25 February [2nd Sunday of Lent]
Mk 9:2-10

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.  Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"  Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

In all three liturgical cycles we have the strange story of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent. What does it mean?  In the second reading (Romans 8:31-34) St Paul writes that the Lord "will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body." The Transfiguration, then - whatever we discover it to mean - is not only about Jesus but about us.  It is to make some discernible difference to us today.

There was the everyday Jesus who was well known to his friends; and then there was the moment when they scarcely recognised him, so transformed – transfigured – was he.  Divinity shone through him, revealing depths that they had never imagined.  Can this happen only to Jesus? 

When the little girl was asked what a saint was, she replied (thinking of the stained glass windows in the church), "A person who lets the light through."  Can this be more than an image? Can it also be a reality? Could you and I let the light through?  We may be too aware of our wretchedness to feel at ease with thoughts like that.  But it is just these "wretched bodies of ours" that are the material of transfiguration, according to Paul.

In a poem called The Sunrise Ruby, Jelaluddin Rumi (1207-1273) the Sufi mystic, imagines a girl speaking with her beloved.
'Do you love me or yourself more?
Really, tell the absolute truth.'
He says, 'There's nothing left of me.
I'm like a ruby held up to the sunrise.
Is it still a stone, or a world
made of redness?
It has no resistance to sunlight. '
There it is: in one way it is a stone, but in another it is a world of redness. This gives some impression of what transfiguration might mean.  When you are completely absorbed and self-forgetful as you look at the sea, or the night sky, or a friend, you are still yourself, of course; but you are also more than yourself.  At any rate you are a kind of larger self, and not the small self that thinks before he speaks, and counts money, and always looks after his own interests.

But we would like to hear what Christian mystics have to say about it.  Johann Tauler (1300 ­- 1361) wrote the following.

"God fires the spirit with a spark from the divine abyss. By the strength of this supernatural help the soul, enlightened and purified, is drawn out of itself into a unique and ineffable state of pure intent toward God.  This complete turning of the soul toward God is beyond all understanding and feeling; it is a thing of wonder and defies imagination.  In this state the soul, purified and enlightened, sinks into the divine darkness, into a tranquil silence and inconceivable union.  It is absorbed in God, and now all equality and inequality disappear. In this abyss the soul loses itself, and knows nothing of God or of itself, of likeness to Him or of difference from Him, or of anything whatsoever.  It is immersed in the unity of God and has lost all sense of distinctions."

Sadly, this aspect of the Christian faith is not as familiar to most of us as it should be. We have learned to settle for less.  Most people believe that the best things are not for them. We are all called to deep enlightenment and union with God.  Does this mean that we are to be somehow unreal and up-in-the-air?  Hardly.  Tauler and the people of his time had to be intensely practical.  But his words live for centuries beyond the time he uttered them, because he was in touch with the living heart of our Faith.  It is he, and the likes of him, who will lead us to the heart of God.


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This page gives a very brief commentary by Donagh O’Shea on the gospel reading for each day of the month. 


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