I spent time yesterday morning with a parish group reflecting on praying with the scriptures, Lectio Divina. Little could we have imagined that within a few hours we would return to Covid restrictions and the cancellation of communal Sunday worship in many parts of the country today.
I hope that this FFF reflection, provides some sense of reflecting and praying with others, maybe using the 20 minute Lectio Divina podcast reflection either alone or with those in your bubble, and perhaps concluding the 20 minutes with some sharing of your experience of Jesus speaking to you during the reflection.
We began yesterday’s workshop session with a quotation from Pope Francis as he gives a teaching on the Lectio form of prayer. After outlining a method of reading a scripture passage (lectio), pondering the reading and conversing with Jesus (meditatio), and listening to Jesus (contemplatio), Francis acknowledges that we can be left feeling deeply challenged and even a bit unsettled and inadequate. But he gives hope:
“Jesus always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before Him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from Him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.“
Today’s gospel, the Transfiguration of Jesus, might seem a bit obscure for our prayer, but this is precisely why it is ideal.
When we pray with a more straightforward passage, perhaps the sower and the seed or Jesus calling us to forgive our enemies, it is not too difficult to apply the text to our lives. But what are we to make with Jesus taking three of his disciples up a hill, meeting with Moses and Elijah, and being transfigured in their presence.
The answer needs to be revealed to us by Jesus – and that is why this is a great Lectio passage. We can’t work it out on our own.
A few years ago with a group of pilgrims I visited the Mount of the Transfiguration. It is not too far from the Sea of Galilee, and from every direction it rises distinctively from the plain landscape as a solitary hill.
In a similar way, the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus rises up as if from nowhere in the Gospels. We have Jesus preaching, teaching and performing miracles that have an effect on some but not on others, then, all of a sudden Jesus is speaking with the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah and his clothes become ‘dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them’.
Our contemporary and practical minds might prefer to dismiss the Transfiguration of Jesus as a bit of unnecessary magic. Perhaps our attachment to our own limited and safe vision dismiss such a pragmatic response.
However the Transfiguration of Jesus is an event that opens the door between earthly ordinariness, (days and weeks of routine and mundane and struggling existence), and divine eternity. In this moment Peter, James and John got a taste of something more; so much so that they could not even put it into words and did not speak of the event when they went down the mountain.
This is what happens every time we celebrate the Mass and the sacraments of the Church. The door between heaven and earth is thrown open by God. We express our struggle and our sin and God pours grace onto us and into us. Once again we realise that we are participants in the divine life of God. This is not the result of anything that we have done. We simply stay with our yearning for hill-top existence when we are down in the valleys, and even in the pits, and Jesus comes to us.
When we leave the church after Mass we are changed people. Like Peter James and John we struggle to put this into words. We are not even really sure what has happened, nor even if anything has happened.
The fact is, we have tasted heaven and in the most tangible form of communion, heaven has come INTO us. We are different, and because of this, even though we go home into the same reality and relationships, every moment of the week ahead is transformed. This foretaste of heaven enables us to live fully in every earthly situation.
Yes, life up the mountain is wonderful. We would rather stay in life’s high points. But the great news here is that Peter, James & John came down the mountain not alone, but with Jesus.
On this Second Sunday of Lent ten years ago Pope Benedict spoke of this as living with Jesus (experienced in the light of the mountain-top Transfiguration) as a constant inner-light of love and truth when we come down the mountain:
“After the event of the Transfiguration Jesus will be an inner light within them that can protect them from any assault of darkness. Even on the darkest of nights, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out. St Augustine sums up this mystery in beautiful words, he says: “what this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is [Christ] to the eyes of the heart” (Sermones 78, 2: PL 38, 490).
“Dear brothers and sisters, we all need inner light to overcome the trials of life. This light comes from God and it is Christ who gives it to us, the One in whom the fullness of deity dwells (cf. Col 2:9). Let us climb with Jesus the mountain of prayer and, contemplating his face full of love and truth, let us allow ourselves to be filled with his light.
- Visit the new Lectio Divina page for Pope Francis’ intro to Lectio Divina and my Lectio podcast based on today’s Transfiguration gospel at this link. Note that from today instead of the two Lectio podcast options (15 & 25 minutes) there will be only one, a 20 minute guided Lectio and this will follow the more traditional Lectio pattern: Preparation, Reading, Meditation, Conversation, Contemplation leading to action. Click here for today’s Lectio Divina.
- I am available to help with parish/school/community reflection sessions / retreats. Zoom can work well for these if travel is difficult. For more information email me firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Take some time now to pray for those who are suffering today’s return to Covid restrictions in Aotearoa New Zealand. This is especially difficult for the elderly, the sick and vulnerable, for families experiencing tension and for those in business. I am reminded of the beautiful reflection of St. Theresa of Avila: “Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you. All things are passing: God alone is changeless. Patience gains all things, Whoever has God wants nothing. God alone suffices.”