Transfiguration and Prayer
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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.
Our readings for the Second Sunday of Lent this year present us with the story of the Transfiguration (Lk 9:28-36). The passage provides a specific window into one of the hallmarks of lent: prayer itself. In doing so, it reminds us of several truths about prayer that are helpful to keep in mind as we continue to deepen our habit of praying this season.
Reflecting on this story, we immediately notice several facets: First, Jesus invites Peter, James and john into the intimacy of his prayer with God. Second, they've left the other disciples and even other apostles behind as they go. Third, we notice that to enter into this time of prayer, they follow Jesus up a mountain. Mountains, if you remember, were the highly symbolic places of prayer from the Old Testament. Think of Moses praying and receiving the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai.
What does this mean for us? The deepest reality that jumps out is that our prayer is actually Christ inviting us into his prayer just like the apostles. When we pray, be it during the Mass or as individuals in moments of quiet, we're actually praying to God in Christ. It's the reason why e typically end all our prayers with "through Christ Our Lord, Amen." We pray to God through Christ. What's more, prayer is not something we do for God, it's something God does in us. He invites us, draws us in and communicates himself to our hearts. That's profoundly freeing, because it means that anyone can pray, as God gives himself to everyone. We just need to respond with a yes.
Then we notice the mountain, and the lack of other disciples or apostles around. This shows us two more things about prayer: Prayer always requires us to withdraw in little ways from the world, even from our family and friends, good things that they are. Even if it's just for 10 minutes, it's worth saying that yes to the Lord. The mountain reminds us that this requires sacrifice. Mountain climbing isn't easy. It takes dedication. So does withdrawing daily to spend time with God in prayer. Yet, it's only by withdrawing from the world to the solitude of our "mountain top" that we meet the Lord.
Last, we consider the bewilderment of the apostles as they descend the mountain. They've had one of the most profound encounters with God in prayer ever recorded n history. Yet, they don't know what to do with it. God has been powerfully at work in their hearts, but in a way almost impossible for them to put into words. We might feel that way in prayer: not sure what to make of our time or how to put into words, or even doubtful if anything happened. As with the apostles in today's reading, we even might have slept through a part of it.
Often, we can fall into the trap of thinking that, for prayer to be successful, we have to have some immediate takeaway or feel as if we've accomplished something. The truth is that God is often at work in our hearts planting seeds that only will sprout at a later date. The apostles would only understand and be able to explain the Transfiguration in light of the resurrection - so too, God often works in our prayer to form us toward some good to be revealed in the future. We need to be open to making the time, day in and day out. As we continue our Lenten season, keep making time to follow Christ away from the world and up the mountain each day, knowing that the Lord will be at work in our hears, sowing the seeds of grace for the future, waiting to blossom at the Easter resurrection.