Sunday: Make Lent Your Mount Tabor

Just as Lent is getting off the ground, today’s Gospel (the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C) gives us the story of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. While we commemorate the 40 days of Jesus fasting in the desert with nothing but wild beasts as his companions, we are presented with an image of Jesus transformed in a glorious way on the mountaintop with the great prophets Elijah and Moses as his companions.

That is what the sacrifice of Lent is leading toward: a total transformation in Christ.

The transfiguration makes me think of a Ukrainian Catholic monastery devoted to the Transfiguration that a group of us used to visit in college. When we made the trip, it was typically Lent. The monks would share their simple, sparse meal with us, and we would pray with them and attend Divine Liturgy.

The monks literally lived at a place called “Mount Tabor” — and their whole life was a kind of Lent (just like St. Benedict says it should be). They had clearly been transformed by it. They had the gentle attractiveness and power of presence about them that only comes from God — a mini-transfiguration. Y

In Lent, we are all supposed to be like that. St. Paul explains in the readings the kind of people we are supposed to stop imitating. “Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their ‘shame.’ Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.”

Only by living Lent did they become citizens of heaven, like the two men we meet in the Gospel: Elijah and Moses who come to converse with Jesus on Mount Tabor. These two men exemplify the great covenant with God of the Old Testament. That covenant is about to meet its fulfillment in the New Testament, which means the “new Covenant.”

In the first reading you see God making the first covenant with Abram, who would become Abraham. In those primitive times, a covenant was made in the way described. An animal was split in two, and the two parties passed between the two halves. It was understood what they were promising: “If I fail in this agreement, may the fate of these animals fall on me.”

Significantly, God symbolically passes between the animals, not Moses: This shows God’s initiative in the covenant. God is reaching out to us, not the other way around. The covenant is not a quid pro quo arrangement where man gives allegiance to God and God repays it. It is sheer gratuity on God’s part. Man doesn’t have to earn it; he merely has to live such that he doesn’t reject it. This is the same arrangement God made with us in Eden.

What does man get from the covenant? In Moses and Elijah, you see the two men who typify the covenant. Prophets such as Elijah, along with the Temple, are God’s way of being with the people – his truth and his presence. The Law that came from Moses is God’s code that allows us to live with him.  We get God-with-us, and we get a code that allows us to live with God.

What else do we get? God tells Abram: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” We will be “like the stars” in number. But we will also be like them in another way. St. Paul in today’s second reading describes it: “He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”

In other words, we too will be “dazzling white” – the Catechism (No. 999) says we will be changed in much the way the transfigured Christ was changed.

Which is not a bad deal. But it all depends on our willingness to empty ourselves and accept this new life.

“The meek shall inherit the earth,” says the beatitude, and today’s readings explain how Lent can make that happen — just like it does your favorite monks.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.