„ Lent is a good time for us to review our responsibilities in the vocation which God has given us and seek ways to obey His word and will more precisely within the context of our individual vocation. In this way, we shall truly experience a transformation.
Finally, our transformation, which involves our listening to Jesus and obeying His Word and Will, will result from our sharing in His suffering, which, in turn, will lead to glory. There is no Easter glory without Good Friday’s suffering and death. We do not easily understand this truth, either in Christ’s life or in our own. Just like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we too are questioning, unable to understand what this paradoxical truth really means. In living the Christian faith, in following the footsteps of Jesus, we do not experience suffering or glory; we can and we must experience both! Christ’s transfiguration is the best way to teach us and to remind us of this truth.
Yes, Lent is the season for us disciples of Jesus to be transformed more into the image of the Lord Jesus. We will be more and more transformed by listening to the Son, and by following His will. By our sharing in Christ’s suffering and death, we will one day come to glory „ the glory of His transfigured presence in a life which will have no end. Amen.