TEXT: Second Sunday of Lent, February 25, 2024

February 25, 2024 Father De Celles Homily

Second Sunday of Lent                                                             

February 25, 2024

Homily by Fr. John De Celles

St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church

Springfield, VA

It’s a familiar story in the Gospels:

         Jesus takes His three closest friends and apostles,

                           Peter, James, and John,

                  out to a mountain, a secluded place, to pray.

         And while Jesus prays, and the three apostles fall asleep,

                  suddenly He radically changes in appearance,

                  and a heavenly person joins Him.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Some of you might have noticed that I said

         Christ was joined by a heavenly person, not persons.

Because I wasn’t speaking about the event recorded in today’s Gospel,

         but about another event, a few weeks later in the life of Christ

                  –not the Transfiguration, but the Agony in the Garden

                           on the night He was betrayed

         when, not Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, but a comforting angel.

These two events in the life of Christ really happened,

         but as the gospels present them,

         they seem almost mirror images of each other

         and show how the two very different events

                  are essentially connected to each other.

At the same time that the similarities show their connection,

         the differences show us the deeper meaning behind these events.

In the Agony in the Garden,

         Jesus’ face didn’t turn a dazzling white,

         but instead St. Luke tells us that it became soaked with sweat

         so that the sweat fell from His face like “drops of blood.”

Instead of a manifestation of His glory,

         the garden was a manifestation of His “agony”.

On Mt. Tabor Peter is overwhelmed by joy and doesn’t want to leave

         as he asks Jesus if he can set up three booths for them

         so that they can stay there, saying, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

         –but in the Agony, as the guards arrest Jesus,

                  they don’t want to stay but to run away!

And even just a few hours later when a woman points to Peter

         and says, “This man was with Jesus,”

         Peter–overwhelmed by fear– replied, “I do not even know the man,”

                  and again, ran away.

At the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, a voice comes from heaven saying,

         “This is My beloved Son….Listen to Him.”

But a few hours after the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane,

         Jesus tells the Sanhedrin at His trial, “If I tell you, you will not believe.”

                  –They will not listen to Him.


Most of us spend much of our time trying to be like God.

Sometimes that’s in a good way and sometimes that’s bad.

The good way is when we try to imitate Christ, when we try to be like Him

         –to join Him in His relationship with His Father

                  and follow His will for our lives.

The bad way is when we try to put ourselves in the place of God

         –when we strive for personal glory

                  or when we try to make our will the center of the universe

                  –when we somehow, in the recesses of our minds,

                           see ourselves as sort of standing on that mountain

                           transfigured in glory, instead of Jesus.

But the thing is, light doesn’t stream from your face or mine.

And Moses and Aaron don’t come to talk to us about our mission

         to save the world.

We are not God.

The true wonder of the Transfiguration and the Agony

         –in fact, the true wonder of the whole life of Christ

                  is that even though light did stream from His face,

                  He hid that light, choosing to be like us,

                  to the point of suffering for our sins,

                  enduring every kind of torture and humiliation, and even death,

                            because He loved us.

It was the same Christ

         who spoke calmly to Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration

         as the Christ to whom the angel came to comfort in the Garden.

It was the same Christ who spoke to Moses and Elijah about His mission in Jerusalem as the Christ who prayed in the Garden that that cup pass from Him

                  –but not His will, but His Father’s be done.

It was the same Christ whose face shown with heavenly glory

         as the Christ whose face was drenched in sweat in the Garden.

To be like God, we must be like God’s Son who became man

         –we must, out of love for Him, not seek worldly glory,

                  but rather seek to find the true glory of Christ

                  by conforming to His will for us

                  and enduring whatever suffering we endure

                           with patience and love,

                                    even when it means loving those who hate us.


Last Sunday we read at Mass about how Jesus

         went out into the desert for forty days

                  to prepare Himself for His public ministry.

Just as we try to imitate Him by

         our own forty days of preparation for His death and resurrection,

         we look to these two crucial events in Christ’s last weeks on earth

                  as He instructs us a little further in understanding how to be like Him.

He tells us to go with Him to a special place to be with Him

         –a high place close to heaven, like Mount Tabor or the Mount of Olives.

He tells us to talk and pray about His passage into Jerusalem

         –to meditate on the cup He must drink from, in His agony and His glory

                  –His death and resurrection.

He tells us to place ourselves in the company of the Church

         –with Moses and Elijah; Peter, James, and John; and the angels

                  –first of all, by listening to their prophetic words

                           in the reading of Sacred Scripture,

                           but also by uniting ourselves in prayer with them.

And He tells us to place ourselves in the company of the Church on earth

         –with the successors of Moses and the apostles

         and our brothers and sisters in this building and throughout the world.

In this place and with these people,

         He calls us to pray to Him, and with Him, and in Him to His heavenly father.

Today, in this Mass, we celebrate these very mysteries,

         and we carry out Jesus’ instruction in a most profound way.

We come away with Him to a heavenly place

         –this sacred place consecrated to heaven.

We come together in communion with the angels and saints,

         in communion with our brothers and sisters in Christ

         in this building and throughout the world.

As we offer the prayers and sacrifice of the Mass

         to our Father in heaven through Christ, and with Him, and in Him,

         we enter the mysterious real presence

                  of His agony, death, and resurrection in glory.

In the light of this Eucharist we see the world in a new light, the very light of Christ’s face,

         and we see that:

                  –In the agony of life, we can find the hidden glory

                           of Christ’s death and resurrection.

                  –When we fall asleep in our faith,

                           He remains constant in prayer for us before His father.

                  –In our lack of faith–when we do not believe—

                           God still calls to us as he did 2000 years ago,

                                    “This is My beloved Son…Listen to Him.”

                  –When we deny Him in the times we’ve walked away from Him,

                           we see that it is so much better to remain with Him

                                    –that in fact, “It is good for us to be here.”