Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
February 28, 2010
Second Sunday of Lent
“Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents.” Luke 9:33
On this Second Sunday of Lent the Church reads the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke. It is called the Transfiguration because on the mountain with His dearest apostles, Peter, John, and James, a mystical vision took place. Jesus appears with “face changed” and with clothing “dazzling white.” In His company are two Old Testament figures, who had died centuries before, Moses and Elijah. Through Moses the Law had been given to the Chosen People, and through Elijah’s prophecy God had made His will known to the Jews. Moses and Elijah had also suffered much for being God’s spokesmen. The Transfiguration is a mystical moment that leads to a prediction of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection just a few verses later in the Gospel of St. Luke. Being a law-giver, a prophet, or Messiah has consequences.
In a world of skepticism, in a world that denies the spiritual and questions the metaphysical, the Transfiguration reminds me that mystery exists. The Transfiguration drives home to me that Jesus was not just a human being who walked the face of the earth, but He is also a transcendent person, a Divine Person, whose mission, life, and very essence is rooted in the substance of the Father. To encounter Jesus is to encounter a mystery.
A mystery is not an unsolved problem. A mystery in religion is a truth whose depth and significance can never fully be understood. In Jesus’ Passion His mystery is unfolded. He is not only man. He is also God. Jesus also finds Himself at the climax of a religious history that in every detail has prepared for His coming. This is why the Gospel is filled with references to Old Testament prophecies that prepare for Jesus’ coming. For this reason Jesus appears with Elijah and Moses in the Transfiguration. At every turn we are reminded of the link between Jesus and that which came before Him and spoke of Him. Jesus is not an accident. Everything about Him has a reason and makes sense. There is mystery, but a mystery that makes sense.
The entire Passion is filled with meaning. Jesus is arrested in an olive garden. In the Old Testament an olive garden was an image used to describe the Chosen People. The separation of mankind from God begins in a garden with Adam and Eve. Now in this garden the reconciliation of God and mankind finds its beginning. Jesus is taken into custody at Passover. Passover in Exodus is described as a feast celebrated by Jews every year to commemorate their deliverance from slavery. A lamb was the centerpiece of the meal. Jesus is bound and taken away to be slain, like the lamb led to the slaughter spoken of in Isaiah the prophet. The Jews are not to blame for Jesus’ death. There are those who reject the prophet, just as almost every other prophet before Jesus was rejected. Everything that happens is in fulfillment of something foretold. With every step, at every turn, everything Jesus does and experiences can be referenced in some image or prophecy in the Old Testament, and Jesus does all of it freely.
From start to finish, Jesus takes up His cross and willingly accepts the Father’s will that inevitably leads to His death. Here is the mystery of free will, the free will of God who loves us so much that He is willing to die for us and the free will of man in Christ that is redeemed by submitting entirely to that Divine Will. Here too is the mystery of sacrifice. A sacrifice is an offering made in love. Only an imperfect gift is made without love, for an offering of something we hate or do not love would be no gift. So Mary and John remain silent. The Mother sees her Son and man sees his friend being led to sacrifice, and there appears a gradual unfolding of the necessity of this sacrifice.
Mystery, like love, is seductive. Unlike the mystery of a story, we do not solve mystery. Mystery attracts us, seizes our attention, does not let it go, and moves us to delve more deeply into it. Like Mary and John, we watch it from afar, related to it emotionally and await some further insight. Mystery reveals just enough but not all and in so doing makes us want more, like the apostles in the Garden of Olives or Simon of Cyrene on the Way to Calvary or even like Peter in the Gospel today who says of the mystery, “It is good that we are here; let us make three tents” (Luke 9:33).
We know we have been loved but not how much we have been loved. We want to keep the mystery in some tent or tabernacle, but it eludes our grasp, and when it does, we only seek it more diligently. Like Pilate we want to free love not Barabbas, like Veronica we want to wipe love’s face. Love, like the mystery it is, just keeps moving its inevitable course. God cannot be contained. How can we keep this mystery? How can we communicate it? For this reason the mystery is supremely sacramental. Mystery needs symbol. Only God is pure mystery, and He needs symbol to communicate a share in the mystery. In this reality is the very essence of the Church and Sacrament. In every Sacrament, the Church says to Our Lord, “It is good that we are here.” We are here. God is here.