Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Transfiguration of Christ and His Followers - Nursing Home Visit

Here are some reflections on the readings for this Second Sunday of Lent, which always features the Lord's Transfiguration to strengthen his followers in their journey of inner renewal during this holy season:

[Texts: Genesis 15:5-12,17-18 (Psalm 27); Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36]

What to make of the mystery of the Transfiguration? This remains a puzzle in New Testament research and in Christian spirituality.

Some scholars detect in the Transfiguration story features found in the Resurrection appearances breaking into the public ministry of Jesus (e.g., white garments, the shining of the garments, fear).

In the post-Easter narratives, however, an angel or Jesus generally gives specific individuals a commission to proclaim the Resurrection. By contrast, after the Transfiguration, a command to silence is given the disciples by Jesus in the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke simply observes that 'the disciples kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen'.

The Transfiguration remains a unique episode in the public ministry of Jesus that heralds both His coming Passion and Exaltation.

Jesus goes up the mountain to pray (only Luke gives this reason), during which He is transfigured. The Transfiguration prepares for a meeting with 'two men,' who are identified as Moses and Elijah. Now the disciples, who have been kept out of view, are grafted into the scene, managing to overcome sleep to witness the heavenly trio of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

Subtly, the perspective shifts to the interior experience of Peter, James and John. As the heavenly visitors prepare to leave, Peter tries to prevent the ending of their mystical experience. The rejoinder to Peter's remark comes not from Jesus but from an enveloping cloud that both reveals and conceals God's presence.

Evoking an awesome fear, God's voice from heaven declares that Jesus' suffering path to glory (His 'exodos', poorly rendered as 'departure') cannot be bypassed by extending this foretaste of resurrection glory. Once God's voice has spoken, the scene reverts to what it was before the Lord's prayer, Jesus alone with His chosen disciples. The stunned disciples not unnaturally keep to themselves what they have gone through.

Though the Lectionary selection omits it, the introductory verse of the Transfiguration story says that the Transfiguration took place 'eight days after' Jesus had begun to teach His followers that He would suffer, die and rise (Luke 9:21-22). Immediately after that prophecy, Jesus declared that any who wanted to be disciples had to take up their cross and follow Him (9:23-26).

Peter, James and John had to learn from Jesus a great deal, which they would share later with the church. They had to listen attentively, for much of what they were hearing was not what they expected. This is why the divine voice offered assurances that what Jesus taught about suffering was pleasing to God ('this is My Son, My Chosen; listen to Him').

Paul challenged his Philippian converts to imitate him in his following of Jesus. For the true disciple of Jesus there remains the promise of one day sharing the glory of His Transfiguration ('He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of His glory').

The first reading also reflects the biblical invitation that believers look beyond present circumstances to the hope-filled future being prepared for them by God.

Having grown old without seeing fulfilled God's promise that he would have offspring, Abram brought his complaint before God. The Lord promised Abram that, despite appearances to the contrary, his posterity would be as numerous as the stars in the night sky.

The closing actions of the Abram story depict a covenant-making ceremony. The sacrificial cutting of animals in two indicated that the parties entered into a solemn pledge. Each solemnly bound the other to be willing to die--like the sacrificed animals--if he failed to adhere to the promises made.

Here, however, it was God alone (symbolized by the 'smoking fire pot' and 'flaming torch' passing between the victims) who made the death-defying commitment. Though 'a deep sleep fell upon Abram and terrifying darkness descended upon him', he received God's offer of land which his progeny would occupy ('to your descendants I give this land').

We learn in the Genesis reading that Abraham (Abram's later name), believed God 'and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness'. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul described such a trusting disposition as the characteristic of every believer (cf. Romans 1:17).

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"Spiritual consolation" as a help in daily life

Father Jack Mahoney has some insights on how God's consolation, shown Jesus and his disciples in the gospel, can, when it is given us in prayer, spiritual experiences, help our daily dedication to the Lord's way:

Another point to consider is Peter’s feeling that it was ‘good’ for the disciples to be there on the mountain top along with the glorified Jesus and Moses and Elijah, and that when Moses and Elijah were about to depart Peter wanted to keep them all together and to prolong the experience.

This recalls the point beloved of traditional retreat givers, that we may on occasion experience a feeling of spiritual pleasure or contentment, or what St Ignatius of Loyola called ‘consolation’ in prayer; that we want to maintain the spiritual glow of devotion and are sorry to feel it go.

How are we to handle what we may call the ‘re-entry’ problem, that of reluctantly returning from a state of spiritual delight to the mundane realities and distracting chores of daily life? Peter did not appreciate that the shared experience of the Transfiguration was to prepare him and his fellows, as well as Jesus, for the distress and desolation which they were soon to experience when Jesus completed his journey to Jerusalem, as Luke points out (9:31).

The point is well captured by St Ignatius in his comment on ‘rules for discernment of spirits’ in the first week of the Spiritual Exercises: ‘let any who are in consolation think how they shall carry themselves in the desolation that will come afterwards, gathering new strength for that time.’

That seems to be Luke’s point for his readers, and the Church’s point for us at this stage in Lent: assurance and divine encouragement from the Transfiguration of Jesus, to keep going in following Jesus and to trust God in whatever future he may have in mind for us. (Read more at:

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The Pastoral Visitation of St. Isidore's Parish (South March/Kanata) continues this weekend.

Here are some photos of an hour spent on Friday afternoon with the residents of Forest Hill Long Term Care Home:

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