Second Sunday of Lent
The glory of the Lord’s transfiguration enlightens this second Sunday in our Lenten observance. As it did for the three apostles who witnessed it, so is it designed to do for us, that is to say, strengthen our faith so that when we contemplate the passion of Our Lord in a few weeks’ time, today’s vision of glory may prevent the intensity of the pain and loss from causing us to waver. So the Lord often deals with His friends in giving them much light and consolation at certain stages of their lives, in order to prepare them for the dark night which can last a long time and during which the remembrance of the former consolation is a mainstay for their constancy. May the luminous face of Christ our Beloved shine upon us today and may it ever find its way through the dark clouds gathering on the horizon.
The Transfiguration, in which the object of our contemplation is the glorified body of the Saviour, also plays the role of being an inspiration for the purity of the moral life. When we look at the flesh of our Saviour shining like the sun, white as snow, we are lifted up to desire a closer ressemblance with the purity of His sacred flesh. That is why St Paul reminds us today of the deteriorating effects of sins of the flesh and puts us on our guard lest we fall back into them: “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour, not in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles that know not God: for God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto sanctification” (1Th 4:3-7).
When the apostles began to preach the Gospel to the surrounding pagan nations, they there encountered every form of impure vice, which today’s reading refers to under the generic term “fornication” and which elsewhere St Paul develops in detail. For example, to the Corinthians he refers to fornicators, adulterers, prostitutes, sodomites. This latter vice was virtually unknown in Israel because it was so severely punished by the Mosaic Law (this by the way is one of the reasons for which Our Lord Himself does not go into details regarding this vice– he did not encounter it among the Chosen People). But as soon as one ventured out into the pagan world it was rampant. And so the apostles, from the very start, find themselves confronted with impurity in its multiple forms. What do they do? Do they enter into dialogue and seek common ground? Do they acknowledge that the search for sexual pleasure is a positive value that needs to be promoted? Do they take counsel among themselves to maybe see if it’s not just too demanding to ask them to stop living that way, and so would it be wiser to promote chastity only as an ideal they should gradually work towards? Nonsense. They cut to the chase and warn the faithful consistently: those who do these things will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
In the epistle to the Ephesians, St Paul stresses that as Christians we can no longer live like the pagans: “This then I say and testify in the Lord: that henceforward you walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind: having their understanding darkened: being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts. Who despairing have given themselves up to lust, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness” (Eph 4:17-19). Despairing: in other words, when they handed themselves over to impure vice, it was out of despair. They had lost hope of anything better, and so, in their lack of hope, they abandoned themselves to impurity. The lesson is profound, and it explains why, as the world becomes more and more enclosed upon itself and cut off from God and eternity, impurity in forms ever more obscene becomes more and more widespread. It is a sign of despair.
Today we find ourselves in a situation similar to that of the apostles. The difference is that the sexual revolution which for the past 60 or 70 years has swept away the masses has also infiltrated the Church and its shepherds. Where will it all end? That I do not know. What I do know is that when God’s people, and in particular the leaders of God’s people, fail in their task, and let themselves by led back into Egypt and its vices, then it is that God allows them to be taken over and destroyed by the very pagans whom they failed to convert and whose vices they imitate.
But it will not suffice to lament ourselves; we must protect ourselves. If it be true that bad company corrupts good morals, it is also true that the corrupt teachings of wayward pastors sow the evil seed of corruption among the flock. None of us is beyond temptation. None of us can ever pretend that we will never fall or be contaminated. We are all weak. It is the role of the shepherd to put his sheep on their guard against falsehood and vice.
Against the filthy tide of impurity that seeks to immerse the entire Church, we need not just avoid sin, but we must promote virtue. A good priest friend of mine wrote years ago some lines of commentary on St Benedict’s brief expression that the monk must “love chastity”. He won’t mind my quoting these beautiful words here. They are a call to the world to convert from its ways and discover joys it does not suspect:
Chastity leads to hope and to joy;
unchastity leads to despair and sadness.
Chastity delights God;
unchastity delights the devil.
Chastity opens the soul to God;
unchastity opens the soul to the devil.
Therefore, as Saint Benedict says, Castitatem amare,
Chastity facilitates growth in all the other virtues;
unchastity stunts growth in all the virtues
and, if unchecked, will contaminate and destroy them.
Chastity opens the door to Divine intimacy;
unchastity closes the door to Divine intimacy,
attracts evil spirits,
and provides ground for familiarity with them.
Chastity confers spiritual authority
and causes the soul to radiate a supernatural peace.
Unchastity destroys spiritual authority
and causes the soul to emit a sense of disquiet, trouble, and sadness.
Chastity is its own reward
in that it disposes the soul for familiar and continuous communion with God.
Unchastity is its own punishment
in that it makes the soul heavy and insensible to spiritual joys.
Unchastity infects the will with weakness,
pollutes the memory,
and darkens the imagination.
Even the body is affected adversely by unchastity;
it gives rise to psychosomatic complaints, fatigue, and restlessness.
It weakens the body’s resistance to illness
by strengthening the soul’s collusion with sin.
Ultimately, unchastity foments unbelief, despair, and hatred of God.
To set out on the path of chastity
is to set out on the path of joy
that leads to the ineffable sweetness of union with God.
The soul is created for Truth.
The soul yearns for Truth
and recognises Truth when she encounters it.
The soul that feeds upon Truth
grows strong in goodness
and radiates a supernatural beauty.
Unchastity blinds the soul to Truth.
The chaste soul holds fast to Our Lord’s words,
“The truth shall set you free.”
Unchastity produces, in the worst cases,
an aversion to the Truth
and a contempt for Truth that causes the soul to repulse it.
Chastity flourishes in the light
and turns to it like the sunflower to the sun.
Unchastity darkens the mind
and causes the soul to prefer the cover of darkness to the light of Truth.
This is why unchastity always goes hand-in-hand with the vice of lying.
Unchastity finds it necessary to spin a web of lies around itself;
it thrives in the climate provided by error, lying, and deceit.
Chastity goes hand-in-hand with love for Truth.
It delights in what is beautiful
and pursues what is good.
It generates a climate of joy
in which the other fruits of the Holy Ghost
thrive and abound.
If you would be happy, be chaste.
And so my dear Friends, if we wish to be strong in chastity, let us be on our guard against the infection of false doctrines and depraved actions, let us keep a guard over our heart and over our thoughts; let us be fervent in our fasting and self-denial, let us above all contemplate the chaste beauty of our beloved Saviour’s transfigured humanity. Looking at ourselves will not get us anywhere but into sadness and despair. Let us look up to Jesus and to the light of His face. Let us also turn frequently to the one we lovingly call the “Virgin of virgins” and our “Mother most pure” and place ourselves under her immaculate mantle. There we will be safe and at peace, and will find true joys and life everlasting.