Second Sunday of Lent —17
February AD 2008
“God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
90-Translated from the Old Latin
As I have said earlier this Lent, the
Preface of the Mass—the prayer just before the Sanctus and the
beginning of the Canon—tells us that the objectives of the Lenten observance
are to “extinguish our vices, elevate our understanding, and bestow upon us
virtue and its reward.” The theme for today’s Mass seems to be that,
in part, we will achieve those objectives by allowing ourselves to appreciate
God’s glory. This morning’s Gospel allows us a glimpse of what only
three of the Apostles—Peter, James, and John—were privileged to see, the
Transfiguration of our Lord. “His face shone as the sun, and His
garments became as white as snow.... Moses and Elias spoke together with
Moses and Elias represent the Law and
the Prophets of the Old Testament. They also have the unique distinction,
after Adam and Eve, of having personally encountered God, and having seen something
of His glory.
I say, “something” of His glory for “no man can see God and
live”—Moses saw only His back; Elias saw only God’s effects in
the wind and the earthquake, and the fire, and in the whistling of gentle wind.
There is the suggestion here that the
Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament were soon to yield to Jesus Christ,
His Apostles, and His Church—indeed, our Lord predicted His coming crucifixion
both immediately before and after the Transfiguration.
Today’s account comes in the midst of the establishment of the Church, with
Peter and the Apostles receiving the power to have whatever they bind or loose
on earth to be likewise bound or loosed in heaven.
There is also the suggestion that this
Transfiguration was something to bolster the spirits of the Apostles.
Certainly they would be depressed and disheartened by these predictions of the
Crucifixion, and all the more by actually being witnesses to it. Something
like the Transfiguration was necessary to assure them that our Lord would be
triumphant, even over death on the Cross. Otherwise they would be like
those with no hope. We, ourselves, can draw hope from this in the face of
our own difficulties, for we know that by Baptism we are united in the
Resurrection of Christ, and will someday share His glory in heaven if we but
persevere in grace.
Centuries ago Pope Saint Leo the Great
explained that the glory seen by the Apostles was the splendor of our Lord as
Christ the King. It was the splendor of His glorified humanity, “not
the Divinity itself. That unutterable and inaccessible vision is reserved
for the pure of heart in eternal life ... not for these men to look upon and see
while they were still encumbered by mortal flesh.”
“No man can see God and live” but Jesus Christ, God, the Son of
God, had become man precisely so that He could be seen by men and women;
to teach us and to redeem us by His words and His works. They saw the Son
of Man in His glory.
We ought to recognize that the humanity
of Christ is the very same humanity which we possess. Again, Pope Saint
Leo tells us that “Christ ... is at once the Only-begotten of God and a Son
of man. For one of these without the other would be profitless for
Now, we don’t shine like the sun, nor wear garments as white as the snow, but
our humanity is glorified, as Christ’s was, when we are in the state of
sanctifying grace. This is true here on earth as it will be in heaven.
And let us not forget that the eternal life of heaven, in the beatific vision of
God, must begin here on earth. We cannot hope to become holy after
we die, but must undertake holiness in the here and now. “God has not
called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
Matthew, Mark, and Luke (the authors of
the “synoptic” Gospels) each recount the events of the Baptism of our Lord
and of His Transfiguration. In each case the voice of God the Father is
heard saying “This is My beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased.”
But at the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father bids us to “hear
By the time of the Transfiguration, the teaching mission of our Lord was
nearly complete. It remained only for Him to travel to Jerusalem where He
would be crucified. Bolstered by the comfort of His glory, it remains for
every one of us “to learn how to possess his vessel in holiness and honor, not
in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” We have
seen the glory of Christ the King, and now it is time to fall in behind Him,
hearing Him and imitating His perfect example to the best of our abilities.
We modern Catholics are twenty centuries
and thousands of miles removed from Mount Tabor, where the Transfiguration took
place. Only Peter, James, and John were privileged to be there with Jesus,
Moses, and Elias. That far-away brightness of the sun and the snow seem
very dim to the eyes of the body. The Lenten exercises will help the eyes
of the mind to see what the eyes of the body do not—“extinguishing our
vices, elevating our understanding, and bestowing upon us virtue and its
reward.” The glorified humanity of Christ the King is much easier to see
when we are not weighed down with food and drink, and mindless entertainments,
and a full social calendar. Though we cannot be at Mount Tabor to see our
Lord appear like the sun and the snow, we certainly can come to Holy Mass to see
Him in the Most Blessed Sacrament—more privileged even than Moses and Elias,
we can receive the Body and Blood, humanity and divinity of our Blessed Lord in
Lent continues, and we must be about the
business of “extinguishing our vices, elevating our understanding, and
receiving virtue and its reward.” “God has not called us to
uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians
Gospel Matthew xvii: 1-9.
Exodus xxxiii: 9 ff;
3 Kings xix: 8-14.
Matthew xvi: 21-28; Mark
viii: 31-39; Luke ix:
22-27 (before) Matthew xvii: 21-22; Mark ix: 29-31;
Luke ix: 44-45
Cf. Matthew xvi: 19;
Lesson iii at Matins, Pope
Saint Leo, homily on the Transfiguration.
Pope saint Leo the Great, ibid.
Matthew iii: 17; Mark
i: 11; Luke iii: 22 (Baptism) and Matthew xvii; Mark
ix:6; Luke ix: 35