The ups and downs from Lent to Easter

40 Shades of Lent by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Second Sunday of Lent in Cycle B, 28 February 2021
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18  +  Romans 8:31-34  +  Mark 9:2-10
Photo by author, the Sinai Mountain Range in Egypt, May 2019.

As we have been saying, life is a daily Lent: from the desert of our lives last Sunday, today we ascend a mountain with Jesus to be with God and be transformed, transfigured in him. Our efforts to become holy and better persons in itself is like going up a mountain symbolizing God as expressed in many instances in the Bible.

This is the reason that every year following the temptation of Jesus in the desert, the Second Sunday of Lent tells us the story of the transfiguration of Jesus at Mount Tabor to stress anew this lenten character of coming and meeting God in our selves and in our daily lives through many ups and downs in life like in climbing a mountain.

Our readings this Sunday give us some tips on how ascend the mountain of God with Jesus so we may be transformed and transfigured in him.

First important step is to leave everything behind, to travel light. The key to approach a mountain is to bring nothing except one’s self and other essentials only like faith in God. There are many detours with no permanent path going up the mountain like what Abraham realized when God asked him to offer his son Isaac.

Photo by author, Sonnen Berg Mountain View, Davao City, 2018.

Feel the drama of the scene when Isaac sensed something unusual while Abraham remained confident in God…

As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham: “Father!” he said. “Yes, son,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took his knife to slaughter his son. But the Lord’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Genesis 22:7-13

In the gospel, we find a similar situation after Peter had confessed at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus is the Messiah, thus expressing the faith of the Twelve in Christ while making a U-turn back to Jerusalem. It was at that time when Jesus made his first prediction of his coming Passion and Death that confused Peter.

As they travelled to Jerusalem, Jesus preached to the crowds and the Twelve the three conditions of discipleship: deny one’s self, take up his cross, and follow him. It was something Jesus would be teaching repeatedly until they reached Jerusalem to underscore the importance of that instruction from the voice during his transfiguration, “Listen to him”.

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then a cloud came, casting shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

Mark 9:2-3, 7
Photo by Atty. Grace Polaris Rivas-Beron atop Mt. Sinai in Egypt, May 2019.

Observe my dear reader how Jesus separated the three disciples from the rest so as to be by themselves like Abraham in the first reading in order to be empty and obedient to God.

An obedient person is first of all a good listener, one who is willing to forget one’s self, to be empty and open to instructions from those above him. From the two Latin words “ob audire” that mean to listen attentively, obedient men and women from Abraham to Jesus Christ to Peter and all the saints were first of all attentive listeners to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

One cannot follow unless he/she first listens. That is why it is in obedience when our faith in God is tested, where we grow deeper in our faith in him too! Every act of obedience is an ascend to God our mountain because to obey the Lord is to trust him especially at times when God seems to contradict himself.

Imagine how painful it must have been for Abraham after waiting for so many years for the birth of his own son by his wife Sarah when God suddenly asked him to offer Isaac as a sacrifice!? Or with Peter, James, and John. After learning that Jesus is finally the awaited Messiah during their conversations at Caesarea Philippi, suddenly the Lord gave his first prediction of his passion and death, to be repeated after his transfiguration.

So many times God can be too much for us to understand that we just have to believe and trust him, to ride on or make sakay. Most of the time we find God so “malabo” or “bomalabs” —- so unclear but at the same time very clear of his great plans for us that we feel him deep inside us that we continue to push ourselves higher to him, believing and hoping he is up to something for us. And that is when he surprises us with the bestest things in life!

When we trust God, when we dare to walk the darkness ascending to the mountain with him with nothing else except our very selves and faith, that is when we are transformed and transfigured in Christ. That is when we are opened to new possibilities we have never imagined. That is when we become fruitful and fulfilled.

Photo by Ms. Jo Villafuerte, Atok, Benguet, September 2019.

As any mountaineer would tell, the best sights are seen from above, from the top when our horizons are widened as we journey to the summit, giving us new perspectives and views on everything, especially in our selves and life in general.

Even if we climb with somebody else like Abraham with Isaac or Peter with James and John, God touches us in the most personal and unique way.

See when Abraham was about to strike Isaac, an angel stopped him that he saw a ram caught by its horns in the thicket which he eventually offered as holocaust instead of his son. Peter hardly knew what to say as they were terrified when Jesus transfigured while conversing with Moses and Elijah until suddenly, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

Like Abraham and Peter and his companions, we have wondered many times what happened after feeling so lost and confused, when we felt “game over” but suddenly everything turns out perfectly well by the grace of God. We’re not only saved like Isaac but we also begin thinking deeper inside us of many things like the three disciples “questioning what rising from the dead meant” (Mk.9:10).

Go back to those moments of hardships and emptiness with nothing to hold on except God, when climbing up to him in faith was the only thing left to take when great things happen unexpectedly and joyously for us! How we wish to remain up there on cloud nine, in ecstasy, hoping those moments would never end, but….

The challenge of life and of Lent especially when seen in the light of our baptismal promises of being holy like God is not to remain on top of the mountain but to bring that mountain experience down into our daily living. It is an ongoing process of trusting, of being faithful to God especially in prayers, in ascending his mountain daily.

In this age of instants when everything has become so efficient and easy, more and more people are finding prayer and God in general as useless waste of time. We have reduced our lives and existence to mere activities for social media like Facebook, Instagram, and Tweeter flooding them with our photos and words empty of meaning. We have stopped living meaningfully as we have ceased probing deeper into life, exploring what’s inside ourselves who can truly lead us to fulfillment, Jesus Christ. How tragic that after quantifying everything in life to save so much precious time in doing so many things, we still lack quality time.

God is greater than our minds and our hearts (1John 3:30) that not everything can be measured in human success and failure. Sometimes, human success is failure with God while human failure can be success in God as we have seen in the experience of Abraham today.

In this time of Lent, we are encouraged to pray and sacrifice, to strive ascending the mountain of God to deepen our faith in him who has given us Jesus his Son to save us, to make us like him, divine and sublime.

Transfiguration is a process, a call to be faithful to God that to reach our glory, we have to go through a lot of pain and sufferings like the scandal of the cross of Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to God especially in our prayers, in our ascent to his mountain of purifications, we realize in the process we are not alone, that we have God by our side as St. Paul assures us in the second reading: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom.8:31)

This Sunday, let us be confident and trust in God that everything would be right. Amen.

Photo by author, sunset at Marcos Highway, 2019.

Our face mirrors our soul

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul by Fr. Nicanor F. Lalog II
Thursday, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 06 August 2020
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 >><}}}*> 2 Peter 1:16-19 >><}}}*> Matthew 17:1-9
Transfiguration of the Lord by Raphael (c.1520) from wikipedia

Thank you very much, Lord Jesus Christ for this wonderful feast of your Transfiguration happening today at more than half past this very difficult year of 2020.

Perfect at this time of the year in our Ordinary Time of the liturgy when everything seems too slow and laid-back as if nothing is happening or even changing in our lives.

Worst, with this pandemic, many of us are already tired, even losing enthusiasm with everything.

But, here you are, dear Jesus, giving us light and inspiration to keep on and be persistent disciples of yours, journeying with you and ascending with you every mountain of hardships and trials in life so that with you and in you, we may also be transformed from within.

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother, John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.

Matthew 17:1-2

In the midst of the darkness and gloom around us today, what a welcome break and relief are the visions of your prophet Daniel in the first reading of your eternal glory in heaven amid great display of lights and flames with your clothes “bright as snow” (Dn.7:9).

But, what I like best is how your “face shone like the sun” at your transfiguration, Lord.

I like that part because most of the time, the depths of the soul are reflected on the face.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2019.

Dearest Lord, help us to remain faithful to you, patiently forgetting ourselves, carrying our crosses, and following you closely in this time of the corona virus.

Teach us to listen to your voice, to heed your words, always attentive to your presence even in the many darkness of our lives in this time of pandemic, reminding ourselves that “Lord, it is good we are here” (Mt.17:4) with you.

Every year, we hear this passage of your Transfiguration on the second week of Lent to remind us of your coming glory at Easter; but, even at this time, Lord, we already feel discouraged at how would Christmas 2020 be!

May this feast of your Transfiguration during Ordinary Time remind us to remain faithful in following you, be your persistent disciples rising above ourselves from the many challenges and trials during this pandemic.

Keep our face aglow with your light amid the many sufferings in this time of COVID-19.

Transform us within to change our countenance so that whenever those people crying in pain see us, they may see and experience you, Jesus, within us.

Keep us open to the workings of your Holy Spirit in these difficult weeks and months ahead so we may be cleansed and purified, and transformed within to become your presence and your joy among those with sagging spirits among us, hoping their face may also mirror you within them. Amen.

Photo by Mr. Jim Marpa, 2018.

Prayer, Exodus,Transfiguration

The Lord Is My Chef Breakfast Recipe for the Soul
Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, 06 August 2019
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 >< }}}*> 2 Peter 1:16-19 >< }}}*> Luke 9:28-36
Photo by Atty. Grace Polaris Rivas-Beron, top of Mt. Sinai, May 2019.

Lord Jesus Christ, two Sundays ago you have taught us how to pray, welcoming us into your inner self on having the right attitude in prayer, of being formed like you, obedient unto death to the will of the Father in heaven.

Today as we celebrate your feast of Transfiguration, once again through St. Luke, you welcome us into your prayer moment to be transformed like you on Mount Tabor.

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Luke 9:28-31

Thank you for bringing us along like your three privileged apostles up on the mountain to pray. Thank you in enabling us to pray with you, in you, and like you. Indeed, every prayer is a moment of transfiguration and transformation.

Most of all, every prayer period is also an exodus, our passing over from darkness to light, from sinfulness to grace, from slavery to freedom.

On the evening of your Resurrection as St. Luke recorded, you walked with two disciples going home to Emmaus, explaining to them how the “Law and the Prophets” spoke about your own pasch or passover and exodus on the Cross.

There on top of the mountain during your transfiguration while you were praying, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, came to discuss with you your own exodus of Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

When we are so hard pressed with our life, with our pains and hurts, when nobody seem to care, when everybody seem to forget us, join us in our mountain of prayerful transfiguration.

When we feel giving up, when things are breaking apart in our life whether at home or office or school, when we feel hopeless even in the Church, in our Parish and among our parishioners, when we see you dear Jesus “dead” on the Cross, let us hold on to that revelation on Mt. Tabor that you are “the chosen Son” of the Father so we may listen to you always to deny our selves, take up our crosses and follow you.

May we stop seeking some “cleverly devised myths” (1Pt.1:16) towards Transfiguration for there is no other way but through your Cross that makes us your indwelling and presence. Let your face shine on us today to bring more light and hope in this world darkened by sin. Amen.

Happy 13th Anniversary to our Parish of St. John Evangelist, 06 August 2019.

Seeing and Hearing Jesus

40 Shades of Lent, Sunday Week-2, Year C, 17 March 2019
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18//Philippians 3:17-4:1//Luke 9:28-36

From the mountain of temptation, we now join Jesus in His mountain of Transfiguration this Second Sunday of Lent. It does not matter on which mountain Jesus transfigured because Lent as a journey is not about destination but direction that begins right in our hearts when we examine and purify, renew and vivify our faith in the resurrection of Christ. At the very core of this Lenten journey is the glory of Jesus seen in the light of His Cross.

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem… Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

Luke 9:28-31,35-36

Of the three evangelists who reported the Transfiguration, only Luke tells us its context, prayer: “Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray” (Lk. 9:28). It is very clear with Luke that the Transfiguration is a “prayer event” to show us what happens when Jesus talks with His Father. It is reminiscent of the experience of Moses when his face became radiant after talking with God at Sinai but far more deeper in meaning and reality. According to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the Transfiguration is the “interpenetration” of Christ with His Father, becoming “light from light” for He Himself is the light. The face of Moses shone by receiving light from God after meeting Him on Mt. Sinai while the Transfiguration affirmed the divinity of Jesus as the Son of God whose light came from within Him.

What a wondrous sight to behold seeing Jesus in all His glory that prompted Peter to ask Jesus that they remain there as he offered to build them with a tent each! Luke tells us a similar story on the evening of Easter when two disciples going home to Emmaus met Jesus along the way, asking Him to stay with them for the night. In both stories, the sight of Jesus in His glory vanished immediately after He was recognized by the disciples. The same thing happens with us when we go through the same experiences of seeing the glory of Jesus in our lives, of how we wanted to preserve it, wishing Christ would remain to stay with us so we can keep those feelings of joy and peace within. Like Peter, the experience is too deep for words that we find ourselves not knowing what to say; and, like the two disciples at Emmaus we feel our hearts burning within because we have seen and heard the Lord!

Seeing and hearing are God’s greatest gifts. We find in the gospels how people were amazed whenever Jesus would restore sight of the blind and enable the mute to speak by opening their ears. Jesus Himself tells the disciples that include us today of how “Blessed are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it”(Mt. 13:16-17).

Seeing and hearing Jesus happen whenever we pray, the starting point of every Transfiguration. This is the reason why we have to pray always, not only during Lent. Prayer is communion with God, being one with God. The beloved disciple tells us that “No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us” (1Jn.4:12). God’s love is perfected in us whenever we join Jesus in His exodus or pasch, His passing over Passion, Death, and Resurrection. This is why the voice heard during His Transfiguration said “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After His Transfiguration, Jesus would always speak about His coming Passion, Death and Resurrection, calling us all to follow Him always.

And that is Transfiguration: the light of Christ’s Passion and Death burn us within to be transformed into His glorious Resurrection.  Any experience of God is always a transfiguration and transformation into His image and likeness which sin had destroyed and disfigured in us. The surest sign that we have seen and heard God is when we die in our sins, being transformed into new persons in Christ when we forget one’s self, carry our cross daily and follow Jesus. See again the centrality of the Cross in the Lord’s teachings and events. We can never have a complete and correct picture of Jesus Christ without the Cross. And there can be no real change in us without sufferings and pains with Christ leading the way.

In the first reading, Abraham saw and heard God at night in the desert like in the Transfiguration. God sealed His promise to him to be the father of all nations by taking the initiative to burn by “passing over” the animals he had sacrificed. Abraham held on to that promise through many tests and trials from God, thus becoming the father of all nations recognized by Jews, Christians and Moslems alike.

Yes, our life and times could even get worse with all the killings and problems going on in many parts of the world, even in our own lives, family and friends. Things may even get worst than better but the story of the Transfiguration this Sunday assures us of our future glory in Christ amidst all the crosses in our lives. Let us “stand firm in the Lord” as Paul tells us in the second reading by reviewing the many decisions and choices we have made in the past to go back to Christ’s direction to His Cross. Like Abraham and the apostles, let us be faithful to Jesus our Savior “who will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil. 3:21-4:1). A blessed week to you in Christ Jesus!

Painting of the glorious crucified Christ called “Luwalhati” by Bulakenyo artist Aris Bagtas, acrylic on old wood 18×24, 2019. Used with permission.