The Transfiguration –  The Key to Spiritual Success This Lent


There’s a movie called Mask that’s based on a true story about a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis.  Rocky had a very rare disease that caused his skull and the bones in his face to grow much larger than they should.  As a result, his face was terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance caused some people to shy away from him, while others just snickered and laughed and, for as long as he could remember, a lot of the kids called him names.

Through it all, Rocky never pitied himself.  He never gave way to anger.  He never blamed God for his problems.  Though he felt bad about his appearance, he accepted it as a special challenge – a part of life that he just had to make the best of.  One day Rocky and some of his friends were visiting an amusement park.  They went into the place there Maskcalled “the house of mirrors.”  They all began to laugh at how distorted their bodies and their faces looked in the mirrors.  Suddenly Rocky saw something that startled him. One of the mirrors distorted his misshapen face in such a way that it appeared normal – even strikingly handsome.  For the first time, Rocky’s friends saw him in a whole new way. They saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: a truly beautiful person.  Something like this happened to Jesus at the Transfiguration.

During his Transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way.  For the first time, they saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: the glorious and beautiful Son of God.  This event occurred right after Jesus told his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem and there be handed over to the Romans to suffer and die.  When Peter heard this is cried out, “God forbid.  Nothing like that is ever going to happen to you.”  Jesus then said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:22-23)  Peter, James and John needed a spiritual shot in the arm to strengthen them after that shocking experience.

The-Transfiguration-Of-Christ-300x210In the Transfiguration experience, the three disciples were given a glimpse of Christ’s glory. It was designed to help them understand who Jesus really is, and to strengthen them in their faith so that they would have what to takes to live out their vocation and become what they were called to be.  Peter, James and John were given a moment of grace. 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.

If we persevere on our spiritual adventure and listen carefully with the ears of faith, the 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 or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5) During the Season of Lent, we are especially encouraged to re-visit our priorities, the way we spend our time, and we are promised holy transfigurations when we devote ourselves to God in prayer.

After the Resurrection, Jesus again climbed up the mountain with the disciples and again He was transfigured.  He anointed the disciples with his power and authority, and before Jesus departed, he commanded them to return to the world and to share his Gospel of love.  They didn’t get it in that Transfiguration mountain-top moment.  They didn’t even get it when the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven.  They didn’t get it until one fearful day they gathered desperately wanting to know what to do, now that Jesus was gone. Seeking to discern who they were to be, they came together to pray.

On that Pentecost day, the disciples finally understood that all along Jesus was teaching them to pray together.  That day they prayed together, and the very power of God came down and filled them with divine glory, light and purpose.  When we pray together, God’s Spirit comes down from the heaven and fills us with the prophetic energy of Jesus.  All of us need the vision of the mountaintop.  All of us need transfiguration experiences, where our entire perspective is changed, where the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.  If we stop and reflect upon our lives, it’s likely that we’ve all already had such experiences.

We can identify with Peter, when he attempts to capture and prolong the moment by asking to make three dwellings for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  However, like Peter, James and John, we come to realize that we cannot live on the mountaintop forever.  The valleys beckon us to come down and live our lives as servants with other people, just as Jesus and the three apostles did.  The mountaintop had prepared them for the loving service of others, and the same is true of us.  The three disciples needed this mountaintop experience to uplift, encourage and inspire them, to teach them the importance of prayer, and to strengthen them for the challenges ahead.

The Transfiguration reminds us that when we climb with Jesus, pray with Jesus and listen for God’s Word with Jesus, God’s glory will surround us and we will be guided down the mountaintops into the world, there to be Christ’s healing people.  Jesus descended the mountain into a crowd of people who sought a new humanity, and he immediately proclaimed the reign of God by preaching good news to the poor, teaching by word and deed, healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe in the gospel.  He wanted his disciples (and now us) to do the same things.  Like Moses and Jesus, 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, so that they may see it and give glory to our Father in heaven.  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 realize that there is, indeed, more beyond what we can see on the outside.  Let us be transformed and changed as we resolve to do better this Lent.

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

Setting Relationships Right

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on March 16, 2014.

Among Catholics who take the season of Lent seriously, I’ve noticed a number of different approaches. There are the subscribers to Lent as boot camp. Boot campers decide to fast not just from one food they love, but from most foods they love. Added to this, they decide to get up an hour earlier than normal to pray or go to Mass, and they are going to give money to anyone they meet who needs help.  A second group makes one serious commitment and day by day spends a little more time thinking about God, remembers they are not eating fried foods and discovers the joy of crunchy vegetables, and starts collecting their change each day so as to make a contribution to a worthy group. A third group is pretty darn casual about the whole thing, happy that, over forty days, they may remember not to eat meat on a Friday or two, will get to confession, and will go all in for the campus ministry or parish hunger awareness campaign.

Many of us, me included, have a love-hate relationship with Lent. It can so easily become more of a contest than a season of prayer. Thomas Merton once remarked that his brothers, in wanting to outdo one another in the severity of their fasts, became a bunch of grouchy, miserable men. Far better, Thomas thought, to feast and give thanks to God for his abundance than to fast and make yourself and others miserable. How is that holy? Thomas wondered.

The ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving which define the season of Lent are about making right the three most important relationships in the life of a Christian, God, self and others. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that “the interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms,pray fast give fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434). Rather than a contest with our best and worst selves, we are invited to think about what will make our relationship with God stronger. Where do we need to bring some balance into our lives so as to be healthier and what relationships are asking us to be more giving; emotionally, practically or monetarily?

I’ve learned from my own experience that Lent is most fruitful when I take some time to think about how I can deepen my relationship with God. What am I eating or drinking or doing (or maybe not doing) that is really not healthy or good for me? And where can I be more generous with the people who are part of my everyday life?  Answering these questions opens up a number of practices that will make a difference over the course of forty days. My goal is to make these things a habit, not doing them for forty days and then be done, but rather to discover at the end of 40 days, they have become easier and have found a permanent place in my daily routine. If done well, I also am more aware of the depth and breadth of God’s love and mercy, because whether I am successful or not, I am saved. Jesus died for me so that my own failures and sins are not the end of my story.

Susan Timoney is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington.