RCIA – The 2nd Sunday of Lent – The Transfiguration
The Transfiguration of Our Lord (on Mount Tabor)
Opening Prayer: Good and gracious God, you gave the disciples a glimpse of your Son filled with light. Enlighten our minds and hearts with the word you want us to hear this day that we, too, may be filled with your light. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reflect for a moment on the images you heard in today’s scripture. Name some of these images and discuss any feelings or lasting impressions you get from them.
What might the feelings of Peter, James and John have been at Jesus’ transfiguration?
Lent is a time of transformation. As we contemplate in our prayerfulness God’s glory revealed in Jesus Christ, we are transformed into his likeness. Both in our work of prayer and our work of charity we strive to live in Jesus’ likeness.
Can you recall any personal experiences that filled you with awe? Such as a beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, hearing a symphony, etc.
Have you ever thought of those experiences of awe as prayer or as a time you felt connected to God?
1st Reading – Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
The reading from Genesis describes in cultic terms a time of mystical prayer in which God forges a covenant with Abraham, promising him both land and progeny. These promises seemed impossible in human terms, yet Abraham puts his faith in the Lord nonetheless. In a graphic description of an ancient ritual used to seal a sacred covenant, Abraham falls into a kind of trance and sees the Lord’s presence symbolized by the blazing torch passing between the split carcasses. The vision represents a departure from the usual custom of the time, in which both parties to a covenant stood between the sacrificial offerings to swear the oaths. Here, God alone does so, indicating the unconditional nature of the Lord’s decision to enter into relationship with (and fulfill the promises to) Abraham and his descendents.
In this passage about Abraham, he is called Abram, which was his name before God changed it to Abraham. He is completely frustrated. Earlier (Gn 15:2-3), he had complained to God that he still had no son. Hence, the promise of a great nation, as numerous as the stars, was still in jeopardy. In spite of his questioning, Abraham reconfirmed his faith in God. Once Abraham opened himself up completely by his act of faith, the promise took a new turn. Abraham would not only have countless descendants but would also possess a huge tract of land.
The rather odd ceremony described in this chapter of Genesis is traditionally called the “pact of the pieces.” As understood by the people of those times, in this ancient ritual God swore his fidelity to his promises by calling upon himself the fate of the sliced animals if he did not do what he promised. Thus God would keep his word. We are told that, near sunset, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him” (15:12). Then Abraham received the promise that became reality in the time of David and Solomon – numerous descendants and the promised land. The story suggests that the hero’s faith at the moment of crisis became the rich heritage of Israel. Abraham’s experience was for others.
2nd Reading – Philippians 3:17-4:1
In his letter to the community at Philippi, Paul is concerned about the many attempts being made, both by Judaizers and by gnostic sympathizers, to dissuade his converts from a steadfast allegiance to Christ. He holds up the example of his own life, and he reminds them how their baptism has united them to Christ, in whom they must “stand firm.” Paul is concerned over both behaviors and beliefs that he saw as contrary to Christian faith. His solution to both concerns is to urge the Philippians to remain firm in their baptismal covenant, keeping their gaze fixed on their “citizenship in heaven,” from which will come their savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Judaizing – here it means that Christians must follow Jewish law in addition to being baptized. From newadvent.org – Judaizers – A party of Jewish Christians in the Early Church, who either held that circumcision and the observance of the Mosaic Law were necessary for salvation and in consequence wished to impose them on the Gentile converts, or who at least considered them as still obligatory on the Jewish Christians.
Also from newadvent.org – Gnosticism – The doctrine of salvation by knowledge. This definition, based on the etymology of the word (gnosis “knowledge”, gnostikos, “good at knowing”), is correct as far as it goes, but it gives only one, though perhaps the predominant, characteristic of Gnostic systems of thought. Whereas Judaism and Christianity, and almost all pagan systems, hold that the soul attains its proper end by obedience of mind and will to the Supreme Power, i.e. by faith and works, it is markedly peculiar to Gnosticism that it places the salvation of the soul merely in the possession of a quasi-intuitive knowledge of the mysteries of the universe and of magic formulae indicative of that knowledge. Gnostics were “people who knew”, and their knowledge at once constituted them a superior class of beings, whose present and future status was essentially different from that of those who, for whatever reason, did not know.
Let us all sit comfortably and quietly for a few moments, close our eyes, and take several deep breaths. As we inhale silently say “Jesus,” and as we exhale silently say “fill me with light.” Amen.
Extended Catechesis – Contemplative Prayer
Prayer: God, quiet us to hear and see you. Slow us down. Create space in us for you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Imagine yourself on the top of Mount Tabor.
The Gospel – Luke 9:28b-36
The Gospel of the Transfiguration is always used on the second Sunday of Lent. The Gospel writers all put it before Jesus goes to Jerusalem for his passion and death. During Lent the already baptized are renewing the meaning of their baptism in Christ. Those who will be baptized this Easter are using this Lenten time to prepare for their baptism in Christ. The transfigured Jesus, filled with light with white clothing is an image of who we are as the baptized in Christ.
Reflect for a moment on this image of the enlightened Christ in connection with your baptism.
The nature of the Lenten season as a time of preparation for (or renewal of) baptism is quite obvious in the themes prominent in today’s readings. Both the first and third readings portray a mystical encounter with God in prayer. From ancient times, prayer (along with fasting and almsgiving) has been a primary means of accomplishing the “work” of Lent. Abraham’s prayer results in a solemn covenant with the Lord, just as the prayer of the catechumens ultimately leads to their baptismal covenant. The baptismal covenant is understood as a relationship with God in which we experience ourselves as “chosen” (the title given to Jesus on the mountain) and “transformed” (an image Paul uses in today’s letter to the Philippians). This is the hope of catechumens: that their lives will be transformed as they encounter God in the baptismal covenant and become God’s “chosen,” destined for glory.
As mentioned above with Abraham, Jesus also experienced a moment of crisis. In the scene before today’s gospel (Lk 9:18-27), Jesus announced his passion, death, and Resurrection. The announcement then gave way to a period of intense prayer, which in turn led to the reassuring presence of the Father.
Luke’s version of the transfiguration differs from the other synoptic accounts in minor ways that reflect his particular understanding of Jesus and his mission. The setting is a special time of prayer, always a sign in Luke that something important is about to take place. In the larger context of the Gospel, this scene occurs just after Peter’s confession of faith and between the two predictions of the Passion. Jesus is portrayed speaking with Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) about his “passage” (the Greek word is “exodus”), by which Luke understands to be the suffering, death and resurrection Jesus was about to undergo in Jerusalem. The message of the voice from heaven is clearly directed to the early Christian community, affirming that Jesus is God’s Son, the Chosen One, and insisting that they “listen to him,” in similar times of prayer. Coming to know Jesus in this way involves recognition of his messianic, divine identity, as well as a willingness to follow him along the path of suffering to glory.
Moses and Elijah also experienced their own crises and found their solutions in God’s presence (Ex 34:29, 1 Kgs 19:11-13). They “were speaking of his (Jesus’) departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” At this time of crisis, Jesus was comforted by these words. His passion and death would not be the end; they were the steps that would lead to the glory of the Resurrection and the Ascension (Lk 24:26). Ultimately, the transfiguration story suggests that Jesus’ experience of pain and frustration was for the benefit of his audience. His crisis was for others.
Our own personal crises can be useful to others as well; sometimes they can serve the good of the community. We just need to “Listen to Him” to help us get through them. How to we listen to Jesus? In prayer.
In our world we often experience brokenness. We feel crisis in a variety of forms: in marriage, in family, in health, in finances, in self-confidence, and so forth. The experiences of Abraham and Jesus help us in our difficulties. We can, with Abraham and Jesus, share victory over crises and experience God in our most difficult moments. The heavenly world on the mountain can move to our home, neighborhood, job, and social world. The figures of Abraham, Moses, Elijah, and Jesus come to new life and offer us a message of hope. Why should disaster triumph when we know that victory is possible?
Our human experiences are the foundation of our relationship with God and with others. These we share with one another, and are able to help each other because of them. They are also the content of our discussion in prayer. The biblical writers label this relationship Covenant. Covenant automatically excludes a one-on-one with God alone. The world of Covenant is triangular: God, the community, and the individual. The individual relates to God by relating to community. Not to relate to community is not to relate to God. Hence, the God of the Covenant wears a variety of disguises: the suffering, the frustrated, the derelicts, as well as the joyful, the successful, the achievers. To bring one’s experience to another and to learn from the experience of others is to make God present in a new way.
Return again to visualizing the impact that seeing Jesus transfigured had on Peter, James and John. What powerful experiences of God have you had?
In today’s Gospel, Peter wanted to do something immediately, put up three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. We often have difficulty staying with a powerful experience of God, and find ways to move away from them. How did you respond to your powerful experiences of God? Did these experiences create a further longing for God in you?
How do you attempt to fill this longing with other things?
How do you create a space for God to fill you?
Our sacraments immerse us into the death-resurrection of Christ. Part of that immersion, that listening to Christ is prayer. There is a deep, transformative prayer that brings us to that kind of personal knowledge of Jesus and prepares us for discipleship that involves suffering as well as glory.
Catholic Teaching – Contemplative Prayer
There are many ways of experiencing God, and many ways of praying. Prayer is a way of communicating with God and may include talking and/or listening. Prayer can be communal or individual. Prayer may be expressed in one’s own words, or in specific formulas.
Contemplative prayer is a specific form of prayer that has long been part of the Catholic tradition. Contemplative prayer is a prayer of the heart, of quiet, of listening. In contemplative prayer one sits in quiet and creates space for God to speak or fill. St. Teresa of Avila (of Jesus) wrote “The Interior Castle,” which describes contemplative prayer as a place where the person comes to closer union with God.
There is no right or wrong way to pray. The best form of prayer is what most helps the person develop a closer relationship with God.
Every Ash Wednesday the Church proclaims the same gospel passage (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) detailing Jesus’ teaching on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These three religious activities help set the tone for the observance of the Lenten season as a preparation for or remembrance of baptism. The first reading and the gospel for this Sunday portray two symbolic occurrences of prayer, the trance or vision of Abraham and the mountaintop transfiguration of Jesus as he is praying.
There are three basic types of prayer: spoken, meditative and contemplative. Spoken prayer uses words that are recited or sung. Examples are the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, litanies, liturgical texts and so on. Meditative prayer may begin with spoken prayer but then employs an imaginative reflective process that focuses the wandering mind in order to draw the one praying into a more affective mode (all with God’s help). An example is guided meditation (see pages from book on Mother Teresa). Contemplative prayer may begin with meditation, but then in moves further away from the self and into a more complete union with God. There is, eventually, a deep wordlessness, an inner silence, a “letting go.” (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, “Prayer,” pps 1037-1041)
While contemplative prayer can be worked toward, it is ultimately a gift. It is less a method and more something into which one is drawn. It is not so much an activity as a stillness and a way of being. (CCC 2713) Contemplative prayer arises from a longing for God as the object of one’s love and is almost always therefore described as a union with God.
Great mystics such as St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross struggled to attain this gift and maintained that a simplified form of contemplation is the birthright of every Christian believer. Teresa’s gift to the church community was a description of contemplative prayer in her well-known work, The Interior Castle. Inasmuch as God calls to the heart of every Christian, the inner gaze of faith through contemplation is open to every believer (CCC 2699).
Richard J. Foster advises that contemplative prayer is an outgrowth of those who have exercised their “spiritual muscles” and who know something about “the landscape of the spirit.” This type of prayer indicates a maturing of faith. Its signals are found in a continuing desire for intimacy with God, the willingness to forgive others even at great personal cost, a sense that God alone can satisfy the longings of the heart, and humility about one’s own spiritual accomplishments. (Richard J. Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, HarperSanFrancisco, 1992, pg 156.)
The Carmelites are a contemporary contemplative religious order whose origins can be traced to about the year 1200 when a group of lay hermits established a community at Mount Carmel (a coastal mountain range in northern Israel) dedicated to following Jesus in solitude. From the beginning, they engaged in devotion to Mary, and they became known as the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Two of the best known members are considered great teachers of mystical prayer: St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. In modern times, Edith Stein and Titus Brandsma, both executed in Nazi concentration camps, attest to the continuing vibrancy of the Carmelite charism. (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, “Carmelite order,” pps 228-29).
St. Bruno founded the Carthusian religious order in 1084, dedicated to the pursuit of God in silence and solitude. St. John of the Cross almost departed the Carmelites to become a Carthusian until St. Teresa persuaded him otherwise. The only Carthusian monastery established in North America is located in Arlington, Vermont: the Charterhouse of the Transfiguration (Encyclopedia of Catholicism, “Carthusian order,” pp 232-33).
In 2007, a movie was released called “Into Great Silence.” The movie overview follows: Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is considered one of the world s most ascetic monasteries. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Gröning wrote to the Carthusian order for permission to make a documentary about them. They said they would get back to him. Sixteen years later, they were ready. Gröning, sans crew or artificial lighting, lived in the monks’ quarters for six months filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and rare outdoor excursions. This transcendent, closely observed film seeks to embody a monastery, rather than simply depict one it has no score, no voiceover and no archival footage. What remains is stunningly elemental: time, space and light. One of the most mesmerizing and poetic chronicles of spirituality ever created, INTO GREAT SILENCE dissolves the border between screen and audience with a total immersion into the hush of monastic life. More meditation than documentary, it s a rare, transformative experience for all.
Catholic piety reflecting a more contemplative form of prayer includes retreat experiences, prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and perpetual adoration. Thomas Aquinas crafted the lyrics to a hymn that has come to be used in exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, and its fifth verse expresses the mysticism inherent in contemplative prayer: “Come, adore this wondrous presence: bow to Christ, the source of grace! Here is kept the ancient promise of God’s earthly dwelling place! Sight is blind before God’s glory; faith alone may see his face!” (Pange Lingua, St. Thomas Aquinas, 1227-1274, tr. James D. Quinn, S.J., 1969 found in Order for the Solemn Exposition of the Holy Eucharist, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minn., 1993, pgs 102-03.)
Putting Faith into Practice
In today’s busy and noisy world, becoming quiet is a challenge, but quiet is necessary to pray contemplatively. Think about your week ahead. Find some time in your schedule to spend ten quiet minutes with the Lord to pray contemplatively.
Closing Prayer: Let us find a comfortable position again and close our eyes. Slowly inhale and exhale, saying silently Be still…..Know that I am God, and listen for God in the silence. Amen.