“No music soothes the ear, no words so sweet to hear, no memories half so dear, as Jesus, Son of God.” – St. Bernard of Clairvaux
Luke 9:28-36: Now about eight days after this had been said, he took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning. Suddenly there were two men there talking to him; they were Moses and Elijah appearing in glory, and they were speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were heavy with sleep, but they kept awake and saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As these were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what he was saying. As he spoke, a cloud came and covered them with shadow; and when they went into the cloud the disciples were afraid. And a voice came from the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.’ And after the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. The disciples kept silence and, at that time, told no one what they had seen.
Christ the Lord For a brief moment, Christ reveals a smidgeon of his true glory. Gathered on the mountaintop with his closest apostles and with the greatest prophets from the Old Testament, speaking with them about the most important event in history (his coming passion and death), he lifts the veil cloaking his divinity, and his disciples become “awake” and “afraid.” If a passing glimpse of Jesus’ splendor fills them with amazement, just imagine how easy it would have been for him to win all of Palestine to his cause if he had fully unveiled his divinity. And yet, he doesn’t. He refuses to overpower us into obedience, preferring to win us over with his love and goodness. Christ indeed is the Lord; he is all-powerful, the Father’s “Chosen Son,” but he wields his power gently, like a shepherd, so that we won’t be scared away.
Christ the Teacher When these three disciples went off to be alone with Jesus and pray, they saw his glory and came to know him better. Here Jesus teaches us how to come closer to him, how to hear the voice of the Father and encounter the glory of God: by taking time to go off and be alone with him in prayer. In such moments of intimacy with God we will find the light and strength we need to convert the world instead of being converted by it. God has something to say to us; he wants us to discover him and his plan for our lives. But if we refuse to go “up the mountain to pray,” we won’t be able to hear him.
In the liturgy, the Church presents us with this challenge at the beginning of Lent, reminding us that the best way to prepare for Holy Week and the Solemnity of Solemnities (Easter), the commemoration of the most important event in the history of the human race, is by dedicating ourselves more than usual to prayer, to heartfelt conversation with Christ. But the lesson applies equally for our daily preparation for whatever adventures he sends our way as well as our regular preparation for our own participation in his sacrifice during Mass. Christ has so much he wants to tell us – at all times and in so many ways – that all we need to do is “listen to him,” which is impossible unless we set aside time to pray.
Christ the Friend As always, in this scene Christ shows how personal his love is. Jesus knew what was going to happen on top of the mountain. And he brought three of his apostles with him to witness it – only three. He knew that in the future they would need to draw on this experience to bolster their faith. Of course, they didn’t really understand; they just followed along, dozed off in their prayer, made a senseless remark, and then kept quiet about the whole thing. But Jesus is preparing them for the mission they will have to carry out later. His love for each of us is just as personal and just as wise. He knows what we need when we need it. He gives us moments of consolation in prayer to propel us through dark periods of dryness. All he asks is that we follow along, trusting him, even when we don’t understand or when we feel clumsy and ignorant. Peter, James, and John didn’t become saints overnight, and neither will we. But if we stay close to the Lord, we will eventually – he will make sure of it.
Christ in My Life You are the Good Shepherd. You know exactly what I need. I remember the times I thought things were going badly, but later I realized that your wisdom had been guiding them all along. Your rule is gentle but sure. Teach me to be docile, to trust in you. I know what you want of me: fidelity to my life’s mission, my responsibilities, and my conscience. You will take care of the rest…
I want to pray better. It can’t be that hard, because prayer is a gift you give to everyone, young and old, smart and not-so-smart, holy and sinful. So teach me to pray, Lord. Teach me to tune in to your voice. Not only during specific prayer commitments, but all throughout the day. Are you not always with me, a faithful friend at my side? Well then, let’s talk…
Even now you are preparing me for future tasks. I want to live each current moment to the full, pouring my love into your will, dedicating myself to whatever you ask of me with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. If I do, I know you will take my efforts and make them fruitful, both for me and for the Church. I may see the results only later – that’s okay. All for your glory…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Modified detail of Taula central del “Retaule de la transfiguració” de Jaume Huguet a la sala de l´antic refectori dels canonges, de la catedral de Tortosa. La seva ubicació original era a la capella central de la girola, darrera l’altar major [Central table of the “altar of the Transfiguration” by Jaume Huguet in the living room of the old canons’ refectory of the Cathedral of Tortosa. Its original location was in the central Chapel of the ambulatory behind the high altar], Jaume Huguet, between 1466 and 1475, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons.