Take a moment and ponder John Donne’s Meditation XVII, often called by its first words: “No Man is an Island”:
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
His words echo through the centuries, because they resound from the depths of humanity. We recognize our mortality and our common destiny. Tragedy, illness and old age all diminish our life together. In them, we acknowledge our common journey on this pilgrim road, made richer and strengthened by friendship and shared experience.
Today, Jesus leads his closest apostles, Peter, James and John, up a high mountain. They ascend an “island” of sorts, removed from the melee and secluded, but not alone...together. There, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes and countenance become brilliant, shining like the sun, dazzling. He appears with Moses and Elijah. His friends witness his glory. Peter stammers and a voice speaks from the cloud, "This is my chosen Son; listen to him." Suddenly, it is Jesus alone and all fall silent, to soak up the depth of the mystery.
Our fathers in the faith see this epiphany as a moment of clarity and strengthening. Jesus has been predicting his passion, all the while inviting his disciples to the same: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me,” (Lk 9:23). Yet his own passion looms in the distance. Soon, his arms will be stretched, his body scourged, his head crowned, his disciples abandoning. He will be left almost alone. From the throngs, four remain faithful. So this revelation of glory is meant to “strengthen the brethren.”
The transfiguration reveals what glory will be for the victorious: first Christ our Lord and then his faithful ones. Peter, James and John witness a foreshadowing of the glorified Christ. They see clearly what will be. Jesus extends the promise of glory to his followers. Hence Paul’s words to the Philippians: “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body.”
The promise of glory extended to his faithful encourages us who have begun Lent penances. When our resolve wavers we can remind ourselves that we were made for heaven. True, our journey through this world contains many travails. Still, we are journeying together. No man is an island; ours is a common destiny; our true destiny has been won by the blood of Christ. From his seat at the right hand of the Father, he extends an arm to all of humanity. He bridges the divide between heaven and earth. We are not alone. Our brother Jesus has made the journey through the cross to the resurrection. In the journey of Lent and in the pilgrimage of life we are invited to follow that same path, to imitate the mystery of Christ.
May the grace of Christ and solidarity in the human project be our strength this Lent!