Consecrated in Prayer
Second Sunday of Lent (C) Fr Robert Gay encourages us to find time to encounter God in prayer because he transforms all our Lenten observances and lightens our burdens.
Our second Sunday in Lent puts before us a great manifestation of the Glory of God which happens on Mount Tabor. It is a theophany, a manifestation of the Divine, and has features both old and new, and shows itself as such in its details. First, let’s look at the features it has in common which other such manifestations in the Scriptures. For a start, it happens on a mountain, a high place that was often seen as the place of encounter with God in the Old Testament. There is a sense of leaving the ordinary places of daily life, and doing so deliberately in order to have an encounter with God. And indeed, the two men who are seen in our Gospel, Moses and Elijah, were just such men, who themselves had the experience of an encounter with God on the mountain. The book of Exodus recalls how Moses climbed Mount Sinai, and he encountered the Lord, who gave him the Law. In the book of Kings, we hear of Elijah, who had an experience of the Lord’s awesome yet gentle presence on mount Horeb after forty days and nights of journey. The presence of these two great men itself is a reassuring sign that God is present, and is manifesting himself on Mount Tabor.
Despite the similarities, there are two things that are markedly different about this moment of revelation. First, it is not a lone experience of one key character as the theophanies of old, but the experience of three disciples, Peter, James and John who are with Jesus. There is a group of witnesses to what happen, and will be able to make this remarkable encounter known, but only, Jesus himself makes clear, after his resurrection. And most significant of all, is that this revelation of God’s glory happens, not simply in Jesus’s presence, but to Jesus himself, showing clearly, unmistakably, his Divine identity.
In last week’s liturgy, we were told in the preface of the Mass that Jesus’s forty days of fasting ‘consecrated the pattern of our Lenten observance’. By this, we can see that in Lent we ourselves consciously move into the wilderness, walking deliberately into a place of temptation, armed with the weapon of fasting, so that we might, as the preface continues, ‘cast out the leaven of malice’. Perhaps then we might think of this event of the Transfiguration as consecrating one of the other great Lenten disciplines, namely prayer. After all, at the heart of prayer is the experience of setting out to a separate place – to our room, or before our Lord in the tabernacle – anywhere away from interference and distraction – with the hope of encountering God for a few moments.
It would seem that this is the most easily neglected of our spiritual weapons in this great season of Lent. Neglected, perhaps because prayer is something that we should do every day. So we should hardly need any encouragement in that area, surely Of course, in reality, prayer is something that we Christians often fail to make time for in our busy lives. Perhaps it is often because we find it difficult, or because it fails to compete successfully for space on an ever growing ‘to do’ list. Even when Lent comes, making gestures in the direction of fasting and almsgiving have something more tangible, more appealing about them than prayer.
Suppose then that we saw prayer for what it really is – might that make it easier this Lent, make it easier for us to make it a priority? Perhaps we might see it as a downing of the tools of life, climbing the mountain so that we can meet God, so that we can allow him to show himself to us, and we can rest in him. Then we might realise, like Peter, that being with the Lord is not a duty, but is simply a wonderful place to be. Of course, we cannot, and indeed shouldn’t, simply stay, avoiding the realities of our daily struggles. But what might those struggles look like once we’ve climbed the mountain, and given ourselves time to rest in God? Perhaps the burdens we carry, the challenges of our vocation, the rough and tumble of loving our neighbour might be a totally different proposition.
Readings: Gen 12:1-4 | 2 Tim 1:8-10 | Matt 17:1-9
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP of a fresco by Blessed Fra Angelico in The Dominican convent of San Marco in Florence.