2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 12:1–4a; 2 Timothy 1:8b–10; Matthew 17:1–9
Glimpse of eternity We all have moments when we see beyond the shadows of this world into the glory of the next word. In his book entitled The Golden String, the British writer Bede Griffiths describes a remarkable episode that took place when he was a schoolboy.
He was walking outside one summer evening. As he strolled along by himself he became aware of how beautifully the birds were singing. He wondered why he had never heard them sing like this before.
As he continued to walk he came upon some hawthorn trees in bloom. They were lovely and gave off a sweet fragrance that filled the air. Bede wondered why he had never noticed their beauty or aroma before.
Finally, he came to a playing field. Everything was quiet and still. As he stood there, watching the sun sink slowly below the horizon, he felt inclined to kneel on the ground. It was as though God were present there in a tangible way.
Now that I look back on it, wrote Griffiths, it seems to me it was one of the decisive events of my life.
Up until that time, Griffiths said, he had been a normal schoolboy, content with the world as he found it. Now he saw the world in a whole new way. In the words of the poet Wordsworth, he saw it with “the glory and the freshness of a dream.” Bede Griffiths’ experience gives us a glimpse into what Peter, James, and John must have felt like on another summer evening 2,000 years ago, when Jesus was transfigured before their eyes.
It, too, was a decisive moment in their lives. Up until that time they had seen Jesus in a normal, everyday way. Now they began to see him in a whole new perspective. They began to see him with “the glory and the freshness of a dream.”
Like Bede Griffiths and his boyhood experience, Peter never forgot the transfiguration of Jesus. Years later he referred to it this way in his Second Letter:
With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by God the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, ‘This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased!” We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18
We can all relate to what Peter experienced on the mountaintop. And we can all relate to Bede Griffiths’ experience in his boyhood.
All of us have had similar experiences in life. We have experienced times when, for a split second, we seemed to glimpse another world beyond this one.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow calls such moments of insight “peak moments.” They are moments when, for an instant, we see beyond ordinary events to something extraordinary. They are moments of transfiguration when, like Peter, James, and John, we are overwhelmed by a remarkable sense of God’s presence.
And if we listen carefully when these moments occur, we, too, may hear a heavenly voice say, This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased—listen to him!
Unfortunately, we don’t follow through on these experiences. Unfortunately, we even forget they ever happened. Or even more unfortunately, as we grow older we don’t walk outside to watch a sunset or we no longer climb mountains to invite such experiences to take place.
Bede Griffiths makes this point in his book. Commenting on his experience, he says:
There can be few people to whom such an experience does not come at some time, but it is easy to let it pass. . . . Our world returns to its normal appearance and the vision which we have seen fades away.
The truth of the matter is that the risen Jesus is constantly revealing his presence to us. But we are too busy to notice. We are too busy to pause to look for him.
Today’s gospel speaks to this situation. It tells us that Jesus is the Son of God. It tells us that Jesus is risen. It tells us that Jesus wants to show himself to us through our family, through our children, through nature, through our gathering here each Sunday.
Today’s gospel invites us to look for Jesus not only in the extraordinary events of life but also in the very ordinary ones.
Jesus is everywhere in our world. Jesus wants us to look for him. Jesus is waiting for us. We need only look.
This is the message and the invitation of today’s gospel.
In 1513 a man named Fra Giovani wrote:
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is a radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow. . . believe me. . . the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys too. . . conceal diviner gifts. Let us close by repeating today’s opening prayer at Mass. It makes a fitting conclusion to the message of today’s gospel. Please pray along with me in silence:
Lord, open our hearts to the voice of your word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision.
Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son.
We make our prayer through Christ our Lord.
Series II 2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 12:1–4a; 2 Timothy 1:8b–10; Matthew 17:1–9
Something beautiful for God Jesus’ transfiguration reminds us that we, too, are to let the light of the Father shine through us.
Some years ago England’s national television network, BBC-TV, sent its star journalist,Malcolm Muggeridge, to India to do a documentary on Mother Teresa.
The BBC wanted to televise her and her sisters picking up the dying in the slums of Calcutta and taking them to a shelter run by the sisters.
At the shelter the dying are washed up and cared for, as Mother Teresa put it, “within the sight of a loving face.”
The shelter to which they are brought was once a temple to the Hindu goddess Kali. It is dimly lit by tiny windows high up in the walls.
The television crew had not anticipated the poor lighting inside the building, and had not brought any portable lights with them. They concluded that it was useless to try to film the sisters working with the dying inside the building.
But someone suggested they do it anyway. Perhaps some of the footage would be usable.
To everyone’s surprise, the footage filmed inside the shelter turned out to be absolutely spectacular. The whole interior was bathed in a mysterious warm light. Technically speaking, the camera crew said, the results were impossible to explain.
Muggeridge has his own theory about the mysterious light. He explains it in his best-selling book Something Beautiful for God. He writes:
Mother Teresa’s Home for the Dying is overflowing with love. . . . One senses [this] immediately on entering it. This love is luminous, like the haloes artists have seen and made visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on photographic film.*
What Muggeridge is talking about is not a figment of his imagination. It is something that is well documented in biblical and spiritual literature.
For example, the Book of Exodus says that when Moses came down from the mountain after talking with God, “the people looked at Moses and saw that his face was shining, and they were afraid to go near him.” Exodus 34:30
Likewise, the spiritual director of Saint Elizabeth of Hungary wrote in a letter that when Elizabeth came from prayer, people often saw “her face shining marvelously and light coming from her eyes like rays from the sun.” This brings us to today’s gospel, where Peter, James, and John report that suddenly, on the mountain, the face of Jesus began to shine “like the sun.”
Peter never forgot that moment. Years later he wrote about it, saying: With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there when he was given honor and glory by God the Father, when the voice came to him from the Supreme Glory, saying, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice coming from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18
There’s no way of knowing what the light was that radiated from the face of Jesus. And there’s no way of knowing what the light was that radiated from the faces of Moses and the saints. And there’s no way of knowing what the light was that showed up on the film footage of Mother Teresa’s shelter for the dying.
Perhaps, as Muggeridge suggests, it was the light of God’s world shining into the darkness of our world.
Regardless of how it is explained, Malcolm Muggeridge believes that every Christian is called upon to become a light in our darkened world.
He believes that every Christian is called upon to radiate the light of Christ to the world if not in a physical sense, at least in a metaphorical sense. Jesus himself said to his disciples:
“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead it is put on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house. In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14–16
Elsewhere in his book, Muggeridge, who has since become a Catholic, gives an example of what he means. Describing a talk Mother Teresa gave at a school hall, he says:
I was watching . . . the faces of the people as they listened. . . . Every face . . . was rapt, hanging on her words; not because of the words themselves they were ordinary enough but because of her. Some quality came across over and above the words that held their attention.
A luminosity seemed to fill the school hall . . . penetrating every mind and heart.
When she had finished . . . they all wanted to touch her hand. . . . She looked so small and frail and tired standing there, giving herself. Yet this, I reflected, is how we may find salvation. Giving, not receiving . . . dying in order to live.*
Mother Teresa was a light in the darkness for these people.
And this brings us to ourselves in this church.
Like Moses and Jesus, and like Saint Elizabeth and Mother Teresa, we are called to be a light in the darkness of our world.
Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are living out our calling.
Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are letting our light shine before others that they may see it and praise our Father in heaven.
And if we aren’t doing as well as we could, Lent is a time for repenting and beginning anew to live out our calling. Let us close by praying again the opening prayer of today’s Mass:
Father of light . . . open our hearts to the voice of your Word and free us from the original darkness that shadows our vision. Restore our sight that we may look upon your Son who calls us to repentance and a change of heart. ______ * Malcolm Muggeridge, Something Beautiful for God (New York: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 32, 98.
Series III 2nd Sunday of Lent Genesis 12:1–4a; 2 Timothy 1:8b–10; Matthew 17:1–9
Faith Epiphany This is my Son, listen to him.
Ashining cloud came over Jesus, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son.” Matthew 17:5
Years ago, Arthur Gordon wrote an article for the Reader’s Digest. He called it “The Night the Stars Fell.”
Gordon began by saying that when he was a small boy his family lived on the Atlantic seacoast.
One night, he was awakened from sleep by his father lifting him gently out of his bed. Still half asleep, he felt his father carrying him outside, down the porch steps and onto the beach.
It was a beautiful night and the sky was ablaze with millions of stars. Arthur’s father pointed up to the sky and said, “Watch carefully!”
Suddenly, one of the stars dropped from the sky, leaving a trail of light behind it. Hardly had it faded out when another star dropped from the sky. Then another. And another.
“What’s happening, Daddy?” whispered Arthur.
“Shooting stars,” his father said. “Every once in a while, the stars put on a special show for us. Tonight is one of those nights. I thought you’d like to watch for a little while.”
For the next 15 minutes father and son watched in silence.
As they did, they were transported into another world. It was a world of beauty and mystery far beyond that of this world.
That experience changed Arthur forever. He was never the same after it. Years later, as an old man, he wrote, “I still remember the night the stars fell.” Arthur concluded the article saying that after his father put him back in bed and left his room, he lay there awake for a long time.
He just stared into the darkness, filled with awe and wonder at what he had just experienced on the beach with his father. What Arthur experienced gives us a faint insight into what the three disciples experienced in today’s Gospel.
It was a moment they, too, would never forget. When he was an old man, Peter wrote:
With our own eyes we saw his greatness. We were there . . . when the voice came to Jesus . . . We ourselves heard this voice . . . when we were with him on the holy mountain. 2 Peter 1:16–18
What Arthur experienced and what the disciples experienced is what theologians call a “moment of grace.” It’s a moment when the border between heaven and earth fades and, for a brief second, the glory of God shines through into our world.
It is a moment when, for a brief second, God’s presence is felt in our lives in an unmistakable way.
All of us have had such moments at some point in our lives. Abraham Maslow of Brandeis University called them “peak moments.”
They are moments when some unseen door opens slightly and, for a brief second, we are blessed with a glimpse of the world of faith. Such a moment may occur right after receiving Communion. All of a sudden we are struck with a realization of who it is we are receiving.
Or it may occur during that precious period of time at night when, after turning off the TV set, we sit alone in quiet prayer, for a moment. Unfortunately, when such moments occur, we don’t always do what little Arthur did. We don’t rest in the presence of God, in awe and wonder, letting the experience sink into our soul.
As a result, the moment fades and is lost in the caverns of our memory. The great spiritual writer Bede Griffiths expressed it this way. He said:
There can be few people to whom such an experience does not come at some time, but it is easy to let it pass. . . .
Our world returns to its normal appearance and the vision which we have seen fades away.
In other words, we soon forget the great gift with which God blessed us. These special moments should be savored, just as little Arthur savored his experience with his father on the beach.
Another spiritual writer, Bernard Basset, says of these special times, when God makes his presence known:
This awareness of God’s presence is a great gift.
If God gives it to me, as he does from time to time, then I do not more than stand or sit or kneel in his presence.
Any effort on my part, however, to make myself feel that God is there is nearly always wrong. I cannot move an inch in prayer unless the Lord teach me. Moments of grace are gifts from God. They can’t be merited. They can’t be won. They can’t be manufactured.
All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive them, should God choose to give them to us.
And how do we do this? How do we dispose ourselves to receive them?
One way is to set aside a little time each day for prayer, when we open our hearts to God and invite God to enter them.
If we persevere in this spiritual adventure, and listen carefully with the ears of faith, a day will come either here or in heaven when we, too, will hear a voice.
It will say to us what the voice on the mountain said of Jesus: “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased.”