3-17-2019 2nd Sunday of Lent
Mar 18, 2019
Lent II / C / Transfiguration / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
All three of our readings today inspire a sense of awe and mystery—they point to a world beyond our own, a transcendent world, from natural to supernatural, from earth to heaven.
In the first reading, Abraham performs a ritual that establishes a Covenant with God. The scene is filled with mystical symbols: the sky, the stars, birds of prey, a deep trance, a terrifying darkness, a flaming torch. This is no ordinary contract between two parties; this is something much more: a sacred Covenant with God, a Covenant between time and eternity.
St. Paul, in the second reading, says that we are citizens not only of this world but of the world to come; in fact, he says, our true citizenship is in heaven. He accuses the Philippians of being too preoccupied with this world—he says, "their god is their stomach; their glory is in their shame." Instead, Christians should focus on the world to come, when our mortal bodies will "conform to the glorified body of Christ."
Our bodies now conform to this earth; in the future, our bodies will be different—transformed, transfigured—for life in the world to come.
And that brings us to the Gospel—the Transfiguration, which we read every second Sunday of Lent. Like the first reading, there are many numinous symbols: a cloud, darkness, dazzling light, a voice, prophetic figures. And there is also a mountain. In the Bible, a mountain is a place of encounter—where humanity meets God and God meets humanity. Peter, James, and John encounter Moses and Elijah—the Law and the Prophets—conversing with Jesus, who is "transfigured" before them—the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.
Everything I have said so far touches on the natural and the supernatural—this life, and the life to come. As Christians, of course, we should be concerned about the things of this world. We should be concerned about the poor, about economic and social justice, about climate change and the environment, about immigrants and just laws and life issues.
But Christians should also be concerned with the super-natural world, the world to come—as St. Paul says, we have citizenship in heaven, and "the world as we know it is passing away" (1 Cor 7:31).
All of our readings today point heavenward, to our destiny and our hope. St. Paul tells us that Christ "will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body." The Transfiguration is the glorified body of Jesus—in a sense, the resurrected body of Jesus. Will our bodies one day be the same?
In a word, "yes." But what does that mean? Or, put more simply, what will we be like in heaven? Of course, no one has returned from heaven to tell us! But one great theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, has made some educated guesses . . .
And this is what he says about our glorified bodies:
1. Identity. Though our bodies are "glorified," we will keep the same identity. We will see each other and we will recognize each other. But there will be a difference. Like Jesus after the Resurrection, we will be the same, but different. As one author said, "The difference between a caterpillar and butterfly." The same, but different.
2. Quality. In our "glorified body," we will be at the height of our powers—we achieve the perfection that God intends for his creation—the best, the brightest, the most beautiful. The human person in complete authenticity and integrity.
3. Unchangeability. Our glorified body will not change. We will remain the same, in our perfection, throughout eternity. (We know what it is like to see someone after 25 years!) No sickness, no aging, no death, no change over time. Never less than who we are.
4. Agility. The resurrected body is not constrained in any way. It can go anywhere, be anywhere, do anything—at the speed of a thought or a wish. If you want to be at creation, there you are! If you want to visit with Moses and Elijah, there you are!
5. Clarity or luminosity. In a word, we will shine, as Jesus did at the Transfiguration. In art, we see this luminosity represented by a "halo."
The Transfiguration of the Jesus points to our own transfiguration, to our resurrection. Our destiny. Our hope of salvation. Our passage from death to life.