Today is the Second Sunday in Lent, The Transfiguration
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“And His face did shine as the sun.”–Matt. 17
The Gospel read by the Church on the first Sunday of in Lent invites her children to employ this time of grace! in cleansing themselves from the stain of sin, in freeing themselves from the slavery of Satan, in overcoming temptation, in one word, in destroying sin. To day’s Gospel teaches that a true child of the Church and of Christ must not be satisfied with not offending God, nor living separated from Him in the state of mortal sin; but he must endeavor to lead a holy life, and follow Christ closely.
At the same time, the words of today’s Gospel indicate the condition necessary to walk the path of perfection, to follow Christ, and to become more and more like Him. The evangelist says: “And His face did shine as the sun.” What meaning has this in reference to our striving after perfection? I shall answer this question today.
O Mary, thou sublime woman, whom St. John in the Revelation saw clothed with the sun, beg Jesus to grant us purity of intention, that we may live and die for Him alone! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
“The face of Jesus did shine as the sun.” The expression, “as the sun, refers not only to a flood of light, which even the moon and a multitude of stars send forth; but also to certain other qualities of the sun, which our actions must figuratively copy if we desire our life to resemble that of Jesus, and to glorify God.
I will speak first of purity of intention, namely, that quality in all our actions and omissions, in all our thoughts, words, wishes, and works, which directs them at all times to the glory of God. The example of Christ speaks to us of this most forcibly. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, the sun rose gloriously in the bosom of Mary, for, according to St. Paul, the first words of Christ in the moment of His conception were: “Behold I come to do Thy will, O God.” “I have meat to eat which you know not,” He said to the disciples when His apostolic mission was at its height. And again: “Father, not My will, but Thine be done,” was his prayer, and the outpouring of His heart on the last evening of His life.
He asks His disciples to live in imitation of Him. Whence the Apostle says: “Whatsoever you do, do all things for the glory of God.” “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven,” thus He teaches those to pray who belong to Him, declaring all worthless that is not done according to the holy will of God, and for His glory.
We will perceive the importance and necessity of this state of mind in following Christ upon the path of Christian perfection, if we but consider the last aim and end of creation, and especially of man. For that last aim and end is no other than the outward glorification of God, through voluntary obedience to His holy will.
The light of the sun symbolizes that purity of intention expressed by the words: “All to the great glory of God,” which is the property of a truly fervent soul.
Before the sun rises, all nature is veiled in darkness, notwithstanding the presence of those large luminous worlds, the stars. Similar is the state of his soul in the service of God, who thinks only of himself, and sees nothing beyond his own desires. The spiritual life of such a man is shrouded in the darkness of night.
The sun, once above the horizon, rises ever higher and higher; and, by the manner in which he sends out his light, seems to say: Everywhere, all over the earth, as far as my rays can pierce, I give light, all for the greater glory of God!
So it is with the Christian, who, during the day, preserves in his heart the pure intention of doing the will of God, and this only; who lives for God alone, as his last aim and end.
Unhappily, we have but few suns here below who shine like that of St. Ignatius, only to honor the Almighty, and who in all they do, desire, or suffer, seek only to glorify their God. Christians who wish to live as Christians, generally have in part this good intention. In a measure, they seek to glorify God; but, as the moon borrows her light from the sun, and shows through it her own face, so their works, made bright with the light of God’s service, frequently show that “I” which obtrudes itself in various ways.
The sun proceeds on his course; whether the sky be clear or clouded, whether the air be calm or disturbed by storm. Thus those walk upon earth who live for God alone, who see Him only in all their actions. They walk onward, never heeding the obstacle they encounter, calm alike in misery and in prosperity. How different from those who, as long as nothing stands in their way, are filled with zeal; but who, as soon as an obstacle hinders their progress, become despondent and abandon their purpose!
The light of the sun never changes, while that of the moon increases, diminishes, and, at times, disappears altogether. A soul sustained by the pure intention of living for God alone remains ardent and steadfast, while one who acts through other motives is changeable, sometimes zealous, again thoughtless, and often even forsakes ignominiously the work which he undertook for the glory of God.
At the close of today’s Gospel the Evangelist says: “They saw no man, but only Jesus.” How few there are to all whose actions these words can be truthfully applied. They, perhaps, do look up to Jesus, and try to follow Him, and become like Him; but their eyes wander too often from Him to themselves and others. They desire, while practising works of piety, to satisfy their self-love, and to give all due respect to human considerations. Hail, to those Christians of whom it may be said: In all they do, they think of Jesus only, of being pleasing in His sight, of following, of serving Him, of becoming daily more like Him, and of possessing Him! They will be led by the spirit of prayer to Mount Tabor, and their life will be transformed into a life of such holiness that it will shine as the sun! Amen! (1)
And His garments became white as snow.” Matt. 17.
“Lord, cleanse me more and more,” sighed David to God. We all have cause to repeat his cry, even if we forsake the path of evil, and endeavor to walk in the footsteps of the just. Though we try to exercise ourselves in good works, we are yet far from the perfection we ought to aspire to in all our actions, especially in those of daily routine, which our vocation upon earth obliges us to perform. These we must render, like the wheat in the Gospel, worthy of being placed in the granaries of heaven, and, despite their many imperfections, strive to keep in the category, so to say, of good deeds.
We are reminded of this in today’s Gospel: “And His garments became white as snow.” The garments which clothe our soul, are the good works which we practise, according to our station in life. If each one of these were performed with the purest intention, and were free from every stain of imperfection, what an adornment they would prove to be, how they would embellish the soul, and what a gain they would be for heaven! Unfortunately this is seldom the case. There are few of our works whose brightness is untarnished by sin.
We will consider today, particularly, the stains which deface our daily works, and meditate upon the best means of avoiding and guarding against them. Mary, thou who, according to Holy Writ, standest robed in garments of gold, before the throne of the Most High, thou, purest of the pure, in thought and deed, grant that we, taught and guided by thee, may gain strength to free ourselves from every stain of imperfection and sin! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God.
St. John, speaking in the Apocalypse of the saints in heaven, says: “They were clothed in white robes.” These white garments and these shining, precious material of which they are made, says he, are righteousness and good works. This material is made up principally of our daily works. For, in order to become holy it is not necessary to perform great and astonishing outward deeds. The Almighty has not chosen or called every one for such a career; hence every one has not received the divine grace which it requires. As to those great works of which we read in the lives of the saints, they were not the means of making them what they were; it was, rather, the perfection with which they performed their daily duties which made them so rich in merit.
A friend of St. Francis de Sales used to say of this saint, that he did nothing unusual, and yet all that he did seemed unusual, on account of the perfect manner in which it was performed. And what are the stains which cling to our daily works and deface them, and often even totally destroy them, by robbing them of all merit for the life to come? They are these:
First, the stain of indolence, arising from a want of energy to rise early, and always at the same time, in order to say our morning prayers and to implore God to protect and bless us during the day. All who are indolent in rising, who begin the day slothfully and without devout, earnest prayer, stain thus early in the morning the robes of their soul.
The second stain on the robe of our daily works, is want of a pure intention to live that day only to fulfill the will of God, and to do all that we do for Him alone. We seek too much after self, and are too often actuated by the temporal motive of gaining wealth, honor, or enjoyment. This want of a pure in tention is a stain on the white garment of our daily work.
Further, this robe is soiled by an ill-regulated performance of the duties of our state of life. We act either too sluggishly or too precipitatedly, with reluctance and through habit. We enter upon our daily duties without raising our minds to God, and, during the day, forget His holy presence. Instead, we often, without reflection or precaution, seek company and dissipation, fritter away our time in idle conversation, and, of course, sully our robe with many sins of the tongue. Who can count the sins that are daily committed by piously-inclined persons through want of a proper guard over their tongues?
Another abundant source of stains on our good works is want of charity. Under this head may be classed cutting remarks, unkind accusations and reproaches, often accompanied with contemptuous and offensive bearing. Then we contract stains by omitting to labor at the instruction and improvement of others, and, in general, to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy. There are, besides, stains of rash suspicions and judgments, and even of participation in petty backbiting and calumny. I must not forget jealousy, envy, and general narrowness.
Stains in abundance fall on our daily actions from a want of trite love for the cross. Hence comes peevishness, hence impatience, that almost tears our good deeds to tatters. This is especially the case when, through want of love for the cross, man is tempted to murmur against divine Providence, or to submit unwillingly to the decrees of the Almighty.
To these may also be added the spots which arise from obstinacy, selfishness, conceit, presumption, and the want of mortification, a virtue without which life can not be truly holy. In conclusion, the luster of our daily works is stained, and the robe of our soul discolored by our carelessness in preventing temptations from approaching us, or by our sloth in banishing them as soon as they draw nigh.
What a subject for self-examination is all I have just said to yon, my dear listener! How many imperfections, think you, blemish the record of your good works?
As St. Ignatius assures us, the means of freeing ourselves from these imperfections lie in the unremitting exercise of particular examination, or the so-called special daily examine of conscience. Resolve that, from today, you will examine earnestly and faithfully your conscience, and will choose, as subject of your examine, one after the other, all the points I have placed before you. Then the robes of your good works, gradually cleansed from all imperfection, will become more and more white, until you will shine, clothed in most radiant garments, in the community of the saints! Amen!
We are admonished by the transfiguration of Christ upon Mount Tabor, that we who have been enlightened by the Saviour, instructed by His Word, guided and encouraged by His example, must not be satisfied with living as a man among men a purely human life. Destined, as we are, for a supernatural aim and end, we must endeavor to lead here upon earth the life of the blessed, in heaven, the life of angels, in accordance with the words of the great Apostle: “But our conversation is in heaven.” And further, we must live in this world, shrouded in the night of sin, in such a manner as to become a light to others.
If we live thus, we shall secure, even in this world, genuine happiness; and we shall be intensely happy if we make our spiritual abode in the three places which, as I conceive, figure the three tabernacles that St. Peter wished to build upon Mount Tabor. These, if we are in earnest, are here upon earth in our possession, in the sanctuary of the Church.
They are: The pulpit, the confessional the altar. In today’s sermon I shall explain the manner in which I conceive this. O Mary, thou who art first among the saints, obtain for us that we may dwell joyfully in those three places in the sanctuary of the Almighty, from which the stream of heavenly bliss flows upon the world. I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, to the greater glory of God!
The first tabernacle, or the first place to which I point, in the sanctuary of God, and which, if we properly dwell therein, will prompt us to say, with the Apostle: It is good for us to be here; is not the tabernacle of Moses the Christian pulpit, or meditation upon the divine Word? Christ Himself has said: “Blessed are those who hear and keep the Word of God.” And again: “Those who are; of God will hear his word.” The Gospel tells us how Mary Magdalene thirsted to hear the words of Christ, and how she forgot all else in the joy of sitting at his feet and listening to Him.
It is certainly a good sign when a Christian loves to hear the Word of God as it is expounded in the churches every Sunday and holyday; but this is not enough, and no child of the Church should be content with merely this. He should not rest until he is thoroughly instructed in all the doctrines of his faith, in the entire science of salvation, in order not only to know his faith, but to regulate his life in accordance with its precepts. He must take the truths of faith to heart, and enter into the spirit of contemplation, of true heart-felt prayer. To meditate upon the Word of God, to hold communion with Him, should be regarded as the most important occupation of our life. To hear God’s Word, as it were, from His own mouth, unites us to Him personally. Thrice blessed lot, if, as St. John of the Cross says, our life in faith through prayerful communion with God allow us, even here upon earth, to taste the joys of heaven, as did so many of the saints. The soul who experiences this may well exclaim: It is good for us to be here!
The place in the sanctuary of God which I liken unto the second tabernacle of Elias is the confessional. If a Christian is determined to walk in the path of holiness, he will, of his own free will, approach often the Sacrament of Penance. He will confess his sins, and strive to cleanse himself from the dust of daily imperfections, in order to secure for himself an abundance of actual graces, and thus increase sanctifying grace, which augments the splendor of our transfiguration into a likeness with God.
Every Christian who does this with the burning zeal of an Elias, and who is filled with the desire of making progress upon the path of perfection, will have reason to rejoice, and will feel at rest and secure, be cause his humble submission to the minister of Christ the confessor has freed him from the danger of being deceived by the wiles of Satan.
The more at rest the heart is, the surer is it to fulfill the most holy will of God, and the more courageous and determined the soul is to traverse the path that leads to heaven. She has cause to exclaim, comforted by the sight of the confessional: It is good to be here!
The third place to which I refer in the sanctuary of God is the Altar the tabernacle and shrine of Christ, where He really and personally dwells among us.
From this shrine issues the word which Christ spoke to the Samaritan woman: If thou didst know the gift of God, and who He is who speaketh to thee! The Samaritan woman did not know. We do. What exultations, therefore, should every Christian feel when he thinks of the happiness of being so near Jesus, of speaking to Him, yea, even of taking Him to his heart! There are, in this regard, three circumstances which heighten this happiness.
First. Christ is near me and with me; I can go to Him, go to the tabernacle, where He dwells, as often as I wish! O what happiness! Who does not envy Mary the happiness which was bestowed upon her, in the privilege of dwelling for thirty years under the same roof with Christ!
As children of the Church, in the quiet of the house of God, where Christ dwells in the Most Holy Sacrament, we partake of this happiness. Yes, we possess one advantage. Even Mary could not speak to Jesus as often as she liked, at all times. Jesus worked by the side of His foster-father Joseph, and at such times could not speak to His mother. Here, in the tabernacle, Jesus is ready at every moment of the day or night to listen to us, to speak to us, and to bestow graces upon us.
Christ sacrifices Himself for me upon the altar! I have the grace to assist at the sacrifice which He offered for me upon the cross! O what happiness! Especially, as the sacrifice upon the cross was offered but once, while that upon the altar is renewed as often as Mass is read. And still more, by Holy Communion I am permitted to receive Him into my heart, body and soul, as God and Man, to be transformed into Him! O what happiness!
It is by this means that I shall know Him personally, that I shall love Him; and, if this is accomplished, then I shall have, with St. Francis Xavier, St. Teresa, and all the saints, a foretaste of the infinite happiness which Christ has prepared for us in heaven.
How well for all believing Christians it would be, if they benefited by the presence of Christ, upon the altar, in the tabernacle! Where could a human being be found, be it man or woman, youth or maiden, who, visiting the Blessed Sacrament daily, hearing Mass daily, receiving Holy Communion frequently, and showing, by his gratefulness, that a love like that of St. John for Christ filled his heart, would not prove himself a Christian in the fullest sense of the term, and for whose salvation we would have no cause to fear.
Let us, therefore, resolve to benefit by these three holy places in the sanctuary of God’s Church, and we shall, with grateful hearts, exclaim to the Lord: It is good to be here! Amen! (1)
Why was Christ transfigured in presence of His apostles, on Mount Tabor?
To permit them to see the glorious majesty of His divinity; to guard them from doubts when they should afterwards see Him die on Mount Calvary; to encourage because of the future glory the disciples, and with them all the faithful, to be patient in all crosses and afflictions, for the bodies of the just at the resurrection will be made like the glorified body of Christ. (Phil. iii. 21.)
Why did Moses and Elias appear there?
That they might testify, that Jesus was really the Saviour, announced by the law and the prophets, and that the law and the prophets received fulfilment in Him. The law was represented by Moses, the prophets by Elias.
Why did Peter wish to build three tabernacles there?
The delightful sweetness of the apparition in which Jesus made him participator, so enraptured him, that he knew not what he said, not considering that glory cannot be attained without labor, the crown without fight, joy without crosses and afflictions. (3)
Image: Transfiguration, Artist: Raphael, circa: 1518-1528 (7)