Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Transfigured By Hope"

The shot at right is, of course, the newly-completed Transfiguration Dome at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Drawing on today's account of the event, fresh from his weeklong Spiritual Exercises, B16 -- who'll be seeing the mosaic work for himself in eight weeks' time -- tackled retreat and transfiguration at today's Angelus.

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Yesterday saw the close of the Spiritual Exercises here in the Apostolic Palace that, like every year, saw the Pope and his collaborators of the Roman Curia united in prayer and meditation. I thank the many who were close by spiritually: may the Lord reward their generosity. Today, the Second Sunday of Lent, following along the path of penance, the liturgy, having given us the Gospel of the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert last week, calls us to reflect on the extraordinary event of the Transfiguration on the mountain. Taken together, both of these episodes anticipate the Paschal mystery: the battle of Jesus with his temptor foreshadows the great duel of the Passion, as the light of his transfigured Body awaits the glory of the Resurrection. From one side we see Jesus fully man, even sharing temptation with us; from the other we contemplate the Son of God become divine in our humanity. In this way, we can say that these two Sundays are the pillars upon which leans the whole structure of Lent through to Easter, even the entire structure of the Christian life that essentially consists of this paschal dynamism: from death to life.

The mountain -- Tabor as with Sinai -- is the place of closeness with God. It is the elevated space, relative to daily existence, where one can breathe the pure air of creation. It is the place of prayer, of being in the presence in the Lord, as Moses and Elijah, who appeated together with the transfigured Jesus and spoke with him of the "exodus" that awaits him in Jerusalem, that is his Pasch. The Transfiguration is an event of prayer: Jesus praying, immersing himself in God, united intimately to Him, attaching his human will to the Father's will of love, and so letting the light shine through and visibly showing the truth of his being: He is God, Light from Light. Even Jesus' garments become new and radiant. This makes us think of Baptism, of the white garb that the newly-baptized don. Those reborn in Baptism become re-dressed in light, awaiting the heavenly existence that the Apocalypse presents with the symbol of bright clothing (Rv 7:9-13). The crucial point is this: the Transfiguration is the anticipation of the Resurrection, but this presupposes death. Jesus manifests his glory to the Apostles, that they might have the strength of confronting the scandal of the cross, and so they might understand that they will need to endure many tribulations to enter the Kingdom of God. The voice of the Father, which sounds from on high, proclaims Jesus his chosen Son as at the Baptism in the Jordan, adding: "Listen to him" (Mt 17:5). To enter into eternal life, we need to hear Jesus, follow him along the way of the cross, carry in our hearts the hope of resurrection as He did.

"Spe salvi," saved by hope. Today we can say: "Transfigured by hope."

Let us return now in prayer to Mary, recognizing in her the human creation internally transfigured by the grace of Christ, and entrusting to her care our journey with faith and generosity along this itinerary of Lent.

Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae....
Recall, too, the recent exegesis of a certain southern preacher:
[T]he Transfiguration is the central point of the public life of Jesus in Matthew, Mark and Luke -- it's dead center in the public life of Jesus. He goes up the mountain -- all of a sudden, he shows his true colors.

In the words of the high school students that I taught in the late 1970s, he blew their minds... He showed them who he really was -- just a glimpse, just a glimpse that was enough to make them... Why did that come through? What leads up to that? Jesus keeps telling the apostles: "We're going to Jerusalem." He keeps telling them: "I'm going obediently as my Father directs." And by the time they get to that mountain -- it's the mountain just like the mountain on the Sermon on the Mount -- once he gets up that mountain, the Father's joy can't be contained anymore and he just lets loose in his Son... and you see the Father shine. What makes the disciples at first run in fear -- because they don't have purity of heart completely yet -- but Jesus, whose purity burns away whatever is less than doing God's will, touches them, and when they look up they only see Jesus.
Later this week -- Wednesday, to be precise -- the Cardinal of the South takes possession of his titular church.

PHOTO: Knights of Columbus/Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception