Ever since I figured out that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, the day has felt special to me. Not that it often falls on my actual birthday, but that's something I would prefer not to think about anyway. It only reminds me that I'm getting older without yet having made a solid start in serving God or doing anything with my life. But that's just pride, and in one of his uglier masks.
As I've written once or twice before, it was interesting for me to discover that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent because I have always been fascinated by the Transfiguration, which has been proclaimed as the gospel for today as long as anyone can tell.
The feast of the Transfiguration in 1993--at a monastery named Mt. Tabor, even--is the day that I say I received my religious vocation. Not that anything mystical or miraculous happened; it was just that I came from my prayer that day thinking that after my last year of college, I would give it a try. One has to think of something to do at that point anyway, and I had worked myself into too much of a preoccupation with my little religious project to join my friends in their graduate school applications. So I made up my mind that day. When I got back to school for the fall semester of my senior year, I would figure out where some Franciscans were and I would ask to join. Having met St. Francis in a history class a year or two before, and having made a week of retreat in Assisi in the spring of 1993, I had become convinced that I wanted to be a Franciscan--against the intuitions of my first priest, by the way, who thought I should become a Benedictine. (And maybe some of my Franciscan confreres over the years would agree with him.)
Over the years of blogging, I've reflected a good bit on the Transfiguration; its relation to the Resurrection, to history and eternity, even to the atomic bomb. My single, lonely publication is a review of a book on what some thirteenth-century friars wrote about the Transfiguration.
So does it mean anything that I was born on the second Sunday of Lent, on a day when this strange event is proclaimed? Or is trying to think so an indulgence in some sort of superstitious, liturgical astrology? On such a question, I can almost hear the voice of an old spiritual director...
How could you know such a thing? Maybe it means something and maybe it doesn't. If it helps you to abandon yourself to the will of God as it is for you right now, in the moment, today, then go ahead and imagine that it means something. If it's going to make you superstitious and vain about your journey, then forget about it.
The reflection reminds me of something I started to realize on my last real retreat. I've often written here about how interesting it is to me to see how my account of my own conversion and journey has shifted over the years, how grace has led me to see things more broadly. I notice how the story becomes less a story I tell about myself and more a confession of the action of God. But even this isn't a single moment. It happens over and over. Maybe that's the journey of a convert; to always be shedding vanity and distraction from the self-understanding of the ongoing 'conversion story.' Maybe the stickiest, yuckiest layers only come off after this life. Maybe that's what purgatory is.
On that last retreat I realized, not without some wrenching compunction, that some of the things I've always liked to think of as important in my 'conversion story' were really just arbitrary trifles that I was clinging to and dressing up in a certain awful solemnity in order to flatter my vainglory. At the same time, there were other deep and highly significant graces from God of which I took little or no account. Why would I ignore certain moments of the grace of God, easily recognized at work in me?
Maybe it was the unbelief still at work in me, which isn't really doubt so much as fear, the fear of what it would mean to confess the full reality of Jesus Christ and his presence with us by his divine humanity. What would such a confession call me to let go of? What would it constrain me to do? There's always something in the fallen mind that wants to secretly maintain that yes, it's true, the faith and all that, but it's not really as real as they say, such that religion, ministry, a so-called 'religious life' can be domesticated into something in which real risk only needs to be taken when I feel like it, when it suits the flesh.
Lord Jesus Christ, as you revealed your glory to strengthen the faith of your apostles, strengthen me that I begin to listen to you alone, and may my listening be a beginning of faith and prayer. Free me from my blasphemies, my sensualities, and my vainglory, that I may begin to serve you faithfully in whatever little time I have left in this life. Amen.