Last week I’ve mentioned that the first Sunday of Lent was our first stop in our Lenten journey with Jesus. In our first stop we saw Jesus being tempted by Satan, yet remained firm in his ground and didn’t give in to temptation. This Second Sunday of lent is our second stop, and here we saw Jesus being transfigured and called the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father to whom we are to listen to. To listen to Jesus is to confront the real thing and not to linger on the surreal or on the instantaneous experience of heaven.
My ordination to the priesthood back in the Philippines in September last year was one of those ‘transfiguration’ moments in my life. Among the five priests from my parish, I was the first one to be ordained in my own home parish. Thus, perhaps out of curiosity, about three thousand people (more or less, not counting the little children) turned up to witness the event. Friends from all over (Foreigners and locals) came to be part of the event. The Logistics headed by the ever-supportive Parish priest and through the generous support of all the parishioners was just superb. The Town Mayor and the many local officials also expressed their wonderful and amazing support by providing the things that we put up for the occasion.
The Ordination event itself was also one of a kind. Local and some foreign priests came to be part of the event. The seminarians headed by no less than Msgr. Rudy Villanueva himself, offered their wonderful voices in the singing for the Ordination Mass. The presence of many priests also added to the highlight of the event. Another highlight was the fantastic banquet enjoyed by everyone after the Mass.
Everything that happened before and during the event just fell into place. I can’t believe it’s all happening. I was star struck. I said to myself: ‘Wow! This is extraordinary. I don’t want this experience to end. I don’t want this day to finish. I want to stay in here.’
Surely, all of us would have some ‘transfiguration’ moments as well – those experiences of heavenly touch that we don’t want to end or to forget- that we just want to remain in there. I wanted to prolong the experience of my ordination. But of course, I have to realise that priesthood is not just about getting to ordination. I have to remind myself that ordination is just one of my major stops in my journey to following Jesus Christ through my ministry as priest. I have to convince myself that I am called to become a priest not for my own sake but for the sake of God and for the sake of his people. And I can only materialize this by going out there and being with the people.
In a more or less similar experience, Peter in our gospel today, has also experienced such a foretaste of heaven with James and John, that he didn’t want to leave out of the experience. It must have been a wonderful experience for him looking at the clothes of Jesus turning into a dazzling white that nothing in the world can compare with. It must have been an extraordinary sight to see Moses and Elijah (both Old testament figures) talking with Jesus. He was so caught up with what he had seen that he paid little attention to what the voice had told them. Peter would only want to hear the statement ‘This is my Son the beloved’, and paid little if no attention to the second part of the divine testimony that is ‘to listen to him’ (to Jesus). And although Peter would want to take the easy way out, he listened to Jesus, walked with him as he came to face his imminent death. By so doing, Peter was able to witness the suffering of Jesus in the hands of the Religious authorities as well as in the hands of the civil authorities in the time.
The three intimate friends of Jesus had experienced the highest point of his earthly life. They would have wanted to stay in that experience but Jesus reminded them it was only a ‘taste’ of his glory. They listened to him. They climbed down from the mount with Him and then they would later on experience the lowest point of Jesus’ life, that is in his agony in the garden. It is only by listening to Jesus that the disciples would later on understand that suffering always precedes Glorification and that Cross always precedes Resurrection.
The message of God for us therefore as we reflect on this second stop of our Lenten journey is ‘to listen to his beloved Son’ Jesus.
To listen to him means following him, as he walks on the way to the cross. Francis Moloney, a Scripture Scholar wrote that for us who claim to be followers of Jesus, ‘there can be no side stepping the cross’ and its invitation ‘to come to life through the loss of ourselves, for his sake and for the sake of the gospel’ (This is the Gospel of the Lord, year B [).
To listen to Jesus means willingness to sacrifice even the very ‘thing’ or ‘person’ that we hold dear and treasured. Our First Reading today is an example of this. Abraham must have been very proud and took the credit to himself when he got a Son at last even if he was already a hundred years old. He must have been so proud of his son ‘Isaac’ (which means God smiles) that he forgets it is actually God’s gift for him. So God tests his faith, to offer his own son back to God. His faith dictates him to listen to God’s voice and went to offer his son as a burnt offering. Of course, God doesn’t need more proof of his faithfulness than his gesture of leaving his own clan and going to the mountain where he should make the offering. God finding his utter faithfulness by not holding his very own son, saw his great faith that he realized in him the promise of being the Father of many nations.
To listen to Jesus means believing in his word because He not only died for us as St Paul tells us in our Second Reading today, but also he rose from the dead and sits at God’s right hand to intercede or plead for us all the time. It is important to remember that he intercedes FOR us, not AGAINST us. This is indeed a wonderful assurance.
So as we continue reflecting on this second stop in our Lenten journey, let’s remember always that we can’t just remain on contemplating the ‘foretaste of heaven’ or the moments of transfiguration that we may have experienced. Just as I have to get over with my ‘ordination experience’ and start doing the priestly duties, it is also our invitation as Christians to get over with our glimpse of heaven and listen to the words of Jesus, i.e. to renounce ourselves, carry our cross faithfully and follow him every day. In this way, we not only can experience the foretaste of heaven, but also through this we can be assured of heaven itself and can even live with God forever. Listening to Jesus then would be our resolution as we go on with our trip towards Easter.