Prior to my ordination to the priesthood, I had to write a 25- thousand word ‘synthesis’ of the Catholic faith or a 25,000- word summary of the faith. Then when I finished writing that very long summary I should say, I had to sit down in front of the panel of theologians to make sure I got the theology right or have I written a sound understanding of the Christian faith. It was a nerve-wracking exercise I tell you.
I could still remember praying before the exam that the panel would only be consisting those theologians whom I liked, and who are more ‘merciful’ than the others. By God’s grace, one of the panelists was a Mercy nun and of course she is merciful to me. But to my disappointment the other panelist was the very person I was praying not to be in the panel, because of his reputation to complicate things, to confuse us all the more, or just to find a flaw in what we are saying so I was told. Anyhow, with no say to the matter, I just offered a silent prayer: ‘Lord, help me, I’m not expecting to get a credit or a distinction, just let me pass.’ That was my prayer as I sat for the exam with trembling knees and heart beating so fast.
To cut the story short I passed the exam and got a distinction. It was amazing but what amazed me all the more is that the questions they were asking were more or less the same points that I had looked at and studied about the night before. It was by sheer coincidence I thought, and I was really thankful to God for it. But then I was convinced later on: It wasn’t coincidence, it’s only God working anonymously.
I was so happy and proud of myself then because I wasn’t expecting to get more than pass. I felt like floating in the air as I walked out of the building, smiling, and if ‘selfies’ were popular then I would have taken a selfie with my very big smile on my face. Such was my joy that I was hoping that that feeling of ‘light’ and ‘happiness’ would never end. I just wanted to remain there. I just wanted to stay up there in that graced moment.
I’m sharing my personal graced moment with you because our gospel in this Second Sunday of Lent is also about ‘graced moment’ wherein the disciples Peter, James and John have the privilege to witness the transfiguration of Jesus. They had a foretaste of Jesus’ glory, a glimpse of his divinity and they also heard the voice from heaven saying: ‘This is my beloved Son,’ they have seen Moses and Elijah- the Old Testament figures whom they only knew of from the Scriptures. That was such a moment of light and happiness that Peter could only hope it wouldn’t finish as evident in his proposal to pitch three tents for Jesus, for Moses and Elijah. He just seemed not to care anymore about the mountain of transfiguration, the mountain of glory. Well, typical human experience indeed.
Certainly in our lives, we have had graced moments- ‘happy moments’, ‘light moments’ that we don’t create, we don’t expect, we don’t intend. And that is God’s grace. In moments like this, we could utter: ‘I hope this would never end or I hope I am always like this.’ However, human experience would teach us, this is never the case. Light moments fade, happy moments would later on get clouded with worries and anxieties.
However, moments of grace are not just significant moments to be left as an experience that would come and go. Rather, we need to reflect deeper on those moments because God is speaking to us more personally and more intimately through those graced moments. And to listen to God in those moments of grace we need to cooperate with God’s grace.
How can we cooperate with God’s grace?
We can make an analogy of ‘grace’ as the sun. We have the option not to stay under the sun and enjoy its benefits for us, by hiding in the dark. But that doesn’t mean the sun stops shining. It’s always there. But to enjoy it, we need to get out from our dark hiding place to enjoy the light and to let the energy from the sun penetrate into our bodies. Applying this to grace, then we need to get out and let ourselves be enveloped by God’s grace. And for us to experience this we needto walk closer with Jesus Christ and let him be our friend because He is God’s grace for us. He can also be understood as grace in a sense that He is God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense or as St Paul wrote that in him we receive the gift of God which is eternal life (cf Rom 6:23).
To cooperate with God’s grace: One, we need to walk closer to Jesus and follow his lead. This means we allow God to get behind the wheel in the car of life. We need to come up with Jesus to the mountain. This is not just an invitation for Peter, James and John, but it is an invitation for all of us to have a ‘retreat’ of sort with Jesus. We need to have time for God and with God, especially this season of Lent. This is also a call to prayer, a call to friendship with God, a call to be true to ourselves and be personal with our God. (Prayer)
Two, we haveto come down with Jesus from the mountain of glory and face the cross. This is a call to get out of our comfort zones and reach out to others who don’t have the comfort we are experiencing. This is also call to be courageous for our faith, a call to stand up for Jesus till the end. This is call to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Jesus. (self-denial). This is a call echoes by St Paul to Timothy in our Second Reading today, to bear hardships for the sake of the gospel. This is challenging because there is a saying that goes: ‘Jesus is too liberal for the conservatives and too conservative for the liberals.’ And more: ‘He may be comfort to the afflicted, he also afflicts the comfortable.’ Yet, we still have to follow Jesus carrying our crosses because in Him we know, we can have rest. In fact, we need to be thankful to Jesus because He changed the meaning of the cross for us. In him the cross is not the end but only the gateway to the resurrection, to eternal glory, to eternal life.
Three, we need to listen to Jesus calling us to live a life of humility. St Benedict is clear on this, when he said: ‘Humility is the ladder to heaven.’ This call to humility is one reason why Jesus strictly told his disciples‘not to tell anyone what they had witnessed until the resurrection takes place.’ Jesus warns this because He doesn’t want that his disciples would think some are more privileged than the others. Can you imagine if Peter, James and John told everyone, the rest of the disciples might be jealous and say: ‘Why didn’t we have that privilege? It’s unfair? Are we not your closest disciples?’ One commentary on this passage says that Jesus didn’t want the disciples tell the experience to others is that they might lead to believe they are more superior than the others, because they had experienced something the others have not, and that might lead them to self-indulgence. By telling them strictly until the resurrection takes place, Jesus is teaching them to be more sensitive to others, to be more careful and prudent in their relationship with one another. So in a way, by keeping the secret for themselves they are meant to be empowered, motivated, strengthened and be courageous to follow Jesus and to proclaim his gospel of love, mercy, forgiveness to all.
As we step up on to the second week of Lent, let us reflect on our graced moments. What is God’s message for us to be and to do through those moments of grace?
How are we cooperating with God’s grace? Let this be a point of our reflection on this Second week of Lent.