Transfiguration of Christ; Transformation of Christians

For me, the narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus is one of the most mysterious in the Gospels.

At the top of Mount Tabor, Peter, James and John were allowed a vision of Jesus in the company of major Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. His position at their center, along with the command of the Father to listen to him, emphasized Jesus’ authority and supreme holiness. No wonder the apostles were astonished and wanted to stay there indefinitely! They had already, through Peter, announced their belief that Jesus was the promised one of God, the Messiah. The Transfiguration vision cemented that belief.

But there is another aspect to this vision that touches us personally.

Jesus, fully human and fully divine, allowed his apostles to observe his divinity. What they were also observing (but weren’t yet ready to understand) was their own eventual transformation into the very image of the divine, since through Christ we are made children and heirs of the Father.

Why did Jesus tell the Apostles to say nothing about this event until after his Resurrection? Could it be because they were far from understanding or accepting so bold a concept as our own divinization? We needed the spiritual strength and insight that would be offered to us only after the Resurrection and the Pentecost.

Are we ready even now?

The late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner said, “[t]he Christian of the future will be a mystic, or he will not exist at all.” Mysticism, he wrote, is “a genuine experience of God emerging from the very heart of our existence.”

The Transfiguration tells us that our faith must transcend robotic habits. We aren’t meant to spend our earth-years with our eyes half-shut, stumbling through what appears to be a hopeless world. There’s too much that we’re missing if we do not open our hearts to the experience of God of which Rahner speaks.

A constant and growing search for deeper intimacy with Christ and his teachings is what will bring about our transformation into the divine, as Christ showed us and his disciples at the Transfiguration.

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“The days which begin on the feast of the Lord’s transfiguration and end on the threshold of Our Lady’s glorification provide an opportunity for the Christian faithful to reflect on God’s transforming grace at work in their lives, and to seek from the Lord whatever they need to deepen that grace not only in themselves, but indeed in the Church and world.”

These are the opening words of a Transfiguration Novena provided by Father John Colacino of Rochester. If you would like to join us in praying this Novena starting on the Feast of the Transfiguration (August 6) and ending on the eve of the Assumption (August 14), please make your request via the  “Leave a Reply” or “Comment” section and it will be sent to your email address.

Play here: “What a Wonderful World”  

Bread from Heaven

Eucharist 2 He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.

(Deuteronomy 8:3)

 . . . you nourished your people with food of angels
and furnished them bread from heaven,
ready to hand, untoiled-for,
endowed with all delights
and conforming to every taste.

For this substance of yours revealed your sweetness
toward your children,
and serving the desire of the one who received it,
was changed to whatever flavor each one wished.
(Wisdom 16:20-21)

In the beginning was the Word . . .
And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling with us.
(John 1:1, 14)

I am the bread that has come down from heaven.
My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

(John 6:32, 35)

 

The Unending Gift

I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Why did Christ consider his absence so important? Couldn’t Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, joined from all eternity with the Father, co-exist on this earth, even with us?

Abba, Father!
Though he was leaving, Jesus did assure us that he would not leave us orphans.

Ah, that word! I understand “orphan” very well, having lost my father before the age when I might have remembered him. Richard Rohr, in an interview, referred to the prevalence of “father hunger” among men doing time in prisons. The apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Just show us the Father; that will be enough.” Even though Philip had lived with Jesus for all that time, he didn’t realize that he was already seeing the Father in the Person of his Teacher who always lived in the presence of his Father:

The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him. (John 8:29)

Reaching for the Eternal
One possible explanation for Christ insisting on the need for his absence  is that we must learn to stretch our spiritual capacity by reaching for the very soul of God, almost on our own. Jesus would physically leave but not abandon us, as he 
then lavished the Holy Spirit upon us.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” says the old proverb. This statement might be true in Harlequin romances, but not in real life. Absence makes the heart hurt. And well Jesus knew this, and emphasized how much we need to reach out to the Holy Spirit, detaching ourselves little by little from all that is not Spirit, thus preparing to become true children of the heavenly Father.

Our vision, like Philip’s needs to extend beyond the physical, beyond the absence, beyond that empty space that we think is nothingness, reaching ultimately to that world beyond, into the “kingdom that is not of this world.”

Sometimes referred to as the “forgotten” person of the Trinity, we come to realize the importance of the Spirit in how Jesus refers to Him, especially in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus names the Spirit Comforter, Advocate, Paraclete. The Spirit is the One who will stand by us always, to enlighten and strengthen  us, to appeal to the Father on our behalf, and to speak for us in our clumsy efforts at prayer (see Romans 8:14-17).

The Unending Gift
St. Paul tells the Ephesians that we have been “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession.”  (Eph. 1:13b-14a) “Sealed”: fixed, glued to the Spirit, 
never to be separated from God (despite Christ’s apparent absence). We have been given the Spirit and with this, an everlasting legacy as God’s children, adopted through our brotherhood with Christ.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17)

Therefore, from this season on, we do not need to sing the hymn “Come, Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit is already overflowing within us. All we have to do is to recognize and accept the Spirit of Christ and the Father, so that we may receive with joy the gift of our unending adoption into the Trinity. 

We don’t need to understand the Trinity. We only need to bask in it.

Trinity 1

Past Imperfect, Future Perfect

A Grammar Lesson?? 

As a kid, I was one of those weird ones who loved grammar.

Yes, I know. What does this have to do with the Ascension? Bear with me. 

This week we celebrate the Ascension, a major feast that offers an opportunity to review the past of Christ’s life, and the future of our life with him in the Father’s dwelling place. It is precisely those words expressing TIME that led me to today’s meditation.

When I studied (and later taught) Latin, I was introduced to verb tenses different from those  in our own English language. In Latin, something wasn’t simply past: it could be past imperfect, which meant that it continued over a period of time. On the other hand, past perfect expressed an action that was completely over and done with. For example,  “I was writing (imperfect) this post, when my pencil broke (perfect).”

[You’ll be relieved that I don’t plan to get into the more complex verb forms, such as pluperfect, future perfect and the subjunctive.]

Yes, we grammarians are weird, but as with everything in life, there’s a spiritual lesson to be discovered here. “In grammar??” you say, incredulously. Yes, even in grammar. After all, the Catechism tells us that “God is everywhere.” St. Ignatius teaches us to find God in all things, and Thérèse of Lisieux Open Bookclaimed that everything is a grace. Let me explain.

All of us live in the past imperfect tense, that is, in a state of continuous imperfection. Our past has not only continued to accumulate events every second and every hour of every day, but our handling of these events are more often than not glaringly imperfect, in the sense of flawed. It is these past imperfect/flawed events that weigh us down with negative feelings such as regret, guilt, self-recrimination, and blame. It is for this past that Christ’s forgiveness and the Sacrament of Reconciliation have been given to us. Dwelling on the imperfect moments of our past squanders both our physical and spiritual energy, and deprives us of the peace that Christ offers us.

Though ascended into heaven, Christ is still present with and in us. In Christ and in Christ alone, is the future truly perfect, since he has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s heavenly dwelling, so that where he is, we also shall be. This is our future perfect, our perfect future.

Where, then, will our imperfect past have gone? It has now become Past Perfect, for in the merciful mind of God it is not only past and forgiven; it is totally forgotten.

May we all one day ascend with Christ to our perfect, timeless eternity.

Behold, I Make All Things New!

We are still, liturgically, in the Easter season. We still hear the wonderful phrase at Mass: Overcome with Paschal joy!

So now that we’ve come through Lent, the sacred Triduum and Easter, has anything changed?

If we are thoughtful people, in love with God, we can’t be the same as we were last February before Lent began. Is there anything different in how we perceive Christ now?

Christ seemed to change for his disciples after his death and resurrection. Or rather, was it their ability to perceive Christ that changed? Consider these post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus:
Mary at the tomb

  • Mary Magdalene thought he was the gardener.
  • The Emmaus disciples saw only a fellow traveler.
  • The disciples fishing on the Sea of Galilee heard a stranger calling out to them from the shore.

 

In each situation, the disciples were given a subtle hint, a reminder that served as a wake-up call: the memory of a special time with the Lord; a moment of intimate friendship recalled by the divine Voice speaking to them once again. He was not recognized until . . .

  • Mary heard him say her name.
  • He broke bread with the Emmaus disciples.
  • He called to his disciples to cast their nets one more time.

What does this have to do with us?

For the most part, we have become a ho-hum people. Easter is politely observed as a feast day, but we can hardly grasp the truth of this most extravagant of mysteries.

Belief almost descends into a platitude that we casually recite in the Creed every Sunday. For that matter, almost all that we hear on Sundays falls on ears that have become over-familiar with the sound of Scripture. The newness and wonder of Easter has, for many, been buried in new clothes and chocolate.

Surely, arriving at a kind of tepid faith is not why Jesus came, died, and was resurrected. Hopefully, as we celebrate this season annually, a light is switched on, a spark within us ignited. A seed planted deep within our spiritual ground (close to being forgotten) suddenly sprouts as the waters of faith revive it. How can we find that spark of belief, that flood of understanding, that fire of trust? We need to be awakened by the light of the Paschal candle, our thirst satisfied by the Easter waters. Such symbols and metaphors have been given to help teach us the reality of the living Christ. St. Paul tells us that  we Christians are poor indeed if we do not believe in the Resurrection. Nonetheless, Easter presents me with so many questions about how the Resurrection of Christ affects my life.

  • Why did Christ come?
  • Why was he executed?
  • How did Christ’s life and Resurrection change the disciples?
  • How has Christ’s life and Resurrection changed history?
  • Mostly, how has it changed me?

These are questions that are most often answered by platitudes, answers that have been fed to us without our understanding, without moving us, answers that we in turn parrot to others, answers that do nothing to change how we live and interact with the Christ in others. And I certainly can’t pretend to answer them for you personally when I can barely approach them myself.

Of course the disciples couldn’t recognize Jesus! Don’t you think he would have looked different? After all, his humanity had been totally deformed by torture — unpleasant as it may be to think of — and then totally re-formed through the miracle of his resurrection.

But most of all, what this tells me is about the ever-changing yet always the same face of God and how he re-reveals himself to us each time we seek to know him in prayer and study. Each year our liturgy brings us back to the same situation, the same Scriptures, the same rituals. If we have grown, if we open our eyes and ears, these “same” things differ from year to year.  We are invited to deeper understanding and consequently to greater love and admiration.  This is part of God’s making all things new, just as Jesus told his disciples about the kingdom of heaven: “Every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Matthew 13:52) Though we read and hear the same stories over and over, we are continually enabled to find something new within the familiar.

The important thing is to put our questions to the only One who knows the answers. We have so many pat answers and certitude about so many things that we risk losing a sense of wonder in the face of an infinite Being. In the delusion of having figured everything out, we remain locked within that spiritual cave-tomb, never knowing the resurrection that makes all things new. Instead, we can look forward to an eternity of ever-increasing amazement .

Every year Easter can present us with a new understanding of what our life is about, what it is for. First, ask the questions. Next, listen for the answers with the “ears of your heart” that remain open to the wonder of Christ’s existence on this earth.

Behold, I Make All Things New!
(Revelation 21:5)