We are all moving into the second week in Lent. Lent will come and Lent will go. Homilies during this season often remind us of our need to fast and abstain from food, to make little sacrifices, and to live a life of denial.
All these are good and important and all of us are well-intentioned believers. However, I believe, today’s Gospel on the Transfiguration, is challenging us to go beyond denials. The Gospel is challenging us to have real and deep conversion in our hearts and lives.
In the Transfiguration scene, Jesus reveals His divinity, and the glory of eternal life that awaits us. Thus, Jesus is challenging us to see beyond our daily preoccupations in life. Jesus is challenging us with a basic question, “Do we want to be saved?” If so, then it must lead us towards salvation and not away from it. This also means that we must constantly search for a clearer direction in our life and a deeper meaning in our faith. One of the essential ways to go about this is to challenge ourselves constantly with relevant questions. Such questions have to be relevant so that they will drive us beyond our complacency and mediocrity. Our daily life needs such challenges and constant transformation. Or as, today’s Gospel would say, our life needs such "transfiguration."
The good news is that such questions need not be complex. They could be very basic questions like: “Do we know who we really are and what is life really all about? Such questions may be basic, but the answers are not easy. A satisfactory answer to who we really are has to be more than a description of our profession, or doing this or that work; life is also more than being somebody’s husband, or father or mother to your children. The meaning of life indeed must go beyond “doing and being.” Life must be becoming more whole and a more complete person. In short, life must help us become more Christ-like; and to see everything with the eyes of God.
It is this type of daily transformation within ourselves that will make this Lent different from other Lenten seasons. Thus, Lent is a good time for us to ask ourselves such relevant and transforming questions. This is important because some of us may not be aware that we are drifting in our lives. To be truly alive and to become the person that God wants us to become must necessarily mean that our faith of salvation through Jesus Christ must be the core and the foundation of all our daily decisions and choices.
Let us take a simple example to illustrate this further. One day, Auntie Tan (one of our parishioners, but not her real name) asked me to baptise and anoint one of her Indonesian friends who was critically ill in hospital. Another parishioner who drove me to the hospital told me about Auntie Tan. Amongst other things he said, “Auntie Tan is a very close family friend of mine for many years now. She is in her eighties. To me Auntie Tan is one of the most caring and edifying persons I’ve ever known. In spite of her age, weakness and walking difficulties, she would still attend daily Mass and care for many people who are in need. Her home is literally an open house for people, especially Indonesians, to seek refuge and consolation. Auntie Tan is also a very wise person and would give us good advice for our marriage.” When I eventually met Auntie Tan at the hospital, she told me she had not slept the whole night because she was worried that she could not get a Chinese-speaking priest for her sick friend. So, when she saw me she said, “Father, I am very happy that God has answered my prayers.”
After the Baptism and Anointing, Auntie Tan said, “Father, you go ahead, I will remain here to keep my friend and his wife company.” I left the hospital deeply touched by the Christian witness of love and compassion of Auntie Tan.
My sisters and brothers in Christ, this true story of Auntie Tan tells us life is more than doing good works and loving others. Life ultimately must be about salvation. In simpler terms, this means that in whatever we do, think or say, what really matters is whether our lives will bring us and draw others closer to God or not. If it does, then we are maturing into the person that God wants us to become. If it doesn’t then, we can be sure that life is going to be a series of disappointments and discouragements that eventually lead to nowhere, except frustrations and a sense of failure.
However, as for us Christians, the glory that awaits us (as shown in the Transfiguration) paints a totally different picture about what life is all about. This morning, someone asked me, “Father, what is heaven like?” For me, we will all be bathed in God’s glory and shining presence in heaven. The beauty that we radiate in heaven is divine. However, the intensity of the beauty that we radiate will depend on the quality of our love for God and His people in our present life. Thus, the more good we do, the more love we show in this world, the more they will not only be reflected in this world, but also in the next. Heaven is a continuation of this world; our relationship with God does not start from scratch in heaven; we carry what good and love we do in this world into the next world, but to a higher level and realm.
Let me then conclude by reminding ourselves not to forget during this Lent that we are not only made of our physical body and psychological self. We are also made in the image and likeness of God, who is love. And in God’s love for us, He wants us to experience a deep conversion of heart so that this Lent will truly set us all on a course towards heaven, where Our Lord’s transfigured image will not only be a glimpse of what is to come, but also a reality to be enjoyed forever in heaven.
Philip Heng, S.J.