In this weeks Gospel Jesus ascends the mountain to pray with his disciples Peter, John and James. The mountain has a very deep significance in Scripture. It is the place of encounter with God, the place where God chooses to utter his word. Moses ascends Mount Sinai in order to hear the word of God and receive the Law. Elijah goes up Mount Horeb to converse with the Lord. For Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, the mountain will mark different times in his life of teaching, prayer, glory, suffering and fear.
Unlike the Transfiguration accounts in Matthew and Mark, Luke begins his account with Jesus at prayer, communing with the Father, and it is while Jesus is deep in prayer, united in heart and mind with his heavenly Father, that he is transfigured before the amazed eyes of his startled disciples. “As he prayed his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning” (Lk 9:29). It is then that the great prophets of the past, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus, speaking to him about the path of suffering that he was soon to undergo in Jerusalem, preparing and encouraging him.
This story begins with the prayer of Jesus. Prayer is at the heart of our very identities as Christians. It is in prayer that we commune with God, listen as He quietly speaks his word in the depths of our hearts. It is in prayer that God pours his loving grace into our lives, healing, forgiving and transforming us whether in suffering or in joy. It is in prayer, as essential to the soul as oxygen is to the body, that we draw ever closer to that pure light that is the glory of God and we become slowly transformed and transfigured. St Paul assures us of this truth in the second reading for this Sunday. “For us, our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe” (Phil 3:20-21).
Often our experience of prayer does not lead us easily to see this transfiguration at work. Prayer often feels like a real effort in which God seems to be far away or indeed not present at all. When we are really low and knocked down by life, the temptation is just to drop the practice of prayer altogether and to seek to rely only on our own efforts or to give up altogether. But fixing our gaze on Jesus, who reveals the truth about God to us, we learn a simple fact. God is faithful to his promises and will act with his transforming power in ways we often do not see or feel in the moment. He calls us to trust in his love that will not fail. As Jesus’ body lay lifeless and broken on the cross, the disciples had every logical reason to give up hope. But in the silence of the tomb, God’s power was at work, leading to the glory of the resurrection and the victory over sin and death. God was and is faithful to his promise: “Destroy this temple and I will raise it up on the third day” (Jn 2:19). The disciples were confused when Jesus uttered this when preaching. It was only after his resurrection that they saw that God fulfils his promises to us in ways beyond what we can hope or imagine.
This Lent we are called to renew our trust in the power of prayer, to take time apart more frequently each day to listen and commune in prayer with the God who loves us and wishes to transform us in glory. Whatever the ups and downs we face, let us never forget that God is always faithful to those who call on him in trust and openness. In the words of Blessed Angela of Foligno: “Therefore if you want to begin and receive this divine light, pray. If you have begun to make progress and want this life intensified within you, pray … If you want faith, pray. If you want hope, pray. If you want chastity, pray. If you want some virtue, pray … The more you are tempted, the more you should persevere in prayer ... But by the very perseverance in your prayers you will be freed from temptations. Finally, it is through prayer that you will be enlightened, liberated, cleansed, and united with God”.