Living Flame

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ARTICLE: 2nd Sunday of Lent Year: B

2nd Sunday of Lent Year: B

Gen 22.1-2, 9-18; Ps115 (116); Rom 8.31-37; Mk 9.2-10

From Peak to Peak

The seniors among us certainly recall that amazing story over half a century ago. May 29, 1953. A New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, were the first ever to reach Everest's summit. Here was a mountain - unreachable, tantalizing, fearsome, deadly - that had defeated 15 previous expeditions. Some of the planet's strongest climbers had perished on its slopes. For many, Everest represented the last of the earth's great challenges. The North Pole had been reached in 1909; the South Pole in 1911. But Everest, often called the Third Pole, had defied all human efforts - reaching its summit seemed beyond mere mortals. Now success! And heightening the impact even further was the delicious coincidence of their arrival just before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the dramatic announcement of their triumph on the morning of the coronation. It was literally a "mountaintop experience." The mountaintop experience of which we read in today’s gospel a moment ago has Jesus and his three closest apostles - Peter, James, and John - going up on a high mountain and the miraculous transformation undergone by Jesus showing his heavenly glory to his disciples.

Transfiguration

The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s gospel), to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly. Fr. Anthony De Mello 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.”

"He took with him Peter, James and John"

From the group of disciples Jesus chose 3, whom according to Mark's Gospel were present at the resurrection of Jairus' daughter (Mk 5.37) and will be close to Jesus in Gethsemane (Mk 14.33). These are 2 significant moments because in the first episode the 3 disciples become witnesses to the divine power which Jesus revealed by resurrecting a dead person, a sign of eschatological power which will be realized in the resurrection of all believers. In the second event the 3 disciples are witnesses to the supreme hour in which Jesus, the Son of God (Mk 14.36) and "Son of Man was given over to the hands of sinners" (Mk 14.41). Analogically it may be considered that the restriction of the immediate witnesses to these 3 disciples underline that the Transfiguration is a culminating event of Jesus' revelation and the mystery of his death and Resurrection.

"He Brought them up a high Mountain…"

The topographical data is important for its message. Besides the symbolic resonance of the adjective "high", Mark records elsewhere the motif of mountains which help interpret this verse. In 3.13 the mountain is the place where Jesus reveals himself as the founder and leader of the community by choosing some disciples, "making them" the Twelve and giving them the eschatological power to announce the Gospel and to cast out demons. In 6.46 the mountain is the place where Jesus after having multiplied the bread and before walking on the Sea of Galilee, went to pray; two revelatory events in the presence of the disciples. In 13.3 the mountain is the place where Jesus, alone with his disciples, reveals the signs of the eschatological coming of the Son of Man. The mountain of the Transfiguration thus appears to be an element which accentuates the aspect of messianic revelation with reference to the community in which the 3 disciples represent.

Mountain of Revelations

The place of the Transfiguration away from the public, found near to places where some significantly messianic miracles were worked (1.40-45; 5.21-43; 7.31-37; 8.22-26) and the prohibitions to divulge these miracles (5.37.40 cf. 5.43; 7.33 cf. 7.36; 8.23 cf. 8.26; the Transfiguration 9.2 cf. 9.9), becomes clear in the light of Mark's characteristic theme by which "that which he kept hidden from the masses came to be revealed to his disciples, the nucleus of the future messianic community."

"He was transfigured ..."

The verb used by the evangelist is also found in Romans 12.2 and in II Cor 3.18. It indicates a spiritual change. Here in this context however it treats of a visible transformation. The context shows that it is not a metamorphosis of the Hellenistic type whereby Jesus acquired a nature of another living thing or of another person or had taken on a disguise. Jesus does not appear to be a divine being who took over a human body, nor was found to be in an unrecognizable form (cf. Mk 16.12 and Lk 24.16). On Mt Tabor the disciples had no trouble in recognizing him; his personal and physical reality did not undergo mutation. The evangelist does not speak of the type of transfiguration undergone by Jesus. He speaks only of a unique and heavenly candour of the clothes. From this one may consider that "it treats of a transformation to a heavenly condition which matched the resplendent whiteness of the clothes." Moreover according to the connection between 9.1 and 9.9, to see the Kingdom of God come in glorious power is to see Jesus transfigured. It speaks of a transfiguration in which Jesus assumes the splendour of the eschatological Glory in the might of the divine power of the Kingdom.

"Elijah appeared to them with Moses…"

The meaning of the presence of these two renowned heavenly figures who represent the Prophets and the Law next to Jesus, most probably is that the times are fulfilled in Jesus and that Jesus is the Messiah. It is unique that Mark names Elijah first, but it is difficult to give an explanation for this. It appears that Mark stressed the function of these 2 persons with regard to the disciples. Jesus in himself blends the spirit of the Law and the Prophets and shows to his disciples concretely through the action of LOVE.

"Master, it is good for us to be here..."

Peter, having experienced this heavenly event, expressed his joy and proposed to keep Jesus and the 2 heavenly figures as long as possible. Various authors see in these words of Peter an allusion to the Feast of Tabernacles (cf. Ex 23.16; Lev 23.27-34; Dt 16.13). But if this were to be true, then Peter ought to have had proposed the building of tents also for the disciples. This feast in the time of Jesus was linked to the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

"He did not know what to say…

There was fear, awe among the disciples. In this way, the evangelist appears to allude to the incapacity of the disciples to understand both the tragic and glorious events; of the mystery; and indirectly that the glory of Jesus transfigured is intimately linked to the glory which Jesus will obtain through the power of his Death and Resurrection. "It is the Glory which corresponds to the Passion and Death and that death brings with it the glorious Resurrection. The Transfiguration of Jesus was not meant to make a paradise out of the mountain; it was to stimulate, to fortify each step in the journey towards the Passion. The Christological revelation is oriented towards an ecclesiological understanding for a community placed in the journey which leads the Passion."

"And a Cloud came, Covering them in Shadow"

The way this is expressed indicates that the action of the cloud is meant to protect and guide the frightened disciples from the event. This meaning seems to be reinforced by the fact that the cloud elsewhere in the Old Testament indicates the coming of God in his manifestation to his people in the Exodus (Ex 40.35; Num 9.18,22; 10.34). The function of the cloud was to guide and protect the people in their journey in the desert (Ex 33.9-10; Num 11.25; 12.5). Perhaps it can allude also to the eschatological cloud which covers the elected people as found in Is 4.5. The cloud can therefore indicate the benevolent action of God on the disciples called to follow Jesus in the journey towards the Cross.

"There came a Voice from the Cloud..”

The association between the cloud and the voice is found in biblical literature (Ex 16.10; 19.19; 24.16; Num 17.7) as well as ancient Jewish literature (Num 21.6; Gen 22.10). It treats of a voice within a theophanic or revelatory framework which proclaims a divine oracle. Peter had practically equated Jesus with Elijah and Moses. The voice instead made the distinction very clear.

The statement of the divine sonship recalls without doubt the declaration which the evangelist had referred to at the moment of Jesus' baptism in Mk 1.11. There the divine oracle was addressed to Jesus, here however it is addressed to the disciples and through them, to the community and the crowds. Indeed with the command to listen to Jesus, the voice indirectly presents Jesus as the prophet whom all the people must listen to (cf. Acts 3.22 & Dt 18.15). It is a unique command valid for all time.

The "Messianic Secret"

It is written "As they came down from the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what "rising from the dead" could mean." In the descent from the mountain, Jesus spoke to his 3 disciples about what happened on the mountain and gave them an order. This is the well-known "messianic secret" (cf. 1.34; 3.12 and especially 8.30) followed immediately by the incomprehension of the disciples regarding the announcement of the Son of Man's Passion and Resurrection (cf. 8.32-33; 9.31).

The Dazzling Mystery

I have cited at the beginning a liturgical text summarizing the mystical theology and the existential spirituality which the event of the Transfiguration had inspired the Church. I now conclude with a liturgical text which seems to have as its basis the same fundamental text. It is found in the Preface of the Feast of the Transfiguration according to the Ambrosian Missal; "Christ revealed his glory before the witnesses pre-chosen by Him and in the poverty of our common nature He shone an incomparable light. Thus He prepared his disciples to bear the scandal of the Cross, anticipating in the Transfiguration the marvelous destiny of the entire Church, His Spouse and His Body; called to share in the fate of its Head and Lord".

Practical Conclusion

Transfiguration in our daily life is accomplished through our sufferings, pain and sorrows. This also refers to all our daily joys and moments of triumphs. We need to take our daily challenges in our hand as coming from God and face them with a resolution of Christ who said to his disciples that he should suffer and die in Jerusalem. Ultimately we are all transfigured in our body, in our mind and in our heart before we meet our Lord on the last judgment day.

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

Vancouver - Canada

Tuesday - 1st Week Of Lent - Year B - Matthew 6:7-15

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Tuesday - 1st Week Of Lent - Year B - Matthew 6:7-15

Monday - 1st Week Of Lent - Year B - Matthew 25:31-46

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Monday - 1st Week Of Lent - Year B - Matthew 25:31-46

1st Sunday of Lent - Year B - Mark 1:12-15

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1st Sunday of Lent - Year B - Mark 1:12-15

Saturday after Ash Wednesday - Year B - Luke 5:27-32

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Saturday after Ash Wednesday - Year B - Luke 5:27-32

Friday After Ash Wednesday - Year B - Matthew 9:14-15

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Friday After Ash Wednesday - Year B - Matthew 9:14-15

ARTICLE: 1st Sunday of Lent Year: B

1st Sunday of Lent Year: B

Gen 9.8-15; Ps 24(25); 1 Pet 3.18-22; Mk 1.12-15

 

Listen Carefully – Try Reaching Back

There is a true story told by Stephen Covey about a man who experiences a time in his life when everything seemed flat, boring, dull.

He went to this physician who found nothing wrong with him physically. The doctor then suggested that he take a day for some spiritual renewal. He was to go to a place that had been special to him as a child. He could take food, but nothing else. The doctor then handed him four prescriptions - one to be read at 9 AM, one to be read at noon, one at 3 PM, and the final one at 6 PM. The patient agreed and the next day, drove himself to the beach.

 

At nine AM he opened the first prescription, which read. “Listen carefully.” For three hours do nothing but listen??? Our friend was annoyed, but decided to obey. At first he heard the wind, the birds, the surf—predictable beach sounds. But then he found himself listening to his inner voice, reminding him of some of the lessons the beach had taught him as n child—patience, respect, the interdependence of the different parts of nature. Soon, our friend was feeling more peaceful than he had in a long time.

At noon he opened the second prescription, and it said, “Try reaching back.” His mind began to wander, and he discovered himself being overwhelmed by all the moments of joy and blessing and giftedness he had been given in the past.

 

Examine your Motives

 

At three he opened the third prescription. This one was harder. It read, “Examine your motives.” Defensively, this man listed all the motivating factors of his life - success, recognition, security - and found satisfactory explanations for them all. But finally it occurred to him, in a shattering moment, that those motives were not enough, that the lack of a deeper motive probably accounted for the staleness and boredom of his life.

“In a flash of certainty,” he wrote, “I saw that if one’s motives are wrong, nothing can be right. It makes no difference if you are a scientist, a housewife, a mail carrier, or an attorney. It is only when you are serving others, that you do the job well and feel good. This is a law as irrefutable as gravity.”

At six PM he read the final prescription. It said, “Write your worries on the sand.” He took a shell, scratched a few words, and then walked away, never turning back. He knew, with a great sense of relief, that the tide would come in, and his anxieties would be washed away.”

Wilderness is an Opportunity

My friends, The Wilderness - the aloneness - the solitude that the wilderness affords - the hardship - is an opportunity - a blessing - from the Spirit of God. It is a place where we can be tested - a place where we can grow into the maturity that we require so that we can indeed face the world, in both good times and in bad, and do there those things there that God would have us do.

Meaning of Lent

Lent is a short season of six weeks intended to prepare us for the great celebrations of Easter. The word Lent comes from the old Anglo-Saxon and Old German words for spring marked by days that lengthen. The idea of penitence and fasting during Lent may have begun in earlier, hungrier times as a means of spiritualizing real shortages of food at this time of year. This refers to early European famine and drought.

Desert

The Gospel of today narrates how Jesus triumphed over Satan. While in the wilderness for forty days (this being a symbolic number), Satan tempted Him. Jesus did not allow himself to be seduced by Satan. He came on earth to overthrow the worldly kingdom of Satan that had its beginning when Adam disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Jesus came on earth to reclaim God's Kingdom that was rightfully his, but stolen by Satan through sin.

Jesus concludes in this passage the announcing in Galilee, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'

Repentance

As members of the Kingdom of God, during the Lenten Season, we are called to repent of our sins that offend God. We are called to frequently remember the triumph of Jesus. We are called to triumphantly live our faith in Christ as baptized children of God. We are called to go forward and shine by our obedience, our servitude, our charity towards others, through prayers, sacrifices, all in the love of God.

Doing so, we know that in the end, our triumph shall also be glorious through the salvation that we shall inherit as children of God.

The Word of God

Jesus - had the Word of God - and he had prayer as his tools for surviving in the wilderness. He had used these tools before - in fact he used them every day of his life - and he had them with him when he was driven out by the Spirit into the wilderness. So Jesus was able to keep his head about him - he had confidence - or what we call faith - and it was this in the end that allowed him to return from the wilderness safely and begin his work as the Christ - as the one who was able to announce - as we read in today’s scripture.

Prayer

With prayer Jesus kept in touch with God and with it he was able to recognize the angels that God sent to minister to him - to help him in the wilderness. With it Jesus was able to resist giving in to the Devil.

When we are in the wilderness of the Spirit is very important to know how to pray - just as it is important when we are in the forest to know how to fish and recognize what berries are good to eat and which are poisonous.

 

Jesus’ Prayer Life

Jesus practiced prayer all of his life - so when he was driven out into the wilderness - he was ready for all the tests that came his way - he was ready to prove himself. He knew how to talk to God and so he was able to find all the things that God wanted him to find.

 

Practical Conclusion

Wilderness experience is a way of purifying ourselves from the toxins of the modern environment. This type of experience tames us from our pride and egoism. We begin to rely on God and not on ourselves. Wilderness experience is good physically, morally, spiritually and psychologically to uphold the values we stand for.

 

Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza OCD

Vancouver - Canada

Thursday after Ash Wednesday - Year B - Luke 9:22-25

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Thursday after Ash Wednesday - Year B - Luke 9:22-25

Ash Wednesday - Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18

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Ash Wednesday - Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18

Tuesday - 6th Week - Year B - Mark 8:14-21

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Tuesday - 6th Week - Year B - Mark 8:14-21