Second Sunday of Lent
Readings: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 26(27): 1, 7-9, 13-14; Philippians 3:17 – 4:1; Luke 9:38-36
Sunday 13 March 2022
Breaking Open the Word
When my dad was in hospital just before he died, there was one occasion when my mum was with him and she began to pray the rosary by his side—as a family, we often prayed the rosary together. That particular day was a Thursday, so she prayed the mysteries of light, beginning with the Baptism of our Lord, followed by the wedding feast at Cana, and the proclamation of the kingdom of God. But when she got to the fourth mystery, given everything that was going on, she couldn’t remember what it was. She asked my dad and he seemed agitated because it was obvious that he knew what it was, and it was clear that the fourth mystery of light meant so much to him at that particular moment when he was suffering and near the end, but because he had had a severe stroke which had affected his speech, he was unable to communicate properly, unable to tell my mum. Later that evening, when I came to the hospital, my mum asked me straight away what the fourth mystery of light is, and I said that it is the transfiguration of our Lord on the mountain—our Gospel for the second Sunday of Lent. My dad was visibly relieved that my mum now knew what the fourth mystery of light was.
After my dad died, I found myself questioning why this mystery of the rosary, why this particular event in the life of Christ, meant so much to my dad during his last few days in hospital. I found myself asking why he was so keen for my mum to know the fourth mystery of light.
The transfiguration of our Lord took place just after Jesus had foretold his own suffering and death (Lk 9:22). Jesus knew that he was going to suffer and die, but the transfiguration gave the three apostles a glimmer of hope. For when Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothing became as lightning, those three apostles received a glimpse of the awesome divinity of Christ. They saw that Jesus is truly God appearing among us. But as well as receiving a glimpse of the awesome divinity of Christ, they also received a glimpse of the future glorification of the humanity of Christ, of his human body; a sign of hope that the suffering and death of Jesus was not going to be the end, but there was to be a new beginning in the glory of the Resurrection. In doing so, the transfiguration of our Lord also provides us with a glimpse of the future glorification of our humanity, our human bodies. It gives us a glimpse of what we will be like in the glory of the Resurrection (cf. Ph 3:20–21). Our bodies will be transfigured, there will be no more pain and suffering, and our faces will shine like the sun, radiating the grace and the love of God.
I believe this is why that fourth mystery of light meant so much to my dad when he was in the hospital. He was there in the midst of suffering, his body was breaking down, he knew that his own hour of death was approaching. But he found great comfort in the transfiguration of our Lord, and he wanted to share that comfort with my mum, with me and with all the family.
Fr Antony Jukes OFM
Artwork Spotlight for personal reflection
Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor (c. 1560) – Tiziano Vecelli (known as Titian) (c. 1488–1576)
Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor (c. 1560). Oil on canvas, 245 × 295 cm. Church of San Salvador, Venice, Italy. Public Domain.
Tiziano Vecelli, known to us simply as Titian, was born about the year 1488. He is still considered the most important member of the 16th century Venetian School of Art. Referring to the final line of Dante’s Paradisio, his contemporaries called him, “The sun amidst small stars.” At the height of his fame, he produced a painting of St Sebastian for the papal legate in Brescia, and thereafter purchasers pressed for his work. He visited Rome in 1546 and was given the freedom of the city, his immediate predecessor holding that honour being Michelangelo. He was an insatiable perfectionist, becoming more self-critical as he got older. His masterpiece, The Assumption, still over the high altar in the Church of the Frari in Venice, caused a sensation.
The Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor, oil on canvas, is also still in place in Venice’s Church of San Salvador. Titian was asked to create it as a cover for the famous silver reredos (altar screen) on the church’s high altar. A pulley lowered the painting on feast days to reveal the silver altar screen, and through the centuries, the canvas suffered from this rough use. It was poorly over-painted to hide the damage, but happily has been dramatically restored.
The scene is set on a mount—a symbol in Scripture for the dwelling place of God (hence our use of the expressions “high altar” and “high Mass”.) Titian creates hardly any background, concentrating entirely on the action of the moment. Christ is absorbed in listening to his Father’s voice, “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him” (Lk 9:35). Titian contrasts the ascending sway of Christ with the descending collapse of the apostles.
All the characters display intense emotion. Impulsive Peter, at the bottom left, leans on one elbow while raising his other arm to cover his eyes. Next to him lies the twisted figure of James attempting to shield himself from the great light. Only John faces the vision, hands joined in prayer. St Matthew adds that the disciples were overcome with fear (Mt 17:6), and Titian highlights this by his dominant use of light and shadow.
Jesus stands in the midst of Moses and Elijah, symbolising that he is the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets. Moses is recognised here not only by the tablets of the Ten Commandments, but also by the symbol of the rays or “horns” of light radiating from his forehead.
As with his account of Christ’s Baptism, it is only St Luke who tells us that Jesus went up the mountain specifically to pray. This event is again within a dialogue between Son and Father. Luke often mentions Jesus’ practice of frequent prayer, a practice he would have gained from his mother. God cannot speak to us unless we set the scene.
But the event must be placed in context. Only eight days before, Jesus had asked the disciples two crucial questions: “Who do the crowd say I am? Then, “Who do you say I am?” Knowledge of Christ is not enough. What he wants is our personal conviction. Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16). As we know from his actions later in the Gospels, Peter did not understand what “Christ” meant. So Jesus, for the first time, announces that messiahship would mean suffering.
The events of the Transfiguration encompasses both those thoughts. The Father himself gives Peter, James and John the answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?” “[He] is my Son, the Chosen one. Listen to him.” Listen to him is directed to us, too. It is our program for Lent, and for our whole life. This chapter of Luke’s Gospel will end, “He resolutely turned his face towards Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51), to certain death. So, it is more than interesting to note the subject of Moses’ and Elijah’s conversation with Jesus: “They were speaking of his passing (exodus) which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31). The transfiguration was for Jesus, too, as he struggled in prayer to understand the necessity and meaning of his suffering. Jesus’ death and resurrection would be a new liberation from slavery, fulfilling the earlier Exodus from Egypt. Only in prayer will we gain the insights we need to face the difficulties of life. When people often ask me that awkward question “why?”, all I can do is point to the crucifix.
Mgr Graham Schmitzer
Fr Antony Jukes OFM was raised in a Catholic family in Chingford, East London (the second of six children.) He was an altar server at his parish for many years, but found himself drifting from his faith during his years at university. After completing his studies, he worked as a trainee-chartered accountant in central London. It was on a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes (France) that led him to rediscover his love for his Catholic faith and to question his vocation. His devotion to St Antony of Padua, after whom he was named, and his love for St Francis of Assisi, led him to join the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor in 2002. He studied philosophy and theology at what was the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury, England, before being ordained a priest in 2009. Having served in a parish and in a youth retreat centre, Fr Antony is now the novice director at the international novitiate community in Killarney, Ireland.
Mgr Graham Schmitzer is a retired parish priest in the Diocese of Wollongong. He was ordained in 1969 and has served in the parishes of Campbelltown, Gwynneville, Unanderra, Wollongong, Albion Park, and Corrimal. He was also chancellor and secretary to Bishop William Murray for 13 years. He grew up in Port Macquarie and was educated by the Sisters of St Joseph of Lochinvar, completing his leaving certificate at Wauchope High School. For two years he worked for the Department of Attorney General and Justice before entering St Columba’s College, Springwood, in 1962. Fr Graham loves travelling and has visited many of the major art galleries in Europe.