Vultum Tuum, Domine, Requiram

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The Second Sunday of Lent
The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalm 26: 1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36

The Transfigured Face of Jesus

Twice yearly, on August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Glorious Cross, and again on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Church is illuminated by the glory of God shining on the Face of the transfigured Jesus. The Introit of today’s Mass is the same one used on August 6th. It directs the gaze of our hearts to the Face of Christ. “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face” (Ps 26:8-9). Some of you know the text, “Tibi dixit” in its chant melody, so full of longing, of desire, of peace.

To Seek God Truly

When our father Saint Benedict speaks of the dispositions to look for in one who seeks to enter the monastery, he emphasizes, above all, that one come to seek God truly. How are we to orient this search for God? God is elusive, hiding himself from those who seek Him, seeking those who hide from Him. “Where shall wisdom be found, asks Job, and where is the place of understanding? Man does not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living. The deep says, ‘It is not in me,’ and the sea says, ‘It is not in me’” (Jb 28:12-14). The bride of the Canticle speaks no differently. “Upon my bed by night I sought Him whom my soul loves; I sought Him but found Him not; I called Him but he gave no answer” (Ct 3:1). Are we to look up or down? Are we to search within or without? Where are we to seek God first? “If I climb the heavens you are there, if I lie in the grave, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn and dwell at the sea’s furthest end, even there your hand would lead me, your right hand would hold me fast” (Ps 138:8-10). God is everywhere and yet our gaze has to be somewhere if it is to rest upon Him.

When God Brings One Outside

Today’s first reading may give us a clue. It begins with a curious little phrase. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). Two things strike me. First, God takes the initiative, coming first in search of Abram, meeting Abram on his own ground, in his own space. God accommodates His immensity to the limits of Abram’s little domestic world. He comes to the nomad Abram in his tent, in surroundings that are intimate, familiar to Abram, and secure. Second, he brings Abram outside, outside the tent, outside the familiar, obliging Abram to “look toward heaven” (Gen 15:5), to stretch toward the vastness of stars too many to be counted. Then, no sooner has God shown Abram the stars than he hides them. “A deep sleep fell on Abram, and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12).

Lest We Stop Seeking

The search for God —and the monastic vocation, a particular response to God’s search for us— may begin in a familiar place but, inevitably, it leads us outside — outside of our tents, outside of ourselves. For some, paralyzed by fear, incapable of leaving the comfort of the narrow spaces that we call our own, the search is thwarted from the outset. Mercifully, God is patient, and a late response is rewarded, in every way, as generously as one made early. “God brought Abram outside” (Gen 15:5). He does the same in the life of anyone who seeks Him. Just when we think we have found the place of the encounter with God, He calls us outside, lest we stop seeking, even for a moment. He calls us into a dread and great darkness lest we mistake any lesser light for the light of His Face. “‘What can bring us happiness?’” many say. “Lift up the light of your Face on us, O Lord” (Ps 4:7).

It is Your Face, O Lord, That I Seek

Rarely, in the liturgy, it happens that both the Introit and the Responsorial Psalm repeat the same text. Such is the case today. There is a message there. Repetition is the liturgy’s way of insisting, of turning up the volume, of intensifying prayer. “Of you my heart has spoken, ‘Seek His Face.’ It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not your Face” (Ps 26:8-9).

The Human Face of God

Abram’s heavenward gaze in the first reading becomes the apostle’s in the second. “From heaven,” says Saint Paul, “we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ who will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Phil 3:20-21). Christ Jesus is the human Face of God. “He who has seen me,” says Jesus, “has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). God is everywhere and, yet, if our gaze is to be filled, when we awake, with the sight of God’s glory (Ps 16:15), it has to come to rest, already here and now on the holy Face of Christ.

The Mystic Sleep

Abram, brought outside by God in the First Reading, becomes, in the Gospel, Peter, James, and John led by Jesus to a place apart (Mt 17:1; Mk 9:2). There is the same movement away from the familiar, away from the known and the comfortable. Moreover, Abram sleeps in the first reading. “As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram; and lo, a dread and great darkness fell upon him” (Gen 15:12). Peter, James, and John sleep in the Gospel. Is this not a divinely induced sleep, like Adam’s deep sleep caused by God (Gen 2:21)? Like the patriarch Jacob (Gen 28:11), and like Saint Joseph, the son of David after him (Mt 1:20), we are vulnerable in sleep, open to God’s secret whisperings, made ready for things that, awake, we would probably resist. The saints know all about this.

Even So Is My Soul

There is a kind of praying sleep, or a kind of sleeping prayer, in which all the machinations of human ingenuity are stilled and all the industry of imagination and intellect are shut down. “Truly I have set my soul,” says the psalmist, “in silence and peace. A weaned child on its mother’s breast, even so is my soul” (Ps 130:2). For Saint Luke, the sleep of the apostles on Thabor precedes their wakening into Christ’s glory, just as for Christ, the sleep of death on the cross and in the tomb precedes His wakening into the glory of the Father. “Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they wakened they saw His glory” (Lk 9:32). After this mysterious sleep, they see Jesus, not “as in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12) but as he is, “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14). “We have beheld His glory, says John, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (Jn 1:14). And Peter adds, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty . . . . We were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 P 1:16-18).

I Shall See Your Face

No matter what our resistances may have been in the past, or may still be even now, our hearts have spoken to us, saying, “Seek His Face” (Ps 26:8). The Face of Christ, the human Face of God has taken hold of us. If we are true to the search, it will take us outside our tents, outside ourselves, away from the familiar, to a place apart. There, perhaps, it will be given us to make the psalmist’s prayer our own. “I shall see your Face and be filled, when I awake, with the sight of your glory” (Ps 16:15).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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