The preface of this Second Sunday of Lent tells us the reason why, on a high mountain, Jesus gave to his three closest disciples a preview of his glory. It was to help them live through what was about to happen on another mountain, on Calvary, and also to live through the difficult, trying, sorrowful times of their lives.
We, disciples of Jesus, can expect to live from day to day experiencing successes and failures, joys and sorrows, progress and regressions. That’s life.
However, it is not uncommon for some of us to go on for long stretches of time with a heavy heart on account of unresolved issues or serious difficulties, problems, worries, conflicts and even life-threatening ailments. Thus the moments of enjoyment might be cut short and the heavy heart would take a big toll on the quality of life of the individuals affected and on their families.
In our reading from Genesis (15:5-12, 17-18) and Gospel passage (Luke 9:28-36), we come across four people with a very heavy heart.
It is easy for us to imagine the reason why Abram was living with the heaviest heart. He was over 75 and his life had lost almost all its purpose and significance because he had no heir. With every passing day, he was facing the extinction of his lineage; he was facing annihilation. Hence, when God, solemnly, promises to give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and invites him to enter into a covenant of unsustainable trust, of superhuman faith, Abram feels so overwhelmed, so depleted of energy that he falls into a trance.
People who are depressed, anxious and consumed by worries are often tired; they tend to sleep a lot perhaps in a vain attempt at fending off the challenges facing them.
In the Gospel passage, Luke tells us that Peter, James and John, too, had been overcome by sleep. We can assume that they could not keep their eyes open on account of two contributing factors: first, they had taken an enormous risk in leaving their families and jobs to follow this young rabbi from Nazareth and, second, life with him was becoming quite challenging and heading for a most uncertain future.
Every year, the Church re-proposes the event of Jesus’ Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent, because she feels compelled to offer her solution to all the energies that heavy hearts sap from her faithful. I assume that every single one of us knows from direct personal experience what it means to live with a heavy heart. Most likely, the older we are the heavier our heart might be or has been.
We might have experienced the frustration and the uneasy feeling of trying to meet our obligations and face the challenges before us while depleted of energy and close to yielding to the urge to drop everything and go somewhere far, far away—if only for a while. At this point I need to interject a little disclaimer: as a rule, the Catholic Church is never going to offer incredible solutions, sensational remedies, easy, quick fixes. There will be no miracles, no portents, and no alluring promises of success. Instead, she offers the very same solution lived through and proven effective by Jesus Christ himself: the all-encompassing closeness of Christ, the reliance on the light of God’s Word, and a firm trust in the love of the Father.
Our Lord is truly God in human flesh. He knows exactly for having lived through them, all of the most painful feelings, the most harrowing situations, the scariest predicaments we can possibly experience in our life. Once, he even told his closest friend that his heart was so heavy that he felt like dying. (cf. Matthew 26:38). He also experienced being forsaken by his heavenly Father during the darkest moment of his life, on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:46). Not only does Jesus know all that makes our heart heavy and our soul sorrowful, but, through Baptism and Holy Communion, he makes each one of us integral parts of himself in the actual condition in which we find ourselves at any given time.
We are truly one living in him, with him, for him. We should never lose sight of this most comforting fact: his Transfiguration, his blinding display of glory, his unsurpassable victory shall be ours, too, provided that we never separate ourselves from him.
St. Paul lists the scariest things and asks: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? (Romans 8:35). Then, in verses 38-39 he assures us that there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Thus, the only reality that should make our hearts heavy, our souls sorrowful and our bodies sleepy and depleted of energy should be a sin that yanks us from living in Christ Jesus.
But, of course, there are many other situations and circumstances in which we have heavy hearts, sorrowful souls and we feel overcome by sleep. Hence, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, we should have etched in the back of our mind that we can benefit from the light, guidance and comfort of God’s Word, certain that Jesus alone has the words of everlasting life (cf. John 6:68).
These words, sought with openness of mind and sincerity of heart, can dispel all darkness; can guide our way through the most difficult times; can sustain us through very demanding trails and give us the strength to persevere to the glorious Transfiguration awaiting us.
In the meantime, in imitation of Jesus, we can, we should make acts of abandonment into the Father’s hands a holy habit of ours, to be repeated even several times a day; whenever we sense that something is amiss and our serenity is about to leave us.
With the awareness of living in Christ, with the light of God’s Word at our disposal and with repeated acts of abandonment into the Father’s hands, far from being ever overcome by sleep, we can fulfill all our obligations and live serene, trust-filled, productive lives.