No Reason to Despair

No Reason to Despair

Second Sunday of Lent

It was just a few weeks before our Lord’s passion and death. He takes with Him His three favourite apostles, Peter, James and John, and goes for a walk up the mountain. They leave behind the plain, the world, their friends and loved ones. And there in that solitude with the Divine Master, they begin to pray. They are given to taste something of the intimate commerce the Divine Word has eternally with His Father, but since they are so far behind when it comes to prayer, they doze off and fall asleep. Soon they are awaken by light, and as they look up, what do they see? No longer the gentle face of the carpenter of Nazareth, but the brightness of eternal light. His face now shines like the sun and His garments are white as snow.

Enthralled by this vision, they then see two other persons approach Our Lord and begin to speak with Him. Moses, representing the Old Law and Covenant, Elijah representing all the prophets. Of what do they speak? They are speaking of His upcoming passion and death, His going out of this world, the culminating event in the salvation of the world.

Peter, in spite of this extraordinary scene, cannot sit still. He has to intervene and do something.  Not content with contemplating our blessed Lord, Peter has to do something, so he proposes to Our Lord to build three tents, one for Him, one for Moses and one for Elijah, but as St Luke points out, he did not know really what he was saying.

At that moment a cloud comes upon them; they enter the cloud; a voice is heard: This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased; listen to Him. The voice was that of the Eternal Father, the cloud was the Holy Spirit. The Blessed Trinity manifests itself on this day as it did in the Baptism of our Lord.

At those words, the disciples fall to the ground as if dead. So it is that the manifestation of the Divine is too much for our frail nature to bear. Were it not for a gift of God, the apostles would indeed have died. But Our Lord comes and touches them and, as it were, raises them from the dead, and says: Arise and be not afraid. Tell the vision to no man until the Son of Man be risen from the dead.

That is the story. It moves us every time, even though we celebrate it twice every year. Why does it move us? I think because we know that the humanity of our Saviour is the same as ours. We labour under the weight of our frail nature, we carry about this body destined to death, we feel it die a bit more, as it were, every day. This body corrupted by sin, frequently pulling us in the direction of sin and death, it is this very same body, without sin, that Christ Our Lord had and which on this day is glorified as a pledge of what awaits us.

St Paul tells us that one day, Christ will configure our humanity to His glorified humanity, in other words that the glory He now has in Heaven He will share with us. This is why the mystery is such a great consolation. Like Peter, we would like to step in and say: Stop, hold there, don’t move, let this go on forever! And it will, but not quite yet. For now, after the brief moment of ecstasy, we have to go back down to the plain and wage war with our passions.

Indeed, this body of death is still plagued by concupiscence and frequently acts up, seeking to satisfy its longings for illicit pleasure and all sorts of comfort and satisfaction. It always wants more, and if we don’t keep it in check, we end up living like the pagans who know nothing but the satisfactions of their lusts. Now that is the sure way to not obtain to the glorification of the flesh in eternity. You see, it’s very simple. Our Lord came in the flesh to restore, save and sanctify the flesh, to give it the capacity to keep the commandments. That is precisely what the sacraments make possible for us, and that is why all the sacraments involve a physical aspect. Our bodies need to be purified and sanctified. But if we do not make use of those graces, if we continue to live like the pagans seeking out sensual satisfactions, then we are not living the Christian life at all and cannot obtain the glorification of the body that Our Lord shows us on this day.

St Paul writes in today’s epistle to the Thessalonians: 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 (1 Th 4:3-7).

In his epistle to the Ephesians, he has similar language when he tells them that henceforward they must not live as the Gentiles 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 lustfulness, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness…. But you, be renewed in the spirit of your mind: And put on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth (Eph 4:17-24). Despairing, he says. It is because of despair that people fall into illicit satisfactions of the flesh. An interesting lesson for our world. As the hope of a blessed eternity fades, the reckless thirst for pleasure increases. Indeed, for if this life is all there is, let’s drink from all it has to offer. But if we are really destined to see God face to face, so see the glorified humanity of Christ Our Lord as the apostles did, then the attraction of the flesh becomes insipid. It loses its zest. We have much more to look for than what is on offer here. But if we immerse ourselves in what is available here, we lose what is offered there.

Such is the great mystery of hope that God come in the flesh and transfigured before us manifests: through Him we have the grace to live in all purity. Even this mortal flesh, plagued with so many temptations, can achieve purity like that of the Saviour if only we avail ourselves of the graces He offers.

All we have to do is contemplate Him, listen to Him and put into practice what he says to us. At the end of the Sermon on the mount Our Lord says:

Every one therefore that heareth these my words, and doth them, shall be likened to a wise man that built his house upon a rock, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock. And every one that heareth these my words, and doth them not, shall be like a foolish man that built his house upon the sand, and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and they beat upon that house, and it fell, and great was the fall thereof. (Mt 7:24-27)

Let us then, my dear friends, be not hearers of the word only, but doers also (see James 1:22). And like Our Blessed Lady may we deserve to hear it said of us: Blessed are they who hear the word and keep it (Lk 11:28), that is to say, live it. And then we are ready to take on the whole world and all the demons of hell: the spiritual stronghold of our soul will not fear; it will hold firm because it is founded on rock.