The 2nd Sunday in Lent
The Law and the Prophets
The Transfiguration of Our Lord is
celebrated twice in the Church’s calendar, once on August 6th, and a
second time today, the 2nd Sunday in Lent, known as Transfiguration
Sunday. It recalls an event that occurred in the life of our Lord
shortly before the end of his life, and so it is fitting to
commemorate it during our Lenten preparation for his Passion and
Death. The Transfiguration was, in fact, our Lord’s way of preparing
his apostles for those terrible events, revealing to them that in
spite of what they were about to see, all the blood and suffering of
Good Friday, he was nevertheless the Son of God. They were being
encouraged to keep their faith in spite of the appearances of utter
calamity that were about to befall them.
This is obviously significant for us in our own times, when the Church has been infiltrated by the legions of Satan, and has for all intents and purposes given up the faith. Like the three apostles who were chosen by our Lord to witness this vision of Christ’s divinity, we have been chosen by the selfsame Son of God to keep the faith during these times in which it is his Mystical Body, the Church, that is suffering such distress. Christ chose only three of his apostles to witness his glorious transfiguration, and today we also may seem like a relatively small group, as our brethren in the Church blithely go about their business, apparently unaware of the evil they have accepted in their bosom. But the vision of the Transfiguration is held up for us today, that we too may behold the divinity of our Lord, and know that he is with us still in all his glory. That glory is not as visible today – it remains hidden in the words of the Gospel, and then hidden in the form of bread and wine at Mass. But behind each outward sign, there exists that hidden grace at all times, and today it is with the eyes of faith that we must behold the glory of the Lord, transfigured in the Gospel story.
Perhaps it is just as well that we aren’t permitted to actually witness Christ in his divinity. The vision of our Lord transfixed in glory was almost too much for the three apostles to bear. St. Peter barely knew what to say, and stammered out a few words about maybe building three tabernacles, or tents, one for our Lord, and one each for Moses and Elijah who had appeared on either side of him. His words may sound like the idiotic mumblings of a man in shock, especially as our Lord did not even deign to make a response to his suggestion. And yet, there is gold hidden in this rock of Peter. For what were Moses and Elijah doing there at this vision? We are told they were there to represent the law and the prophets. And what did the law and the prophets have to do with the divine Saviour of mankind? Simply this—the law of Moses represents morality, Catholic morals, by which we obey the laws of God, while Elijah, greatest of the prophets, represents the faith of the chosen people of God. So we have Moses and Elijah, who stand for faith and morals, the two pillars of the Catholic Church, now standing on either side of our blessed Lord.
Which is the greatest of all the laws of God? To love him. To love him as he loves us. To love him with all our heart and mind and soul. And as our Lord himself told us, on this one commandment, that we must love God, depend all the laws and the prophets. And so here, on the Mount of Transfiguration, stands our Lord Jesus Christ himself, , between his two supporters Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, standing in support of the personification of the divine Love.
Both Moses and Elijah had fasted for forty days and forty nights. Moses first, when he climbed to the top of Mount Sinai, where God would give him the ten commandments. He remained there for forty days and forty nights, fasting. When he came down from the mountain, the Scriptures tell us his face was transfigured, and as it were horns of light shone forth from his head. Just being in the presence of God on the mountain top had made him to be transfigured. We’re very familiar with that story. But less familiar is the story of Elijah. He had been searching for God, trying to find his real presence. He decided to go to Mount Horeb. And why did he choose Mount Horeb? Because Mount Horeb was another name for Mount Sinai, where Moses had received the Ten Commandments, and God had made his first covenant with man. He wanted to ascend the very mountain where he knew Moses had found the real presence of God. And he prepared by fasting for forty days and forty nights.
When he arrives at the summit of Mount Horeb, God asks him: “What are you doing here?” And Elijah pours out his troubles to God, complaining that even though he has done God’s work, everyone has turned their back on him, and he seems to be the only one left who still worships God correctly. Sounds familiar to us traditional Catholics, doesn’t it? And how does God answer Elijah? How does he answer our own prayers today? First he sends a powerful wind that threatens to tear the mountain apart. But the wind isn’t God. Then he sends an earthquake that shakes the very ground under Elijah’s feet. But the earthquake isn’t God. Then he sends fire, but even this great fire is not God. So where is the God that Elijah seeks? And then God comes to Elijah, not in wind or earthquake or fire, but in something much smaller and quieter. Some translations of Scripture call it “a still, small voice”. Some call it a gentle whisper. One version of the Bible has a translation that calls it “the sound of sheer silence.”
If we honestly seek God, we should seek him here, in this silence. We should find a quiet place to pray, and then listen to the still, small voice of God as he communicates with us. So often we pray in our hustle and bustle, and then complain that God doesn’t answer. It’s no accident that the new religion of Vatican II got rid of that sound of silence that we know so well in our Mass. God may answer their prayers sometimes, but usually they can’t hear him for all the useless noise. Listen to the silence at Mass today. It is no coincidence that Moses and Elijah both climbed up to the quiet calm of a mountain top in order to find God. But there they found him and they heard God’s answer to their prayers, Moses in the law and Elijah in prophesy. Moses found a God who would transmit to him his first covenant with man. Elijah found a God who gave him to understand that there would be a Messiah who would bring a new and everlasting covenant. And today, when Christ himself climbs his own mountain, the apostles who come with him find that new and everlasting covenant in the person of Christ in all his divine splendor.
So when St. Peter blurts out that he and James and John should build three tents or tabernacles for these three figures who appear before them, there is more sense in his words than we at first realize. Not that we should have three tabernacles in our chapel here, one for the old testament, one for the promise of the new testament, and one for the new testament itself. The New Testament of Christ has replaced the faith of the old testament and it has replaced the hope of the prophets for the new testament with the realization of that hope. A Catholic church has only one tabernacle and it is enough, because all that faith and all that hope depend on the love which is Christ in the New Testament. And at the end of time, when heaven and earth shall pass away, faith shall be no more, and hope shall cease to exist. There is no “faith” in heaven because we shall see God face to face. There is no longer any need for “hope” in heaven, because our hope shall be realized. But love will remain. That one tabernacle, in which resides our Lord Jesus Christ, hidden perhaps under the species of bread and wine, but really present for us to love.
When we come to the communion rail today, in our silence let us listen to the still, small voice of God as he reminds us that this is indeed his Son, in whom he is well pleased.