Ecstasy PLUS Agony EQUALS Transformation!
The words of the gospel of Luke’s Transfiguration washes over us again this Lent. It is a familiar passage. The ecstasy of the vision of Jesus on the mountain is a preparation for us to be strengthened so that when we experience Jesus on another Mountain in the Agony in the Garden in six weeks we celebrate a newer person in Jesus. Both experiences are a necessity for us to truly live out a life of transformation, moving closer to Our Lord. Ecstasy PLUS Agony EQUALS Transformation
Ecstasy abounds on the Mountain of Tabor. Three apostles are privy to the event. We are like these special men. Peter, James, and John have been set apart by Jesus and chosen to travel up the Mountain. Why them? Peter will be the future Bishop of Rome. James will be the Bishop of Jerusalem and the first to experience martyrdom. And John, the beloved, will give first-hand accounts of his deep relationship with Jesus in the Gospel. The mountain’s symbolism is to meet God, to feel as close to Him as possible. It is a “religious high” compared to the flatness of the earth at the bottom of the mountain, which exemplifies everyday reality. Seeing Jesus in His Most Dazzling form, the men are shaken to a reality which will stay with them forever. Jesus uses this flash of glory as a strengthening device. St. Ambrose beautifully explains, “Peter saw this grace, and so did those who were with him, although they were heavy with sleep. The incomprehensible magnificence of the Godhead overwhelms the perception of our body.” When we fall asleep and something awakens us that is beyond our wildest dreams, then we want it to last forever. Peter impulsively blurts out his desire to protect the glorious magnificence and insists three tents are built. Like us he wants the glory to last forever. Our own personal glories reveal themselves in many facets, intensely beautiful music, Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the perfection of a newborn baby!
But then there is the unavoidable Agony in the Garden. Jesus has prepared and equipped Peter, James and John and given them the experience of the Transfiguration in order for them to withstand the impending Agony in the Garden. The Mount of Olives is another mountain, actually a hill, which overlooks adjacent Jerusalem. Matthew 26:37, “He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee and began to feel sorrow and distress.” Mark 14:33 “He took with him, Peter, James and John, and began to be troubled and distressed.” Then they fell asleep again. Avoiding the reality of suffering, these men, followers of Christ slept because they did not want to face the impending event. Living a life of faith we, too, are disturbed when we are called to suffer. We just want to sleep and make the pain depart. Luke 22:45, “When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief.” Father Roger Radloff, a friend and priest who suffered three years with cancer, had his last homilies written and bound into two volumes. He comments on this suffering, “I would dare say that most people don’t look for happiness anymore, they look for safety, security, comfortability…happiness is long out of sight for those who are cynical and sometimes realistic. To be comfortable seems to be the end of American living, if you think about it. Things that inconvenience us are the things to get rid of…so in other words, it’s important to make enough money and to secure that money in such a way, a lifetime goal, to be as comfortable as possible…and maybe the exact purpose of Christianity is to make us uncomfortable, because if we were comfortable all the time, if we were Peter sitting up there in his little tent looking at the Transfigured Christ we would never deal with the reality of the problems we have here on earth and the very complacency of our lives would force us to be uncreative. In other words, it almost takes agony to make ecstasy possible; you have to have one end of the polar spectrum in order to be able to share in the other…” Our realities, our agonies could be in the shape of uncontrollable circumstances, family disappointments or unexpected deaths and long term dying.
Both these elements, ecstasy and agony, each one of us MUST trudge through to be transformed. We must endure the difficult experiences. Every morning is not spent seeking suffering, but just living out our normal everyday lives. Without pain, Christ says, there is no growth toward Him. When we recognize Christ’s life, and embody his Whole Divine Glory and Human Passion, we receive all of Him. In the fourth mystery of light of the rosary, the Transfiguration, the meditation is, “I desire to be transformed by God” or “I desire to be a new person in Christ.” As we move closer to our death, the Lord calls us to urgently live both the agony and the ecstasy. Incorporating both elements, Jesus urges us to change. In the Transfiguration true discipleship on the Glory Mountain means take up the cross, then by embracing the suffering, the Lord empowers those who answer the call because Jesus will be seen, face to face. On that high glorious mountain, the voice of God from the cloud vehemently commands the three men (and us), “Listen to him.” In the scene with the disciples on the Mountain in the Garden, Jesus emphatically directs his disciples (and us), “Get up!” Our real life transformational decisions could include forgiving an annoying friend or family member, making a cathartic confession, or surrendering and healing from a lost, strained relationship.
Experiencing, fully engaging, and completely embodying the indescribable presence of God the Father and His Son in our life, holding on to that experience and never losing it, helps us to then be able to endure the unavoidable pains, challenges, and sufferings of our everyday lives. The Ecstasy on the Mountain of Tabor plus the Agony on the Mount of Olives together produces, equals, becomes Transformation in our lives. St. John of Avila, a priest and spiritual advisor to St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, among others, commented in a letter, “If you long for these festivals of heavenly joy, if you want to behold them and take part in them, be assured that there is no better way to reach them than the way of suffering. This is the way Christ and his disciples have always traveled. He calls it a narrow way, but it leads straight to life. That is why he tells us that if we want to join him, we shall travel the way he took. It is surely not right that the Son of God should go his way on the path of shame while the sons of men (Daughters of Mary) walk the way of worldly honor…”
Submitted by: Mrs. Ann Salancy,O.P. 02/18/2016