As Ash Wednesday is this week, this week’s Gospel reading is the passage about Jesus being Transfigured upon the mountain. This is an important passage for several reasons. First, it shows Peter, like many of us wanting to stay on the mountain. Who wouldn’t after experiencing something so intense? Yet, Jesus instructs Peter to go back down the mountain as we must live our lives in the valley (or the street in today’s parlance). Important to note that Jesus goes down the mountain with Peter and with us, and always stays with us. But as important as mountaintop experiences are, they are but a moment in our lives. They are best conceived as intermittent gifts of Grace form God. They are to be enjoyed but, in the end, they are not forever moments.
The other reason this is such an important passage is that it presages the change in all of us by believing in and following our Lord Jesus. Clearly, Jesus changes outwardly and we perceive Him differently, yet He in essence has not changed, because He is unchangeable God. The point is to help us view Him from a different perspective and to facilitate change within ourselves. If the Gospel message of Christ is to have any real meaning to us, then it must change us. It must transfigure us and make us into something different, something new. We will, of course, never be made as blindingly perfect as Christ Himself, but if it does not change us in some manner, then what is the point? That is why God sent His son, to show us what it is to be fully human and live a fully human life. The name of this blog is predicated upon the insight that if we truly believe then we will surely obey.
The question then becomes, as Martin Luther was fond of asking, what does this mean? O.K., we are to be changed, but how? The Lenten season offers us a great chance to change ourselves. Lent is about repentance, which literally means to turn around. It is an outstanding opportunity to turn around, back toward God and live more fully the way He intends us to.
The usual take on Lent to is give something up. Years ago, one of the crazier Jesuits I knew used to go around the room and ask everyone what it was they were giving up for Lent. The answers usually centered around food and more specifically sweets. Some would answer ice cream, or some would answer chocolate. The quick follow up question was always; do you like ice cream? Do you like chocolate? Often the answer was, no I don’t like those, to which came the reply, then you can’t give those up as this is not a sacrifice. The other type of answer was that some would offer to give up something like dinner. This was rejected as not at all realistic. As crazy as this Jesuit often was, he was quite right to reject these “offerings”.
Yet, in retrospect, I think that this Jesuit was, like so many of us, off track in embracing this type of Lenten discipline. There is nothing wrong with giving something up or making a sacrifice. It will pale in comparison to the sacrifice God made of His only Son, yet we are, as best we are able, to imitate Christ. Nonetheless, it seems more prudent to focus not on the don’ts of Lent but on the dos. Humans are wired up to accomplish more when there is a positive aspect to it. To that end, I would suggest this Lent that instead of giving something up, do something extra. Perhaps you could do an extra prayer devotional. Maybe you could give some extra time to a ministry like a local food pantry. Maybe you can more intentionally reach out and connect with people in your world that need to hear a friendly voice or see a friendly face (if you are able in these pandemic times). It seems that we are predisposed to be more uplifting and uplifted by doing things than by giving things up.
I know this can sound like lowering the standards of imitating Christ, and maybe so. I would argue, however, that it is about doing what works. If you need to give something up (who of us doesn’t?) then do so but frame it as a positive. For instance, this year, as in most years past, I will try to adhere to good eating habits. This does involve giving up extra food and eating less. I choose to frame it as doing something good for my body and my health. I choose to look upon the endeavor as helping to provide more energy and vitality to the whole of my life and the ways I can serve. In this way, I hope to achieve some real results. I will as in past years also do some extra prayer and study. I could describe this as a sacrifice of some of my time to God, but it seems more motivating to view it as something extra for God and for myself.
In the end, Jesus wants us to do what works. So, instead of self-flagellation and bodily mortification, designed to push us down, let’s lift ourselves up by offering Christ more of ourselves. Let us give more of our time and talent, more of our devotion and more of our inner life to Him, and more of ourselves to others in our lives. The goal is to get to God, not to take the most difficult path for the sake of difficulty. Chart the path toward God that brings you closer to Him. My prayer for all who use Lent as a chance to turn back toward God is that you chart the quickest, fastest beeline to our Lord. May your journey be quick and result in you finding yourself in the arms of our Lord. He is ever searching for each of us, all we need to do is turn toward Him and take direct positive steps in His direction. Trust me He will meet you more than halfway.
Praise Be to God