The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance.
Biologists call it metamorphosis to describe such changes as when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly; the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly.
Fr. Anthony DeMello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man. “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”
Now, this is the kind of transformation or metamorphosis that we are invited to during Lent. With the power of the Holy Spirit, we can transform our lives by renewing them during Lent, and to radiate the grace of the transfigured Lord around us by our Spirit-filled lives. The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain reminds us that the way of the cross leads to resurrection and eternal life, and that the purpose of Lent is to help us to enter into those mysteries.
To have this reading of the transfiguration of Jesus on this second Sunday of Lent makes me think of the four last things: Heaven, Hell, Death and Judgment. The transfiguration of Jesus is like the sneak preview that we get at the movies. It’s the preview of what Heaven really will be like and we can tell from the response of the 3 apostles that it left them speechless. Peter didn’t want to leave; he wanted to build three tents so that they could just stay there and remain in the moment with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. But, they are quickly reminded that they must come down off the mountain and live life with all of its suffering and trials and temptations. On this second Sunday of Lent, those 4 last things are a good reality check for us to climb the holy mountain of the Lord. It’s like what the old man recognized at the twilight of his life when he realized that his days were numbered and found that his one prayer was: “Lord, give me the grace to change myself,” so that he doesn’t waste the limited time that he has left.
The 4 last things and the transfiguration have a lot in common in this sense. What is death? The separation of the soul from the body. Why does this matter? Because of Jesus. He is all that matters when we die. While we are on earth, food and the opposite sex and bill collectors and the plumbing leak in the basement matter a lot. When we die, there is only One Who matters: JC our savior.
Did you die in sanctifying grace, (i.e. no mortal sins) obeying God’s commandments, and living in charity? The point is that it’s not the case that we accept Christ once and then we are forever saved; once saved, always saved! NO! Our salvation is dependent upon our obedience to Jesus Christ. We can easily fall out of grace – it only takes one mortal sin to do that! Spending one’s life trying to have fun, seeking pleasure, and ignoring the commandments of God makes death a very unpleasant thought. However, a devout Catholic living in the state of grace, without a habit of committing mortal sin, uses the thought of death and judgment to keep himself in check and to continue to transform his life for the better in preparation for Heaven and further distance himself from hell.
That’s what the transfiguration of Jesus is all about. It is that glimpse of what we all want our eternity to be. The problem is that we live in a society that wants instant satisfaction. You may remember the comedian Yakov Smirnoff describing his arrival in the US from Russia and his lack of preparation for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk; you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice; you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to my self, ‘What a country!’” Smirnoff was joking, but we make these assumptions about Christian transformation – that people change instantly at salvation. But, we as Catholics call it transformation through repentance and renewal of life, deriving strength through the word of God and the sacraments.
We need to be thinking about the consequences of our actions in this life. We need to recognize that we will be judged and there will be eternity in Heaven or in Hell depending on that judgment. Thankfully, there is purgatory to clear out the things that slip between the cracks so that we can eventually get to Heaven.
What better time than Lent for us to really ponder these things so that we can seek the mercy of God, especially through confession to begin the transformation that we need to get us to Heaven. There is no such thing as a Powdered Christian. A true disciple of Christ is not born by adding water to Christian powder. There is no such powder and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. So, on this second Sunday of Lent, start working on being a first rate version of yourself and pray the one prayer that mattered to the old man in the story: “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.”
** Due to time commitments, Father Grassi is unable to take blog comments at this time. If anyone has a question of faith, please feel free to call Father Grassi at St. Thomas Catholic Church or speak to him after Mass.