Your Eminence, Cardinal Rivera, Worthy Supreme Knight, fellow members of the family of the Knights of Columbus:
It is a joy and honor to be in this venerable Metropolitan Cathedral. Your Eminence, we thank you for offering Holy Mass for us; we express our warmest gratitude for your loving support of the Knights of Columbus, and your longstanding friendship with the Order. Thank you for your efforts to help the Knights of Columbus to grow in this great country. We also congratulate you on the wonderful visit of Pope Francis and with you pray that it help many, especially in this Year of Mercy, to open their hearts more widely to Christ and to help spread the Gospel.
Dear friends, we have gathered for Holy Mass on the Second Sunday of Lent when the Church prayerfully contemplates the mystery of the Lord’s Transfiguration. Such a scene of awesome glory may seem out of place in this penitential season but in fact the Transfiguration is deeply connected with our Lenten journey – our journey toward Christ, toward his passion death, toward his Resurrection. Allow me to offer three points to show how this is so.
An Event of Prayer
A first point is the simple observation that the Transfiguration is an event of prayer. As he did so many times before, Jesus ascended a mountain, in this case, Mt. Tabor, and there was absorbed in prayer before his heavenly Father. Jesus prayed not merely with his lips and not merely with his emotions but instead he prayed to his Father from the depths of his being – Jesus prayed as “God from God, light from light, true God from true God.” And while at prayer, the core of his being, his deepest identity became visible. The Transfiguration was not a light show in which Christ donned a newfound splendor; rather, he manifested to Peter, James and John who in fact he was. Jesus opened their eyes, as St. John Chrysostom says, and gave them sight. He allowed this “glimpse of heaven”… he allowed his divinity to be seen, not to impart mere knowledge of himself but rather to impart life and salvation. For Jesus came to make of us adopted sons and daughters who share in the Father’s divine life. In Lent we too seek to climb the mountain of the Lord. The success of that climb depends to a large extent on our life of prayer. Let us pray like Jesus, not merely with our lips and not merely with our emotions, but instead lay bare before the Father of mercies the depth of our being – our sinful and frail being that nonetheless has been reborn by water and the Spirit. How the Father loves us when we seek to pray deeply even if we’re are fighting drowsiness and distraction. Our prayer invites our heavenly Father to restore in us the splendor of grace, by letting our eyes of faith to see the splendor of Jesus and by enabling us to touch the Word of Life sacramentally. In this way God renews and brings forth from our depths our baptismal call to love. And as our life of prayer deepens, the light of holiness becomes visible in & thru us, not as an outward show of piety such as the Pharisees liked to stage – but rather a genuine inward holiness that emerges in our whole manner of life. Thus did Blessed John Henry Newman sing: “Praise to the holiest in the heights and in his depths [our depths] be praised!”
The Unity of Scripture
A second point we can see in the Transfiguration is that Christ is the unifying center of all Scripture, both the OT and the NT. This is why Moses and Elijah were with the Christ on Mt. Tabor. Moses had already encountered the living Word of God in the burning bush and on Mount Horeb where he received the law, the Torah, summed up in the Ten Commandments. Elijah is also at the Lord’s side representing all the prophets. Inspired by the Spirit of God, the prophets spoke the living Word of God. And so, the Word made flesh is accompanied by the Law and the Prophets as the glory of God shines forth from his countenance and from his dazzling robes.
Here we glimpse the truth, reality, and beauty of the whole of God’s Word which speaks to us with One Voice of the hidden designs of the Father’s heart, his mysterious plan of creation and redemption. Here we have a key that unlocks for us the meaning of Sacred Scripture which is not merely a collection of writings from differing centuries in differing styles; rather, looking at Jesus with Moses & Elijah we see the essential unity of all Scripture, for in every passage, whether from the Old Testament or the New, the voice of Christ speaks to us and to our hearts.
Our Lenten journey will proceed apace if each day we reflect on Scripture. Notice that when Peter awoke to this mysterious sight of the Transfiguration, he wanted to linger there, atop Mt. Tabor, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah, just as we should want to linger over the pages of Sacred Scripture. For when we read and pray over the Scriptures and apply them to our lives, we, like the Apostles, are drawn into the presence of the Father. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit received in Baptism and Confirmation, we too hear the Father say, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him!” Let us beg for the obedience of faith so that his words may resonate in & through us.
The Transfiguration and the Cross
Allow me a final point on the importance of the Transfiguration for a fruitful observance of the Season of Lent, and it’s this: the profound link between the revelation of Christ’s glory atop Mt. Tabor and his approaching passion and death atop Mt. Calvary. Just prior to the Transfiguration Christ told his apostles that he would suffer and die. However, the Apostle Peter, who had confessed Jesus to be the Son of the living God, would not countenance the possibility of the Messiah’s being put to death. On Mt. Tabor Jesus, accompanied by the testimony of the law and the prophets, revealed his glory to the Apostles, ‘the glory of an only Son full of grace and truth’ to show that his death would lead to the glory of the Resurrection. This much we will hear later on in the Preface of this Mass.
But please permit me to take this point a step further. The glory, the utter luminosity that the Apostles see atop Mt. Tabor is, in reality, the utter oneness of Jesus’ entire being with the compassionate will of the Father. With the whole of his being, he is committed to the loving will of the Father and accepts that will without reservation. All that will soon unfold – the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, the way of the Cross, leading to his crucifixion and death – …all this will express Jesus’ unconditional “Yes” to the Father. In these decisive days of his life, Jesus becomes transparent to the light of the Father’s love who gives himself to us for our salvation.
As our eyes of faith behold Jesus, luminous in his oneness with Father’s saving will, do not his words ring in our ears: “Whoever wishes to come after me, must deny himself, take up his Cross and follow me! (Mt. 16:24). Only when we take up our Cross, as Jesus embraced his, do we enter into that oneness of Jesus with his Father’s loving will. Only when we take up our Cross, whatever it might be— no matter how hard it might be to understand and to bear— only then do we become inwardly radiant with the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. And from within the depths of our being there shines forth a self-giving love that leads us and those around us to the glory of the Resurrection.
May our Lenten journey lead us from sin to grace and from grace to glory, the glory of being one with Christ just as he is one with the heavenly Father!
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!