FIRST READING Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
The Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness. He then said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” “O Lord God,” he asked, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He answered him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him. When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. It was on that occasion that the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”
SECOND READING Philippians 3:17–4:1
Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.
GOSPEL Luke 9:28b–36
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
My sisters and brothers in the Lord,
This Second Sunday of Lent always includes an account of the Transfiguration of Christ in the Gospel and the Great Promise to Abraham in the first reading from the Book of Genesis. These important stories of our Christian tradition illustrate how we are transformed through our relationship with God.
The Book of Genesis in a foundational document for the Jewish people and for us who follow Jesus Christ. Abram would become the father of the Chosen People and eventually of the Christian Family. Abram’s faith, even in the face of being childless, was unwavering. Abram is among the first to hear this calling of the Lord. It is a call to follow the Lord, even when the future outcome seems impossible. Abram, and then Sarai with him, begin to follow God. With immediacy, there is the Great Promise given to the couple: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” God transformed Abram into a father beyond measure. As we understand more this historical relationship of God with His People, the more we come to understand Jesus coming in the flesh to save us is part of this ongoing relationship. However, flesh (or His Incarnation) is not the heavenly end of Jesus nor us as Christians; we will be transformed.
The Letter to the Philippians expands upon the Great Promise to Abram (beyond being as countless as the stars): “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.” Christians are citizens of Heaven. We await our entrance into everlasting life, when Christ will change our material bodies into radiant and immortal bodies. The challenge for us is to believe and to have the faith that Abram had in this God who loves us and seeks us out and bestows upon us promises. This can be difficult at times because it demands that we look beyond this life, and it demands that we enter into a transformative relationship with the living God on His terms.
The Gospel from Saint Luke gives an account of the Transfiguration. The Transfiguration allowed Jesus’ closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, to see his glorified countenance. This spectacular manifestation of Christ’s divinity strengthened their faith. Poor Peter had such a hard time wrapping his head around the event that he begins to talk about making tents! And, the Gospel tells us that Peter did not know what he was saying. It was clearly such an intense experience that other Gospel accounts speak of Peter sort of being out of his mind! The Transfiguration can have that effect on believers, even on world renown converts to Catholicism.
Thomas Merton (who made two visits to Christ in the Desert Monastery in the late 60s) Trappist Monk, writer, and mystic, lived and developed his faith in New York City, what some might think was an unlikely place, not conducive to spirituality. He attended Mass at nearby St. Joseph’s on Waverly Place and 6th Avenue, the same church Dorothy Day, Catholic Worker Newspaper founder and activist, attended before and after her conversion. On the wall behind the altar of St. Joseph’s is a magnificent rendition of The Transformation; visitors to the church can better understand Peter’s discombobulation. The mural can transform communicants during mass; it is a mesmerizing, beautiful, and awe-inspiring artistic biblical depiction. The Transfiguration account is given today because the great voice from heaven speaks out, just as in the Baptism of the Lord: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
My sisters and brothers, we are heirs of the promise to Abram and we are witnesses to the accounts of the Baptism and the Transfiguration. God promises us that in relationship with Him we also will be transformed (transfigured). Let us listen to Him!