Second Sunday of Lent (A) - Be Transfigured by the Glory of God

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Second Sunday of Lent (A)

Be Transfigured by the Glory of God

Each year on this second Sunday of Lent the Church offers us the account of the Transfiguration. Why is this given to us in the middle of Lent? It seems out of place. The Gospel reading we had last Sunday made perfect sense – the account of the Lord going into the wilderness to be tempted.
On Ash Wednesday the forty days of Lent was inaugurated. We put ash on our foreheads to say that we are entering a period of prayer and fasting and repentance. We were reminded at that Mass that we are dust and “unto dust we shall return”. Human life is short. We should live our life here with eternity in mind. Or more particularly we should live our life here in the consciousness that one day we will stand before the judgement seat of God and have to render an account of our lives.

We were told, “repent and believe in the Gospel”. We knew that this season is to be the time for us to be reconciled with God. The highpoint of my Lent should be my confession.

Last Sunday the Gospel presented to us the period of forty days when Jesus went into the desert following his baptism in the Jordan. There he fasted and prayed and was tempted. Our forty days of Lent is inspired by his forty days in the desert.

Why does the Church now give us an account of an event that seems so distant from these themes of Lent?

A hint is given in the final words of the Gospel reading today: “Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead”. Clearly in the mind of Jesus this experience is linked to his Resurrection. It is a foretaste of the glory that he will receive. We are preparing for the annual commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. The Easter celebrations are the highpoint of the Christian year. So, as we enter Lent, we are being oriented to the purpose behind the season of prayer and fasting.

However, I would like to go a little deeper. There is a fundamental link between penance and glory. Let me explain.

In the early tenth century in Constantinople there was a young man who worked in the government bureaucracy. He was a young man of faith and he consulted a holy monk on how he could grow in his faith. The old monk suggested that he pray a simple prayer over and over again. He taught the young man that this prayer may begin on the lips, but it would eventually move to the heart. This prayer had the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, be merciful to me a sinner”. So the young man used to spend his evenings praying this prayer.

One evening as he prayed the prayer as usual he felt the room became filled with light. He was taken up into a mystical moment with the presence of the Lord. It radically changed his life. He had experienced the glory of the Lord. He had his own transfiguration moment.

He decided to devote himself to the Lord and became a monk. And he has become one of the greatest mystics in the Church. He has come to called Simeon the New Theologian. He is not so well known to us in the Western Church because he lived in the East. But he belongs to the whole Church.

Why was he called the “new theologian”. It is a reference to the first “theologian” who was St John who himself was a mystic. St Simeon was considered to continue in the spirit of St John. St Simeon has written some of the most magnificent mystical poems to be found in Christianity.

St Simeon in his preaching had a simple message. He said that if a person humbled him/herself before the Lord in true contriteness of heart, able to say with utter conviction, “Lord be merciful to me a sinner”, then God will visit them with the power of the Holy Spirit and they will be wonderfully transformed by the grace of God. He even spoke of the notion of receiving a new baptism, a baptism in the Holy Spirit.

St Simeon had discovered a profound truth through his own mystical experience: God wants to draw us even now on the path of transfiguration. Glory is not reserved for heaven but begins now. God the Father wants to pour the power of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and lives so that we can be transformed into true images of his Son. The work of our glorification begins on earth. In the Eastern Church they call this the “deification”. One of the ancient Fathers of the Western Church, St Irenaeus of Lyons, said that God become man, so that man may become like God.

The path for this transformation is the path of humble recognition that we are sinners. St Simeon says that we need to come to the point when we weep for our sins. The tears, he said, would wash our souls. We need to come to that point when we know the depth of our unworthiness before God.

This is what the season of Lent offers us each year. It is a time for prayer, it is a time for fasting, it is a time for almsgiving. But most of all it is a time for repentance. It is a time for us to get down on our knees and say with utter conviction, “Lord merciful to me a sinner”. If necessary, like the young man, Simeon, we say it over and over again until it takes full possession of our soul and we are moved to cry out for mercy. We are moved to seek reconciliation in the Sacrament of Penance. We come to the place where we abandon ourselves to the Lord.

Then the Lord will raise us up. Then our hearts are so softened that grace can penetrate. Like hard soil the crust on our souls needs to be broken open that the seeds of life may be planted.

Forgiveness with come. Mercy will come. Grace will come. God will raise us up. And a voice will be heard – “this is my beloved son (daughter) he enjoys my favour.”

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 15 March 2014