If you believe you’re too old to change course, think of Abraham and his wife Sarah. Abraham was 75 years old when God called him to abandon his land, his family and inheritance for an unknown land, with no clear mission. It was an adventure that he undertook by faith alone. Thus, Abraham’s journey into an uncharted future began—a journey which saw him depart from what is current day Iraq to Palestine. Had that journey not happened, we won’t be talking about a place today called the Holy Land. God might still have sent Jesus to us, but it is possible He could be called Jesus of Arusha—Tanzania rather than Jesus of Nazareth.
We often speak of our “Spiritual Journey” or our daily journal—coined from the French word jour— to describe a daily record of events. Here is a lesson to learn from Abraham’s journey, unlike Adam and Eve presented last Sunday: We do not know better than our maker whose predilection is that we find happiness in him. We’re never too old to start over or to make a change for the better. The fact of our existence is that the invisible and the unknown are much truer than what we can see, feel or touch. From the natural world, we often realize, surprisingly, that deep beneath a flowering meadow, a volcanic eruption has been forming for many many years. And that brings us to the mountain experience of Peter, James and John reported in today’s Gospel.
The story of the Transfiguration is masterfully narrated in today’s Gospel by Matthew who was not one of the players, and thus didn’t own this story. He was a reporter of an experience that Peter, James and John recounted to the Church. Hence, like the other evangelists, he unleashes his journalistic skills to report an experience that was almost impossible to describe. He searches for the most striking terms, yet unsatisfied as he notices that his expressions were far too limited to describe the reality. Mark, who is known for brevity in expression sounded even more laconic in his description of the event. For each of the apostles present at the Transfiguration, it marked a turning point in their perception of Jesus—an experience unlike any other in the visible world.
Jesus took Peter, James and John. Why not Judas, Thomas and Phillip? Because he knew those among his followers who best understood his teachings as well as those whose pantry of spiritual foods needed at the time a lot more supplies. Next, he led them up a high mountain. Why not the plain? Because divine realities are to be perceived from an exalted position, not in the plain. Spiritual life involves climbing a mountain from where we can be given the vision to perceive ultimate things. St. Theresa of Avila notes that there are no plains in the spiritual life. The spiritual plain is the cafeteria where the gullible pick and choose what aspect of God or His word to accept. Intentional Catholics remain on the incline.
We’re invited this Lent to climb the mountain with Jesus so that we may experience his glory and become similarly transfected (as scientists through a process called transfection deliberately introduce purified nucleic acid or DNA into mammalian cells to produce a desired protein). In essence, the life and glory of Jesus is introduced in us making us bask in his glory. Hence, Transfiguration is “the sacrament of our second regeneration” (CCC 556). Unlike Moses, who coming from Sinai as mediator between God and Israel exuded a reflected glory, Christ entered the cloud with a glory that is his own; a glory he revealed to a few chosen apostles who saw him converse with the greatest of the great—Moses and Elijah. Eternal reality dawned on them and they begged to remain there. But Jesus was preparing them for the Scandal of the Cross so that amidst the doom and gloom that will accompany his saving death, they may be strengthened by this vision of the likeness of the glory of heaven.
Fr. Chukwudi Jo Okonkwo