Admit it. You’re ten days into Lent and you’re already starting to find ways to get out of whatever it is you “gave up.” Every year it’s the same routine. We think of a dozen things that we think will be easy to go without for forty days (or six days at a time, if we take the easy route and “don’t count” Sundays). And then we conveniently forget not to eat chocolate one day, or we promise that we’ll say twice as many prayers tomorrow, or we convince ourselves that Jesus really doesn’t care if we just sneak a quick peek at Facebook. We’ve all been there, and some of us are probably there right now!
So here we are, supposed to be engaged in all this penance and suffering, giving things up, trying to be better than we’ve been since last Easter, and the Church throws us a curveball with the Gospel of Jesus’ Transfiguration, a brilliant scene that shows the Son of God in all his Heavenly glory. It seems so out of place. But that’s exactly why we’re reading it.
For at least the last 1,700 years, the Church has proclaimed the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent because she recognizes that we are all human, and that we can be weak in times of trial. This Gospel was meant to encourage people to persevere in their Lenten penance by showing us what the goal of all this suffering is supposed to be, and what the real purpose of our Lenten work is: being transfigured!
When we look at this Gospel passage, Jesus has just told His Apostles about the suffering and death that He’s about to endure. They were confused and scared. This time on the mountain was meant to give them encouragement, reminding them (and all of us) that even in the midst of our most challenging moments, He offers us consolation and strength. Jesus’ transfiguration—and the Lenten season—teaches us that we should be more concerned about the joys of Heaven than the difficulties of this life.
Every year I hear the same lines over and over about how Lent is when you’re supposed to “give something up”. And it never seems to strike people that maybe Jesus and the Church are calling us to something just a little more significant than avoiding caffeine for six weeks! Lent is about conversion—about ridding our lives of distraction; about becoming holier through sacramental confession, prayer, fasting, and charity work; about seeking to share in (and not merely observing) the suffering that Jesus endured for our sake on the Cross. And it’s all aimed at the same goal: becoming better than we were before Lent began so that we can get into Heaven!
The lessons that we learn during Lent, the good spiritual habits that we (hopefully) form, and the personal holiness that we are called to cultivate, all lead us to the joy of Easter Sunday not so that we can forget about all of it by Easter Monday. They’re supposed to remain with us throughout the year, and throughout our lives, so that the transfiguration that happens in us during Lent will help us achieve the glory of Heaven.
“Giving something up” isn’t a bad start, but transfiguration might just require a bit more from us. And if this Gospel passage is to be believed, Heaven is worth the effort!