St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
There are six Sundays in Lent. While the Gospel each Sunday is different, together they form a complete story. If we can follow these episodes, it becomes a sort of liturgical 'box set' culminating in Easter Sunday. Last Sunday in 'episode one' we heard about temptations. Jesus was tempted to sell himself short and take the easy way to face evil. Today, with the Transfiguration of Jesus, we go a stage further and dare to dream of sharing in divine glory and not just of survival. What might we learn about our own journey as we glimpse something of who Jesus is?
Firstly, we all need a dream to keep us going. If we haven't got a dream, we perish. People can die for want of a reason for living. In this Gospel passage, Jesus has just told the disciples that he will be crucified and die. As in the first reading about Abraham sacrificing Isaac, the possibility of Calvary seems preposterous. So, to give the apostles courage to face the impossible events of Holy Week, three of them have a glimpse of Jesus' glory. But even after the event, Peter, James and John still do not understand what this crazy story is all about. The experience was real – but the incredible meaning would only gradually become clear.
To many of our contemporaries, the Gospel message is hard to take seriously. That is not just a modern problem. Even St Paul found that the message of the Cross was incomprehensible to both Jews and Greeks. But like falling in love, faith in Jesus is not merely an intellectual conviction. Our human relationships need memories to build them up. Unless our hearts are nourished by prayerful encounters and experiences, faith in Jesus' incredible message will wither. As with human relationships, faith in Jesus involves our hearts and not just our heads or an occasional few minutes on our knees. Otherwise, it will be drowned out by the noise on all sides. The Transfiguration is Jesus' call to make space for the divine dream.
Secondly, as Jesus does throughout his life, this strange event breaks into the limited world of the apostles' expectations. Their assumptions and limited hopes are burst open and they struggle to cope with this new way of looking at everything. Faith in Jesus does that in every generation – and that is why faith is often resisted.
Pope Francis talks about the 'virus of indifference'. He calls Christians today to be 'a sign of contradiction to the individualism and self-obsession and lack of solidarity that so dominate our wealthier societies.' A good example of this is that, in a world of war and starvation, the fact that the theft of some singer's dogs 10,000 miles away seemed to be worth reporting for days on end. Deep down, our insecure culture wants to distract us from facing real issues and with daring to dream. This 'globalisation of superficiality' arises when we are swamped with information and are unable to digest it or make sense of it. So, we are seduced to seek refuge and distraction in the titillating. Jesus wants to break this obsession of ours with seeking security in the irrelevant and the controllable. The real challenge for people of faith is to live authentic lives so that we can free ourselves from this prison of an escapist imagination and help our contemporaries dare to believe in the divine imagination about a transfigured world. When we allow ourselves to be concerned about a pampered singer's dogs in California, it is we who have become muzzled and led by a leash. Jesus has come to burst into that deadly oppressive obsession.
Thirdly, Jesus' body is transfigured. That points to the glory of the Resurrection. But he took on our flesh so that we might share his heavenly glory. That is the divine dream that Jesus wants to share with us. Our bodies are not just toys to be played with or lumps of meat to be displayed and played with for all-comers. Our bodies are holy and destined for glory. Intimacy is sacred. Whatever cheapens our dignity damages our self-respect. A culture that measures value by the external promotes superficial and temporary relationships. Healing love needs long-term trust, not one-night stands. Children need stability in the adults around them. A culture that encourages 'self-pitying me' damages adults and their dependents. And it crushes the idealism out of children. Lust without love poisons our hunger for meaning. Christ's values are meant to liberate us from that prison of our own making – and from those who benefit by exploiting our temptation to be satisfied with the banal.
Thus, the entire Lenten journey is an invitation to tackle the habits that smother our ability to hope for love and mercy. In this second Lent in lockdowns, Jesus encourages us to believe in him and to believe that we will experience resurrection with him. Making time for prayer is dangerous – because, by praying, you are daring to make space for glimpses of transfiguration in your own life. Fasting is dangerous because you dare to say that you are more than what you are told you should be consuming. Fasting is also a protest against the injustice of the market that wastes so much while millions starve. Solidarity moves us beyond self-obsessed concern with specific personal freedoms – whether in secular life or in church. It works against the fundamentalism which insist that God's truth is limited to suit my Pharisaic hunger for certainty. Certainty was not what the apostles felt after the Transfiguration. Almsgiving pushes me to believe that I should fight for the rights of others before growing indignant and angry about my own little hang-ups. Faith broadens our horizons. It does not limit them. God did not spare his own Son but gave him up to benefit us all. He invites followers to be prepared to be self-giving and generous. Without that transfiguration dream, there is no hunger for resurrection.
During this coming week, can I invite you to stay with those words from today's Gospel, 'This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.' There and there alone will we find healing. There and there alone are we guaranteed wholeness. In that mercy and love alone there is transfiguration. And there we find the strength to journey on in hope.
+ Donal McKeown
 Let us Dream, 2020, Simon and Schuster, p.13
 Cf Radcliffe, T, Alive in God, 2019, Bloomsbury, p.6