Today (as always on the Second Sunday of Lent), we hear the Gospel story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Transfiguration means to transform the figure or appearance; to change the nature, the function or condition of something; to convert. We also hear the Old Testament story of how God put Abraham to a test of faith in asking him to sacrifice his only son. (Because of his obedience God relents, and greatly blesses Abraham. God showed Abraham how great his faith and commitment was to Him.) The experience of Abraham being asked by God to give up his only and beloved son was a life-changing experience for him. He was transfigured by what occurred and worked God’s will in the world.
The verses for the Responsorial Psalm #116 (which usually reflects the Old Testament reading in essence) say: “I believed (in God), even when I was greatly afflicted. Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” We all know how our lives change when we experience the death of a loved one, the almost-death of loved ones, the death of a relationship, the losses (deaths) in our lives of what we hold dear. Even the ‘near-misses’ change us. I imagine that in this time of pandemic many people have lived some very life-altering moments. The difficulty is to process them, to reconcile them with our core beliefs as Catholic, Christian, and loving people.
In witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus, the Disciples Peter, James and John were changed also. They were terrified at first (any change is scary) and then troubled by questions of what “rising from the dead” could mean. Like Jesus, they were transfigured too—by the change in their perspective of the world and how they viewed the Lord. They were changed by their experience just as Abraham was changed by his test of faith. In this season of Lent there is a call for change in the confession of sin, repentance, and reformation (re-formation) of our lives. God's forgiveness and salvation may be instantaneous, but we are left with lifetimes of “working out” our salvation and practicing goodness. We must not give up in our efforts to grow in God’s grace to transform our lives and those around us. When we change our mind about sin, the most natural and sensible thing is to change our behavior. When we repent, we only begin the process of change. Forgiveness frees us from the condemnation sin creates—but involved in this process is also our repentance in order to produce reformed, transfigured, lives. God frees us from our sins, but He also provides a process to free us from the practice of sin. It is neither easy, nor does it necessarily happen fast—but we must keep to the path of salvation in this life journey and not stray away.
Oswald Chambers writes: “God alters the mainspring and plants in us a totally new disposition; then begins our work, we must work out what God works in. The practicing is ours, not God’s. We have to bring the mechanism of body and brain into line by habit and make it a strong ally of the grace of God.” (From “The Moral Foundation of Life: A Series of Talks on the Ethical Principles of the Christian Life.”) The matter of behavior is ours, not God’s. God does not make our character; character is formed by the reaction of our inner disposition to outer things. Our outward behavior must become (Chambers) a “strong ally of the grace of God.” There are at least three ways in which Christians may fail in this regard: 1) We think that God’s grace and mercy is all there is to forgiveness and salvation and we don’t make the actual needed changes. 2) We think that reformation isn’t all that important in the grand scheme. (Small sins versus big sins.) 3) We ignore or deny that we have a long way to go, ‘forgetting’ that transfiguration to become the person God intends us to be is an everyday, every moment process. This is the journey to salvation!
We may accept that the salvation of God is rooted in His grace and mercy and we should celebrate the work of Jesus on our behalf doing for us what we can never do for ourselves. Be glad that we are saved: not because of our own merits or our goodness, but on that of Jesus Christ. Work out that salvation by being transformed—transfigured—into what we could never be without God’s grace and mercy. And when we fail, God will be there to pick us up, dust us off, and get us going again so that we can stay focused on the task of re-formation, reconciliation, transfiguration: the practice of a holy life.
During Lent we try to detach ourselves from many things, to live more simply, to do works of mercy and ministry. St. Paul reminds us that God is for us; God⎯who sacrificed His only son for our salvation. Lent is an opportunity for conversion, reconciliation and gratitude: a chance for personal transfiguration. Pray for that as we journey together!
Keep singing in your hearts!
Just a Note: A song about the Transfiguration…