This past week offered opportunities to reflect on the Lenten Grace of Enlightenment (see posts below and weekly reflections page). This week, we continue something of that theme, reflecting on some of the fruits of enlightenment: joy and perseverance/obedience.
This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the story of the Transfiguration (Lk. 9:28-36). It’s a moment of enlightenment, whose fruits are certainly joy and perseverance. If we back up just a bit, we find that before taking Peter, James and John up Mt. Tabor to pray, Jesus reveals to the twelve that: (a) he will have to die in Jerusalem, and (b) that they will have to one day take up their own crosses if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven (Lk. 9:22-28). The Apostles who have “left everything” to follow Christ were – naturally – upset and anxious at this news. Jesus takes Peter James and John up the mountain and reveals a fuller picture of himself… Transfigured, he enlightens them with the vision of his divine nature. The experience gives them the joy they need to keep going, to persevere in obedience to their call.
Abraham, likewise, receives a message from the Lord, not to be afraid of his new mission because one day God would make his descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5-18). This is the encouragement he needs to break away from this native country and lead his people across uncharted deserts to the Promised Land. Joy leads to perseverance.
The two concepts are linked in a necessary sort of way. “Obedience,” from he latin, “ab audire” means, “it flows from the hearing.” If we would obey our call, we need to hear all sides of it first. We need to hear the command, “do good not evil,” but we also need to hear the delight of our Father saying to us first, “I love you.” “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” The practice of faith and virtue (see Ash Wednesday post below), at first a rote sort of a thing becomes enlivened by joy over the Father’s love. Faith and virtue are warmed by enlightenment, maturing from rote exercise into a habit of loving self-gift.
In this regard, our great example is St. Agnes. Agnes was a Roman virgin who loved Christ. She was completely animated by the idea of being espoused to Jesus and Jesus alone in heaven. It made her into a joyous Christian, a young woman of grace and virtue. Arrested for her faith, Agnes was martyred in the last of the Roman Imperial persecutions in 304. She heard the voice of Jesus affirming her as beloved. She rejoiced and practiced her faith… and that joy allowed her to persevere in the faith until she offered the ultimate witness, the ultimate self-gift for the sake of faith, her own death.
As we enter the second week of Lent, we might ask, “What kinds of enlightenment has the Lord given me?” “What are my transfiguration moments?” “How have they moved me with joy?” “Do I connect them with my self-giving? …and if I have not, how can I do so this Lent?”