So, what did you give up for Lent this year? Chocolate? Coffee? Dessert? When I was younger I remember sitting around with family trying to determine what would be best to give up for Lent. After careful reflection, taking into consideration what would be beneficial for my spiritual grown, I regularly came to the conclusion that lutefisk (a nasty Scandinavian dish made of fish soaked in lye) would be a good thing to give up for Lent. Ok, so I never ate lutefisk during the rest of the calendar year, but hey, I gave up something didn't I?
As the days of Lent would roll on, my great Lutefisk sacrifice began to fade and my admiration for those around me who made genuine sacrifices increased. It was common to hear the faithful speak longingly of a hot fudge sundae or French silk pie toward the end of the forty days of Lent. As for me? I really didn't look forward to anything different at the conclusion of Lent because I hadn't focused on the purpose of Lent during the forty days, nor had I anticipated the grand focus of Lent, the resurrection. So, while my friends and family eagerly anticipated the conclusion of Lent, life went on as normal for me.
In Mark 9:2-10 we see that life was anything but normal for three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John. Jesus led the three up to a high mountain and it was there that Moses and Elijah appeared and began to speak to Jesus. While there on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before them, and his garments became glistening, intensely white. We call this event in the gospel of Mark (9:2-10) the Transfiguration. There are a number of reasons that the Church places this reading in the context of Lent. As we hear the text we should ask ourselves, why Moses and Elijah? Why during the forty days of Lent? Because these men experienced a forty day period of preparation.
"Forty days" in the scriptures and the life of the church is traditionally the number of preparation, discipline, devotion, and testing. What Moses, Elijah, and Jesus all have in common is that each of them went through a forty day period of testing: Moses stayed on the Mountain of God forty days (Ex 24:18), Elijah traveled forty days before he had a vision (1 Kings 19:8), and Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting before his public ministry. Other incidents in the Bible speak of a forty day period of testing: the spies were in the land of Canaan for forty days determining if they could take the land (Numbers 13:25), and Nineveh was given forty days to repent (Jonah 3:4).
In light of the fact that Jesus would later suffer, die and rise from the dead, God is giving the three disciples a sneak peek at everything that they and history had longed for and looked forward to: the revelation of Christ in his glory, which they witnessed on the Mount.
This glorious glimpse of Christ would later be a source of encouragement when they could not understand the suffering He had to undertake. As they were coming down the mountain, he hinted of his resurrection, which caused them to wonder. They were no doubt looking for a conquering Messiah; instead redemption would be accomplished by the way of suffering.
The transfiguration of Christ and the mention of his suffering are intimately connected. Jesus would be glorified, but first he would suffer. The Transfiguration anticipates Christ's glorification, but it also anticipates our glorification. Paul said, "it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him" (Roman 8:16-17). After the resurrection, the disciples would enter into their own period of suffering for the sake of the gospel. By fixing their attention on the transfigured Christ, they would have buried in their heart, the happy goal that awaited them.
The Catechism teaches, "By the solemn forty days of Lent the Church unites herself each year to the mystery of Jesus in the desert" (No. 540). During these forty days we withdraw into the "desert" in a particular area of our life, whether it be TV, food, or some particular activity. We fill that time that would have otherwise been occupied, with prayer, soul-searching and repentance. We are destined to be glorified with the Lord, the question is, are we willing to suffer with him and learn through the things we suffer?
Questions For Reflection
1. Set aside some time to reflect on your life. Are you eagerly anticipating the time when you may be glorified with Christ? If not, choose to abstain from something during the remainder of Lent, something you like. When you desire that which you have given up, ask the Lord to place that kind of desire for heaven in your heart.
2. Schedule a couple of mountain top experiences between you and the Lord. Perhaps a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, or the sacrament of confession. It's on the mountain that we really see the Lord for who he is, but it's also that contact with him that will get us through the valleys.