If we're trying to live Lent, we're probably feeling that discipleship is even harder than usual. So then what?
Sometimes in life it seems that the cross is all there is.
In fact, with the disciplines of more rigorous prayer, Lent seems to amplify the heaviness, the weight of discipleship. If we are really fasting, no doubt we’ve found ourselves somewhat cranky. If we’re giving alms, no doubt we’ve found ourselves wishing for more money for this or that thing. Lent is a kind of suffering.
Sometimes all we can see is difficulty, struggle, the cross.
A famous story from the life of the great Carmelite nun St. Teresa of Avila so perfectly captures how many disciples sometimes feel.
As St. Teresa … made her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, “If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few of them!”
Sometimes we feel like St. Teresa of Avila, but without any tongue-in-cheek. We don’t understand why the Lord is allowing this or that trial to loom so heavy.
But Christ never abandons us under the weight of the cross. He doesn’t leave us stuck with the baggage of discipleship, as if we were the poor bellboy suffocating under a flood of suitcases in a hotel lobby. Christ gives the promise of hope, the constancy of his strength, the capacity to endure, by sharing with us his own inner life, the mysteries of his very self.
This is the mystery of the Transfiguration: Christ reveals his might, his true glory, to his disciples. Lest any believer be tempted to think that the weight of the cross is too heavy to bear even another step, Christ appears before our eyes clothed in radiant white garments, feeding with his own person our starving and weary hearts.
In order that any disciple would be able to follow the footsteps of Christ, Jesus gives a glimpse of the destination. St. Thomas Aquinas puts the mystery this way:
In order that anyone go straight along a road, he must have some knowledge of the end: thus an archer will not shoot the arrow straight unless he first see the target.
It is all the more necessary to see the goal, when the going gets tough. Why would we be willing to live this way? Why would we bear suffering so?
Christ today has offered a glimpse of his glory to our hearts. Pope St. John Paul II assures us,
“Today, the Eucharist which we are preparing to celebrate takes us in spirit to Mount Tabor together with the Apostles Peter, James and John, to admire in rapture the splendor of the transfigured Lord.”
In this Mass we get to glimpse the glory of Christ! In fact, the pope continues,
“In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”
Peter, James, and John did not have to follow the Lord up the mountain. They could have stayed with the other disciples. Any number of reasons might have kept them from following the Lord. And yet, after a climb up the mountain with Jesus, they encountered Jesus’ true radiance. He was present to them in a particular way, revealing to them the magnificence of his very self.
To follow Christ up the mountain, to be willing to die for him as the disciples were, to bear every tribulation that crosses the journey of our life is made possible because Christ has invited us to know him. He alone provides the strength, the encouragement, the joy, the confidence, the hope to bear any trial. He has given us just the smallest taste of the wonders he has prepared for us.
Each day this Lent, let us take up our cross. Let us place our confidence in the triumphant, victorious, transformed Christ! When our hearts are united to his, we shall not fail. One day we shall—please God—find ourselves transfigured. In the kingdom Jesus has promised to those who believe in him, we shall know his glory. And unlike the disciples’ glimpse on Mount Tabor, that vision shall not fade.