Second Sunday of Lent Reflection
March 21, 2011
And when the disciples
raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
Gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is Matthew’s account of the
Transfiguration of Jesus.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up a high
mountain and there they witness Jesus speaking with Moses and
Elijah and then as he is “transfigured before them; his face
shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”
(Mt. 17, 2) It is
for Peter, James, and John a lifting of the veil that separates
their ordinary life of discipleship with Jesus from an
extraordinary moment of awareness of the Divine Mystery that
lies beyond. At first
Peter desires to build three tents in order to hold onto and
contain this deeper awareness, but that desire is quickly
replaced by fear as the Divine voice announces Jesus’ identity
from the shadow of a bright cloud.
The initial awakening to Mystery that is manifest in the
gathering of these messengers of God evokes a desire for
possession and domestication in the disciples.
But the awe-full manifestation of Divinity itself is
threatening and fearful.
“When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were
very much afraid.” (Mt. 17, 6)
It is when “Jesus alone” touches the disciples that they
are able to get up and continue their ordinary lives, present to
the Mystery in the human way of faith, hope, and love.
How is it that
the disciples pass in a flash from this sense of “privileged
awareness” and sense of power that would domesticate the Mystery
to a sense of nothingness that has them falling to the ground in
utter terror? Their
experience reflects our human capacity to forget who we are and
so to magnify our own significance.
James Kugel (In
the Valley of the Shadow) quotes the sociologist Max Weber
as saying that the human being is an animal suspended in webs of
significance that s/he her/himself has spun, or as Kugel
describes it himself:
“Here we are, living on a tiny speck of a planet on the
outskirts of a cosmic explosion, but that meeting next Thursday
afternoon is so
important.” (p. 203)
At a safe distance from the fire of the Mystery, we are
warmed by it, our sense of significance and safety is enhanced.
But, if we are drawn closer and closer to it, we begin to
experience its enormity and power and then fear the revelation
of our vulnerability.
Each year during
Lent we are invited to recognize more fully the self-made web of
significance in which we are suspended and thus to remember our
real place in the universe.
Our true significance resides not in a self-magnification
of our identity but rather in the relationship to the Mystery
that we are in our very God-given originality.
Peter the builder of sanctuaries must become Peter fallen
to the ground in fear before Jesus can touch and raise him.
“But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do
not be afraid.’” (Mt. 17, 7)
The practice of Lent is learning to let go of every
self-illusion by which we live that we might come to trust in
Such trust may
require of us letting go even of aspects of our religious belief
and practice that have afforded us comfort and strength – and
significance – in the past.
In letters to her spiritual directors Mother Teresa
recounts her long periods of darkness in prayer, of the loss of
those consolations in the experience of God’s closeness and
presence within her.
Yet, throughout she continues to do her work,
encountering Jesus in the people she and her Sisters serve.
When I walk through the slums or enter the
dark holes – there Our Lord is always really present. . . . In
my heart there seems to be no other thing but He – no other love
but His: the streets, Kalighat, slums & Sisters have become
places where He lives His own life of love to the full.
Pray for me, Your Grace, that there be really “only
Jesus” in me. (Come
Be My Light, p. 168)
When Mother Teresa ceases to experience
God, and even God’s love, within, she never ceases to discover
the Lord’s presence in the people of the slums whom she serves.
The Mystery is not a product of our own minds and
imaginations; it is a Reality in the World.
We encounter that Mystery as we serve it, through the
humble but significant “work of our hands” that we have been
given to do.
In the recent
film “Of Gods and Men”, the magnificently told and acted story
of a group of Trappist monks who were martyred under still
unknown circumstances in Algeria in 1996.
At one point, some time before their final kidnapping and
then murder, the monastery is invaded by a group of rebels who
threaten them but leave them unharmed.
Later, as the monks are continuing to appraise whether or
not to remain in Algeria, one of them points out that, after the
invasion, they all went back to the ordinary acts of living
their daily lives and serving the people of the village.
The scene of the final meal they share as a community
before they are abducted is suffused with a sense of the Mystery
of their shared life.
The deep peace and joy expressed in their faces is the
fruit of the simple and ordinary self-donation which they have
lived out in those simple acts of love and service that
constituted their day to day lives.
Just as the Disciples fell
to the ground when confronted with the presence of God, we avoid
the reality of the World and of the Mystery because before it we
realize our smallness.
Yet, as Jesus touches the disciples and raises them up as they
cower in fear, so too are we touched when we dare to give away
the little we have to the world as it comes to us each day.
There is no need for us to pretend we are more than we
are or have more than we do.
For what is uniquely needed from us is Jesus alone; the
one whom we give when we give what is uniquely ours to offer.