Second Sunday of Lent: Transfiguration, Transcontemplation
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
On the first two Sundays of Lent, we approach two of the mysteries of Christ: the temptations and the transfiguration. Both bring us closer to the Cross of Christ. For we cannot arrive at the cross all at once. If we arrive at it all at once, we neither understand it, nor draw fruit from it, because we need to accustom our eyes to it. The temptations and the transfiguration give us the key to what will happen on Calvary. The temptations in the desert are only completely overcome on the cross. And the transfiguration teaches us to remember the glory of Christ, which is forged precisely through pain.
I would now like to focus on another dimension of these two mysteries. For the temptations and the transfiguration also speak to us of the beginning, they speak to us of Adam. In the temptations, Christ conquers where Adam was conquered. What about in the transfiguration? There Christ recovers something that Adam had before sin: the glory of the flesh. Adam lost this when, after sinning, he saw he was naked and felt ashamed. St. Augustine says that in the desert Jesus takes our temptations and gives us His victory. Well then, on Tabor He takes our nakedness and gives us His garment; He takes our blindness and gives us His light.
This implies that the glory of Tabor is not only the glory of Jesus’ divinity, but also the glory to which our body is called. It is a glory that anticipates the glory Jesus will receive at his resurrection. Moreover, it is the glory that our body was already capable of in the beginning, before Adam sinned. To reach Easter and the Resurrection, Lent must first recover our origin, that is, must recover the Creator’s design. Adam and Eve, before sin, had a garment, which was the garment of grace, that is, of God’s love. When they looked at each other, they saw each other in all their beauty, as creatures loved by God and destined for him, and for this reason they respected each other.
Moreover, together with this bodily glory comes a way of looking. To grasp beauty requires eyes that are pure. Adam’s eyes were opened to see he was naked, and they were closed to discover the respect that the body deserved. The transfiguration is not only a change in Jesus, but a change in how the disciples looked. There is also a trans-vision or trans-contemplation.
It is necessary today to relearn how to look. Our image-civilization surrounds us with many views that have no unity. Otherwise, it forces us to glide over the surface, like that of the tablet or smartphone, without reaching into the depth. Lent trains the eyes to see deeply and to capture beauty. The journey to the depths of the flesh discovers that the depths are full of light. And for this purpose, the eyes undergo an ascesis, a training of the gaze.
In some regions it is customary to cover the sacred images during Lent with a purple cloth. This way, the image is no longer seen directly, but it is remembered. And the memory can rediscover, beyond the visible surface, the lively depth, what the image says of God’s love through Christ and his saints.
To re-educate our gaze, it is necessary, firstly, not to break it up in pieces, not to fragment it. We can look at the other person by reducing him according to what is useful to us and gives us pleasure or comfort. John Paul II said that this gaze reduces the person. An example is when a man looks at a woman to commit adultery, as Jesus says. That the gaze remains only in you are useful for me” or “I like you” is reductive. It is necessary that it pass on to say: “you are beautiful.” It is then that a gaze comes out of oneself, it respects the person in his own mystery, good because of who he is, and not for my pleasure or advantage. This gaze discovers the mystery of God in the other person. In the Confessions, when St. Augustine reveals his heart to his brothers, he dwells on the concupiscence of the eyes. He confesses his sin of sight, which is distracted and no longer discovers God in created things. His gaze wanders over objects, without discovering their depth. As the Father says to Jesus on Tabor: “this is my Son,” so we hear him say to his brother: “he is my son, I entrust him to you, I created him, for him I died and rose again.”
Secondly, it is necessary to open our gaze, so that we can see with the other’s eyes. This is how one renounces a gaze that dominates, and moves on to a gaze that welcomes one’s brother’s gaze and creates a shared vision. This is how Jesus accepts the gaze of Moses and Elijah in his own gaze. Both walked through suffering to come to see God on the same mountain. At the same time, all together enter the cloud, because they open their gaze to the Father’s.
Finally, the gaze that can see is the gaze that walks in time. For it is not enough to look from the outside. To see deeply, it is necessary to enter a relationship, to allow oneself to be transformed in order to form a shared gaze little by little. “Faith sees as it walks,” Pope Francis said in his encyclical Lumen Fidei. On Tabor, Jesus does not allow Peter to stop looking. The transfiguration points to the Way of the Cross, and Jesus converses with Moses and Elijah about his “exodus,” which is his passion and death.
“Their eyes were opened, and they realized that they were naked.” This was Adam and Eve’s drama as well. The transfiguration returns things to their origin. A Christian, in his baptism, has his eyes opened, and realizes that he is clothed in the love of God.
Christ’s vision was able to generate more vision, opening the eyes of his three chosen disciples. John would learn to see, and he would discover Jesus by the lake, for he would learn to relate this catch to the other catches: “It is the Lord!” Peter would learn to see within Jesus’ gaze, for he would say to him, when he asks him if he loves him,” “You know everything,” that is, I entrust myself to your gaze, you know me better than I do. Finally, James, the first apostle to be martyred, would learn to bear witness with his own life to what he has seen, to transform himself into what he contemplates, to be transfigured.