+ It may seem odd to have the glorious moment of the Transfiguration squared with the second week of Lent. It is a truly remarkable moment: Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain and, there, Jesus becomes radiant, His divinity shining forth—even His clothing is brilliant. It is a moment where Jesus reveals His glory.
But why does He do this? Why is it important for Lent?
It is here that Jesus will immediately turn and begin His journey to Jerusalem where He will suffer on the Cross, die, and be raised on the third day. The Transfiguration, therefore, was to be the moment where Jesus, giving His Apostles this vision of glory, would strengthen them so as to give them reason to stay close to Him during the fear and suffering of the crucifixion-- even though they would not.
The Transfiguration would also be a lesson in things to come: there would be the glorious Resurrection after the Cross—a resurrection that we too would participate in: we too will radiate this heavenly glory, if only we embrace the Cross. (The Cross being not only the sign of a life of sacrifice, but firstly the place of God's Mercy!)
This is one of the oddities of our Catholic faith: we believe that Jesus not only came to redeem us, but to fill us with His glory—the very “stuff” of God, the radiance of His divine life, “heaven and earth are full of [His] glory.” Jesus came not only to save us, but to transfigure us, to raise us by His grace to supernatural heights!
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Paul takes this theme of glory and shows a contrast: He says there are some whose glory is not in the glory of God, but whose “glory is in their ‘shame.’” What does this mean? It means that there are some whose lives don’t radiate God’s glory, but rather a shamefulness that has resulted from choosing other gods.
For example, Paul says there are some whose “God is their stomach.”
What does this mean?
It means that there are some who choose to make their life’s pursuit the fulfillment of their lower appetites. They try to fill their desires with lower pleasures, but, like the stomach which always becomes empty, they are never satisfied. They always want more. Because their “God is their stomach,” they never see God as the fulfillment of all their desires, they never embrace the rough wood of the Cross and, because of that, they never enter His glory. Their glory is their shame; their end is destruction.
It is particularly timely, therefore, to delve into two of the deadly sins that most clearly correspond with Paul’s words: namely, gluttony and lust. Let’s take them individually here.
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Gluttony refers not only to an immoderate eating of food, but to drink and all the other things that we try to compensate for our lack of God—like becoming fat on current events, for example.
When it is focused on food, gluttony leads—physically—to a slowness and even to ill-health. We literally can’t run races. And not only physically, but spiritually, we become slow. Our mind and spirit become dull, which make it difficult to pray and to be virtuous. We no longer fight the good fight nor run the race of faith.
This is one of the deadly sins. It kills us. In other words, it is mortal.
In terms of drink, this includes getting drunk. Why is getting drunk “mortal”? Because we are made for glory, for being fully alive and having the full possession of our faculties (and our vehicles)—but getting drunk turns us into beasts. And it’s not just the partiers on the weekends, its housewives during the day, or a person who comes home after work to have “just a couple” to take the edge off. That’s going to the bottle for help instead of going to God—and it quickly leads to the slavery of alcoholism. It is not man fully alive. Drunkenness is a mortal sin and must be confessed.
I also wish to sound the alarm in regards to heroin. In my short years as a priest, I have noticed the explosion of drug use in our local community. Every year, I have had to bury a young person who died because of heroin. This past year, I buried three. I plead with you, even to tears, and with the families as well: heroin and its entry drug, marijuana, are destroying our young and our families! (And please don’t tell me that marijuana is not an entry drug. Every young person I have buried started with it). The physical and spiritual effects of drug use are disastrous. We all probably know someone who has been affected by this. Let us bring about more awareness here, and pray.
And let us remember: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They will be satisfied.”
Ultimately, the solution to sins of gluttony will be the grace of faith, expressed by entering into the suffering of self-denial found by embracing the Cross which is sacrifice and Mercy. We must say no to some things—we can’t have all the things. We need to exercise. Fast once in a while. Practice temperance. And go to confession for mercy. You’ll start to become fully alive and enter the glory of God. Cross, then glory.
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Let us turn to the ugly cousin of gluttony: that is, lust. Lust follows along the same lines: to try to the fill God-sized hole in our hearts with something that is less than God-sized.
Lust begins by an improper way of seeing. It sees only with the eyes and the passions, but not with the heart. It turns people into objects and forgets their dignity as children of God.
Our Lord Himself said, “Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see God.”
Of course, our world says that it’s ok to lust, to satisfy our animal passions and appetites. But that’s simply saying that we are slaves to them—and I am no slave!
Lust translates into impatience. Since it is enslaved to the passions, it cannot wait— it cannot be patient. Well, love is patient. Patience, it is worth noting, comes from “patior,” which means “I suffer.” Lust and its impatience is literally an unwillingness to suffer for love, an unwillingness to embrace the Cross for glory.
Because of its connection to love and seeing, lust can easy devolve into a spiritual blindness that easily overlooks and may even deny the faith. As it focuses so much on the flesh and not on the God that dwells in us, lust is a close relative of idolatry.
Physically, it can lead to disease and to the neglect of one’s work and family—and even to their destruction.
Here, I would like to sound the alarm again, but on a new drug. Depending on which study you see, anywhere between 60-77% of men watch porn on a regular basis—and it’s not just the men, either; the rates in women are rapidly catching up. It’s a billion dollar industry that has become mainstream, so much so that the average age that our kids are exposed to this stuff is age 9. This is destroying our families and our communities.
Lust is one of the seven deadly sins and consenting to it and/or acting upon it, as in the case of pornography, is mortal. Going to confession is required before receiving Holy Communion.
The solution to sins of lust is chastity. Chastity is not celibacy. Chastity is that self-mastery that seeks to live a clean life, a pure life, and to see another as a person, as a child of God, and not as a piece of meat. Chastity embraces, with love, the patience of the Cross, expressed through little mortifications: waking up early so as to pray; turning the shower knob to cold for the duration of a Hail Mary once in a while; going outside and fasting from the computer; praying for those who are enslaved; and going to confession to learn from Jesus, the Master, and to receive His Mercy.
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Let us conclude. Glory comes through the Cross. No Cross, no glory. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that those whose god is their stomach are “enemies of the Cross”!
We are made for more. Our citizenship is in heaven. We are made for glory.
Let us pray, therefore, that during this penitential and holy season of Lent in this Year of Mercy, that we may be strengthened by God’s grace, purified of our sins by His Mercy, and radically conformed to His Cross so as to be transfigured in glory. May we live no longer as the beasts, but as the glorious God, Jesus Christ!