Really seeing and hearing Jesus this Lent
By: By Msgr. Stuart Swetland
Second Sunday of Lent, March 13
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33:4-5,18-19,20,22; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9
G.K. Chesterton wrote in his famous novel “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” that “there is a law written in the darkest of the Books of Life, and it is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.”
We all know that “aha” moment — the moment when something previously perplexing and opaque becomes perfectly clear. We understand our new insight so clearly that we have trouble even fathoming how we could have ever been confused. You can just see the truth of the matter so readily and so easily that it is like really seeing it for the first time.
I often wonder if the experience of the apostles on Mount Tabor when Jesus was transfigured before them was just such an “aha” moment. They were “seeing” Jesus for who he really is — the beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased. This insight must have taken their belief in Him to a whole new level. They were seeing Jesus, perhaps as if for the first time, full of glory, reflecting the splendor of the Father’s radiant love.
This vision was overwhelming. They literally did not know what to do. In the presence of a transfigured Jesus, and the appearance of the great historical figures representing the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah), Peter, speaking for the others, wished to build temporary, honorary dwellings and to remain on the mountaintop. Then, on top of all this, a voice from heaven, the Father Himself, speaks: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am pleased; listen to Him.” It was all too much for them.
In the light of such an experience, it is natural that the disciples wanted to dwell in the moment. It is natural that they felt overwhelmed and even afraid. It is natural to want to bask in the glory of God that they were witnessing and avoid re-entry into their daily lives and their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
But the Lord does not wish for them to remain on the mountaintop. He bids them to come down from the Mount of Transfiguration and follow Him up another mountain — Mount Calvary.
TAKING UP OUR CROSS
And so it is with us. All of us, most likely, have had moments when we experienced the transfigured Lord — times of grace when we know the Lord’s presence in our lives, when we saw Him in new and exciting ways. We, too, knew the temptation to want to dwell in those moments.
In prayer, for example, we may be tempted to dwell in our moments of consolation, even trying to recreate those times of charismatic grace when we “feel” the Lord’s presence. But this would be counterproductive. In the spiritual life, as in our daily lives, we must not be complacent and sedentary. We must keep moving on our pilgrim way even if this means embracing the dryness of our daily prayer and difficulties of our daily vocation.
The Lord does give us moments of grace to strengthen us and prepare us to face the challenges that will come our way. But we must not focus too much on these moments; we must descend from Mount Tabor to ascend Mount Calvary with the Lord. We must take up our cross and follow Him (cf. Matthew 16:24).
Jesus knows how difficult this is, how overwhelming, demanding and fear inducing. This is one reason the Father tells us to “listen to Him.” He says to us, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”
There is great comfort in these words of Christ. We have no reason to fear. He will not abandon us. Like Abram of old, we hear the demands of God and we can respond to His call with confidence (cf. Genesis 12:1-4a).
We can confidently bear our “share of hardships for the Gospel” because we know “the strength that comes from God” (cf. 2 Timothy 1:8b-10).
Our movement toward Easter continues. God’s great design for salvation has been made manifest in Jesus. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, we know the power and grace of the resurrected Lord. We know that He has conquered sin, Satan and death. We know He has “brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.”
We have seen the glory of the Lord and now, with confidence and strength, we can hear and heed His voice.
MSGR. STUART Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md.