Lenten Reflection from His Holiness: Second Sunday

Continuing on with our journey through Benedict’s Message for Lent this year, we come to the Second Sunday of Lent, which is the Transfiguration. The Holy Father writes:

The Gospel of the Transfiguration of the Lord puts before our eyes the glory of Christ, which anticipates the resurrection and announces the divinization of man. The Christian community becomes aware that Jesus leads it, like the Apostles Peter, James and John “up a high mountain by themselves” (Mt 17:1), to receive once again in Christ, as sons and daughters in the Son, the gift of the grace of God: “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). It is the invitation to take a distance from the noisiness of everyday life in order to immerse oneself in God’s presence. He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.

This first part of this synopsis is an invitation into the great Christian mystery the Eastern Churches particularly honor: theosis. Or, as Benedict here terms it: “divinization”. In other words, it is becoming god—growing into the divine. The Holy Father tells us that it is Christ who leads us upward to the mountain of God. Here, in the presence of God is the true human exodus: a passing over from the Ego to the Theos—from the self into the Creator. This passage is a Christological mystery because Jesus Christ is the locus of the journey. It is no wonder that the divine voice of the Father declares: “Listen to him”. Christ is the measure of human fulfillment. There is no other. He is the Incarnate Word—the incarnate language of the divine—who re-communicates the Father to creation and who breathes the Spirit that animates.  Moreover, as the locus of the exodus into God, when one thereby journeys into God through the Mediator Dei—Christ—he, too, becomes a son in the Son. The Incarnate Words opens up filial relationship to God: love, intimacy, passion, trust, and hope.

His Holiness sees in this Gospel, also, the precursor to this theosis-exodus. He parallels this invitation with the invitation to “take a distance form the noisiness of everyday life”—in other words, to walk up into the mountains, the place of silent heights; countless beauties; and ineffable, infinite sights. If one is continuously clothed by the temporal order, by the worries of everyday life, or by affairs that do not reflect the divine rule, then there is essentially no possibility for an exodus. How can one pass-over without passing over? How can one communicate with the Lord without going to speak with and listen to Him? How can one become divine if his make-up is only the visible and temporal? There is no theosis without an authentic exodus of the self. That is why Benedict declares the importance “to immerse oneself in God’s presence”. Not the presence of the self; not the presence of society; not the presence of others. First the presence of God, and then all else unfolds according to His divinity and will. Certainly the life of the saints, and especially the Virgin Mother of God, attest to this.

In the last part of this Gospel synopsis, the Holy Father concludes beautifully, as we have already read: “He desires to hand down to us, each day, a Word that penetrates the depths of our spirit, where we discern good from evil (cf. Heb 4:12), reinforcing our will to follow the Lord.” It seems to me that there is a reference to Genesis here. Without the Lord, the human person is chaotic: impoverished, man is in need of divine order and love.

Is this not the state of the universe in the first creation story? “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss” (Gen 1:1, emphasis mine). How does God counteract this chaos? He speaks. In the beginning, it is the Word of God communicated that brings peace: “Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw how good the light was” (Gen 1:3-4). The Word is the divine person who secures and establishes order.

Consequently, after sin and separation, the human person herself becomes a wasteland, in need of God’s voice to hold her together. And so the Divine Lover sends to the beloved His Son, who “penetrates the depths of our spirit”, granting us true power to discern the good from evil—contrary to Satan’s apple of temptation. It is the Word to whom we primordially belong, to whom our hearts beg to be touched and embraced by. It is the Word who is man’s ultimate and definitive source of well-being, nutrition and happiness—indeed the source of the heart’s very beat itself. He is the true rhythm of life: the beat that sets everything in proper relationship and order, and out of chaos establishes harmony.

To end, I am reminded of the words of  the Great Apostle: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col 1:17).  The Word is “before all things”—He is the eternal exemplar. And Incarnate, He holds all things together—He recapitulates history and creation, thus to procure salvation: “in order to kill sin, to destroy death, and to give life to man”, as St. Irenaeus writes.

Let us pray for the grace that we may all follow Christ Jesus into God.

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