The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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March 17, 2000 Issue


Sunday's Gospel invites us to consider how we can change our own and other's lives

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Sunday's liturgy will transport us to one of the most mysterious and fascinating incidents described in the Gospels: the Transfiguration of Jesus (Mk 9:2-10). As is the case with Scripture, this story presents us a challenge and an opportunity to apply it to our own lives.

Mark - as well as Matthew and Luke - tells us that Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Once there, his clothes became brilliantly white as he talked with Elijah and Moses. Peter - always a man of action - was so overwhelmed by the experience that he was almost - but not quite - speechless. He proposed to Jesus that they build three booths or tents on the site. Then a cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, my beloved. Listen to him." Suddenly, the three disciples were alone with Jesus, who cautioned them not to say anything about it until after he had risen from the dead.

I remember this story clearly from my childhood. It contains everything we could ask: mystery, the unexpected, a spectacular setting, apparitions, a voice from a cloud. Plus, unlike many of Jesus' parables, he doesn't explain it.

One problem we face when reading the Gospels is that, unlike the disciples, we know the whole story of Jesus' life, how it ends and his resurrection from the dead. The only surprises for us tend to be the awe we feel as we ponder it all and we discover something we missed on earlier readings.

But for me, the Transfiguration is different. I don't know what age I was when this story first registered on my consciousness, but it was early enough that I hadn't made all the connections about who Jesus really was that would come in later years. So that aura of mystery remains for me. It's as though I'm still trying to figure out how the magician saws the woman in half.

Even more important than what happened at the Transfiguration is what it means and what difference it makes to us.

First, a transfiguration is a change or transformation. Jesus was changed in the eyes of his disciples. If they had any doubts that there was something profoundly different about him, the Transfiguration erased them. He was on speaking terms with both Elijah and Moses. And, in an echo of the baptism of Jesus - which the disciples weren't at, but probably had heard about - a voice from the heavens called him "my beloved son." If that weren't enough, Jesus gives them something else to think about when he says that he will rise from the dead.

Lent invites us to transform our selves - or as Bp. Robert Banks said in his column last week, Lent calls us to re-form our lives, to "reshape the way we think ... [to] put faith in Jesus at the center of our thinking and our lives."

Thus, Lent has more to do with walking a mile each day for the rest of our lives than it does with running a marathon. That is, as difficult as it may be to go for 40 days without tasting candy, cigarettes or alcohol, or to avoid fights with spouse, parents or siblings or to practice a particular devotion, Lent is not really about that. Lent doesn't mean running either a once-in-a-lifetime endurance race or running that race every year. Rather, we are called to exercise every day by making life-long changes and re-defining ourselves in a way that brings us closer to how God intends to us live.

And, just as the Transfiguration of Jesus affected both him and the disciples who witnessed the event, we are called to transform others. We can do that through words of encouragement, by being a mentor, by good example, by going to bat for someone who needs help or by practicing the corporal acts of mercy. When it comes to helping others, we are limited only by the barriers we place on ourselves. During Lent, we are encouraged to push those barriers back and to extend ourselves a little more - and then to do it again - and again.

Being a witness to the Transfiguration means making this story part of our lives. When we do that, we embrace the mystery of God. And that is truly magical.

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