This is my chosen Son; listen to him. (Lk 9: 35)
Sunday Scriptures: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/022413.cfm
Gen 15: 5-12,17-18
Ph 3: 17-4:1
Lk 9: 28b – 36
Sometime, our daily prayer can seem rather tedious, routine, repetitive, or done by habit. How long, for example, does it take you to pray the Rosary or to recite the Our Father or grace before meals? It sounds like a race for the finish rather than a call to meditate on the mysteries of our Lord or pray in a meaningful way. Some Catholics are notorious time keepers during the Mass - ready, set, go, goodbye - all before the closing prayer, announcements, final blessing and song. That's our "eat and run" crowd. (Sorry to be sarcastic but allow me to reveal a little pastor frustration).
However, now and then many can admit that while reading a scripture passage, receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist at Mass, during a slow meditative recitation of the Rosary, or a thought that inspires us and seems to come from outside ourselves, we see the mysterious grace of God at work. Such moments confirm our faith and keep us going in the more mundane times when God invites us to simply sit with him.
Some have had more mysterious encounters: a claim to have seen an angel or sensed an inner voice or may have woken from a dream in the middle of the night that seemed to be a spiritual message. Yet, many of us may keep these things to ourselves thinking that, “If I tell someone they will think I’m crazy or just have a wild imagination.”
In the end, we may also wonder if such things were just our imagination or God speaking to us in some way. Such spiritual encounters must be tested, of course, to be verified but these experiences are certainly not beyond the power of God. Quite frankly, I think many folks have such divine meetings more often than we realize.
This Sunday’s Gospel passage from Luke 9: 28 -36 may have been such an experience for the three chosen disciples of Jesus: Peter, John and James. As they traversed down the mountain with Jesus they may have wondered if they indeed saw what they saw and heard who they heard. “Was it just a dream?” After all Luke tells us that, “Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake . . .”
The transfiguration of Jesus with his appearance of the long dead prophet Elijah and the great leader of the Hebrews, Moses, may have caused them to wonder. In addition, they had never seen Jesus so dazzling with light. Yet, Luke makes the point of saying that they had, “become fully awake.” Nonetheless, such an incredible vision may have ranked in the, “Did that really happen?” category. If so, what does it mean?
Such human questions may have crossed their minds but it is clear this moment was transforming. Yet, they likely did not realize the full implications of what they saw. It would take the dark days of Jesus’ passion and death to be followed by the glorious resurrection to put all things in perspective.
In a sense we may see this revelation of Jesus in glory as a kind of Kodak moment. Hold on to this. Keep it before you for the future will be trying. The cross may shake your faith but this experience will be your hope. There is something more beyond the cross yet to be revealed. As we look in a month’s time to Holy Week it makes sense for us to hold on to this vision as well. Here the Father’s voice was heard: “Listen to him.” For the three disciples and for us to listen to the Lord must be the focus of our life. The Father’s voice also spoke long before the coming of Jesus.
Our first reading from Genesis relates the profound promise that God made to Abram – our father in faith: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be . . .” (Gen 15: 5 ff). Such a cosmic vision of future family connections may have been more than Abram could comprehend at the moment but indeed it has been played out over the centuries since. Many before, many today and many in the future will come to know the one true God and his Son, Jesus Christ. God binds us together with him in a covenant of love. Though it is a bond of unequal partnership (we are not God) his overwhelming promise has been fulfilled in the incarnation and the work of the Holy Spirit since.
So on the mountaintop, Peter, James and John, envisioned the fulfillment of that promise. The law given through Moses and the Prophets who foretold of the future coming of a savior is now fulfilled in Jesus. On a merely human level, such a profound truth, accompanied with this extraordinary mystical vision before them, was good enough reason to see the reaction of the disciples: “They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” (Lk 9: 36). The future will explain everything.
When is the last time you felt struck with awe to the point of silence? Were you ever confronted with something so puzzling that you simply had nothing to say at the moment? Truth be told, every time we attend the celebration of holy Mass, we see a miracle before our eyes. It is not for no reason that the Church refers to the Eucharist as the “source and summit of our Christian life.” (Catholic Catechism 1324).
Every sacrament is an encounter with the risen Christ. Hidden behind bread, wine, water, oil, fire, hands of the priest imposed, and ritual is the action of divine grace washing sin away, anointing us with the Holy Spirit, and feeding our souls with the bread of angels who is Christ himself. Such theology, like Abram and the disciples on the mountaintop may elude us in its fullness but invites us to explore its meaning more deeply.
These remaining weeks of Lent can be just a perfect time to do so. The beauty of ritual is that it can connect us to the divine but the downside is that it can become routine. While every Mass is not the same (prayers, theme, colors, readings, music all change), for example, we need to remind ourselves that in its familiar structure great mystery resides. Christ is always present in word and sacrament. How I receive him, am open to that presence and seek to be changed by it is up to me. As the saying goes, “I pray not to change God but to be changed by him.”
I think it good that we all take some time this Lent to ponder the meaning of our faith. In this Year of Faith we already have a reason to do so. Maybe even be bold enough to ask the Lord to reveal himself more deeply to you. You never know when that mountaintop experience may come but we must all remember that it is in the valley below where our mission is carried out in Jesus name.
Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God,
and our ears to the voice from heaven that everyday calls out this charge:
If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts. (Ps 95: 8)
The Rule of Benedict