Why do we always have this story of Jesus being transfigured in glory on the second Sunday of Lent? Well, why did Jesus show his apostles, Peter, James and John, a glimpse of his glory on the mountain in the first place? It is because these same apostles will later see their Lord and Teacher in absolute agony of mind, heart and body in the Garden of Gethsemane just before his arrest and crucifixion. Having gotten used to witnessing Jesus as the one always in control of events, performing incredible miracles and always on top of things, it would be a total shock to see him in the garden, fearful and distressed to the point of sweating blood, struggling against the devil’s ultimate temptation and begging his heavenly Father to take the coming cup of suffering away from him. This would be a different, and a scary, Jesus now revealed before their eyes. At that moment, they were supposed to remember seeing Jesus revealed in glory before their eyes back on the mountain of Tabor, and be strengthened to not give way to terror and despair. Of course, we already know that Peter, James and John would fail the test, would fall asleep when they should have been praying for Jesus and for themselves, and when the guards came to arrest their Lord, they would run away in panic.
But this story of the transfiguration is not just for the apostles, but also for us.
We don’t know what will await us as we journey on into the desert of Lent. We can be sure, if we determine to take this Lenten season seriously, that we will be in for our own struggles against the devil’s temptations. We will be tempted at times to believe that the devil is stronger than Jesus, that we will not be given the strength to resist his temptation to give up our Lenten resolutions. We will feel at times abandoned by God, as Jesus felt on his own and abandoned by his apostles, that God has somehow left us to our own devices against Satan and all his works, all joy and hope and peace will at times flee away from us, and we will feel the strong urge to cut short our Lenten exercises, because “it is just too hard to continue anymore”. Usually, this feeling will cut in after the first week or so of Lent, when, faced with some trouble or upset , our good intentions will crumble away, fear and anxiety will cut in and shake our faith and trust in God to deliver us from the power of the evil one over us. It is at those moments that we are meant to recall this story in our gospel today, and remind ourselves that Jesus ,who defeated Satan so spectacularly during his own temptations in the desert last week, is our Lord and Savior, and that, as the first letter of St John says, “He (Jesus ) who is within us by virtue of our baptism is stronger than he (Satan) who is in the world. + (1 John 4:4).
You may remember what I said in my last week’s homily, that the devil comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10). He will come to steal from us our peace of mind and trust in God. He will seek to kill in us any hope that we can persevere with our Lenten resolutions. He will try to destroy any belief that God can be trusted to bring us through our time of temptations and trial. The devil’s primary intent is to isolate us- to make us feel we are on our own, that God will not help us. He will also seek to intimidate us, to terrify us into believing that he has all the power and we are helpless before him.
I have noticed a disturbing tendency recently for pro-lifer protestors to be threatened by the power of the state. Stories have emerged in the last few weeks of Catholic pro-life men and women being arrested, even when they have been protesting silently in front of abortion clinics. This has happened in America and in England, and, yes in Canada also. The police have arrived in force to arrest the person while they are on their own, or in front of their families. It is a blatant attempt at intimidation, and it has resulted in a lot of stress and fear for the persons concerned. However, in every single case, the person concerned has been told that the charges have been dropped before it comes to court. I would like to ask you, brothers and sisters, how many of you know anything about these cases? Probably most of you have not, and you will not, so long as you simply rely on present social and world media to relay to you sanitized facts about what is going on behind the scenes.
We can expect, brothers and sisters, that we will be the subject of similar tactics by the devil against us, during this time of Lent. We will be led to feel that we are on our own, isolated, cast adrift by God, left on our own to fight against the tactics of the devil. He will try to intimidate us, to make us feel that he is far, far stronger than we are, that we don’t have the chance to resist him, that not even Jesus can help us. That is why we have this story of the transfiguration of Jesus in our gospel today. No matter how strong the temptations we have to face during this Lent, in the end Jesus will enable us to triumph, because he is our Lord and Savior. We have to do what the voice of God speaking on the mountain of transfiguration urges us , to believe that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, and that we should “listen to him” alone.
Many voices will be speaking to us during our time of temptation and trial – demonic voices, our own human voices of anxiety and uncertainty, but only the voice of Jesus, speaking into our hearts , and encouraging us to believe that “in the world we will have trouble. But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) is to be listened to and obeyed. We are brought into the wilderness of Lent, so that we grow in familiarity with the voice of Jesus, our good shepherd, and learn to obey his voice alone(John 10:4-5). So, brothers and sisters, as our Lenten season really gets underway, let us , in the words of our second reading, “join … in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who has saved us and called us to holiness of life”. Amen