Monday, March 17, 2014

Glimpses of Glory

As you may have heard, a legendary Chicago winter continues to fend off spring.  At least last week’s six inches of snow was the most beautiful of all the others.  Yet somehow it seemed inappropriate for the marvelous month of March--as do the current temperatures hovering around the freezing mark.

The Gospel for the second Sunday in Lent may similarly strikes us as being out of place:  After all, as we journey through the penitential season of Lent--focused on more intentional prayer, more purposeful fasting, and more generous acts of charity--the Transfiguration of Jesus just doesn’t seem to fit.  Like Peter, James and John, we might be baffled by the burst of divine Glory during what can seem like such a long, rather dreary journey toward Jerusalem. 

But haven’t we all experienced this at one point or another—the fact that “Joy and woe are woven fine” (W. Blake)?  Haven't we all realized, usually in retrospect, that our most painful life moments have the potential to propel us toward a deeper, more abundant experience of life?  Lent gives us a chance to recall our experiences of this Paschal dynamic at different junctures in our own life journey. 

Maybe it was a “going forth” from ourselves, a dying to self-interest, in a moment of authentic generosity: we find ourselves giving until it hurts, and yet somehow renewed and refueled through the process.  Maybe it was a surprising or even a self-inflicted suffering which left us totally dependent on someone else: after our humble admission that alone we can do nothing, as well as our openness to accepting help, we find ourselves almost physically carried along by a gift so gratefully received.  Maybe it is even the failure to keep our Lenten commitments (once again!): we find our pride pricked and yet choose to persevere, with God’s grace, rather than give up amid another bout of low-grade self-loathing

Discipline is essential to discipleship, but it is not an end in itself.  Fasting is the pre-requisite to feasting, the Cross is the only path to the crown, and gall is the pre-condition to the glory which awaits those who journey with Jesus.  The more abundant life for which we long comes only through our gradual dying to self.  Not my will, but Thy will be done.  Hans Urs von Balthasar assures us that "the Transfiguration belongs in the middle of Lent and the Passion belongs in the middle of the Transfiguration."  Was it not necessary that the Messiah suffer and enter into his glory?

This Lenten lesson reminds of us of roses in December; it speaks of the promise of spring smothered under March snow, and of divine Providence made manifest in the details of our daily lives.  When we get these occasional glimpses of glory, we might be like the disciples and fall prostrate in fear and wonder.

And then we remember that "Jesus came and touched them, saying, 'Rise, and do not be afraid'" (Mt 17:7)!