The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

This feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord can be a puzzling one for us to understand.  It’s an event we’ve heard about in Gospel readings, but it’s not something that we’ve ever seen.  So it’s hard, I think, for us to figure out.  If that’s true of us, we shouldn’t feel too bad: it’s clear that Peter, James and John, disciples who were clearly in Jesus’ “inner circle” didn’t get it either.  In fact, they were so frightened by it that they hardly knew what to say.  God’s glory can be frightening like that sometimes.  As they walked down the mountain, all they could talk about was what Jesus meant by rising from the dead.  Thankfully, though, we have the help of the Church’s developed theology which those chosen three did not have at their disposal.  So we can delve into the mystery of this Transfiguration, and in it perhaps, be transfigured ourselves.

The Transfiguration is a sign for us of three things: it’s a sign of who Jesus really is, a sign of what would happen in the paschal mystery, and a sign of what is to be for those who believe.

First, then, it is a sign of who Jesus really is.  We get three very beautiful clues to Jesus’ true identity here.  First, there is the transfiguration, or change, itself.  Jesus is transfigured, and his clothes become dazzling white.  He literally shines with the Glory of God.  This perhaps reminded the people of Jesus’ time of the way Moses’ face was said to shine after he came down from the mountain where he conversed with God.  It also reminds us of the way the figure who was “one like a son of man” shone in today’s first reading.  The transfiguration tells us that Jesus is no ordinary man, that the divinity the had from the beginning but set aside at his Incarnation, that divinity was ready to burst forth from him at any moment.  It did in today’s Gospel, and Peter, James and John were witnesses of it.  The second clue is the appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus.  This appearance linked Jesus with Israel’s past, Moses representing the Law and Elijah the Prophets.  His conversation with Moses and Elijah underscore that Jesus’ ministry in the world was part of God’s plan for our salvation.  The third clue is the voice of God.  “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” If there had been any doubt, it had to be gone by now.  Rarely does God speak in such a direct manner to his creation, but he did it here.  Jesus was his beloved Son, and Peter, James and John – and all of us too – would do well to listen to him.

Now all of this was important, because in the Gospel, from here on out, the Gospel story is going to unfold very quickly and lead Jesus to Calvary.  Jesus was going to suffer and die a terrible, tortuous and ignoble death.  But that kind of suffering wasn’t punishment, or a sign of God’s disfavor.  Indeed, it was a sign that Jesus is God’s beloved Son.  Though he will suffer for a time, God always intended to raise him up.  And so, if we, we who are God’s beloved children, if we have to suffer for a time, we too can know of God’s favor.  We too can know that God always intended our salvation, all the way back to the time of Moses and the prophets.  Jesus’ true identity is a source of joy for all of us that we are beloved and that those who listen to his beloved Son will inherit the glory that bursts forth from Jesus on the mountain.

Second, the Transfiguration is a sign of what would happen in the Paschal Mystery.  As I’ve said, from here on out, the message of the Gospel will always refer to the cross of Christ.  The incredible event of Jesus’ Transfiguration foreshadows the glory of the Resurrection.  It’s a peek at what Jesus would look like after he rose from the dead.  You may remember that the first witnesses of the Resurrection had a hard time recognizing Jesus.  That may be because he was transfigured by the Resurrection, and so today’s event is perhaps a foreshadowing of what that would be like.  Yes, Jesus would have to suffer and die, but his Resurrection and Ascension would be glorious, and would open the possibility of glory to all of us as well.

Third, the Transfiguration is a sign of what waits for us who believe.  The glory that we see in Jesus today is the glory that waits for all of us.  We have hope of the Resurrection, we have hope of an eternal home in heaven.  The Transfiguration shows us that this hope is ours, if we but listen to the one who is God’s beloved Son.  Sure, we come to that as those who don’t deserve that kind of glory.  We are in need of our own kinds of transfigurations.  We are in need of our sins being transfigured into faithfulness, of our failures being transfigured into joys, of our death being transfigured into everlasting life.  All of those transfigurations are accomplished in us when we but listen to God’s beloved Son.

It is important that we realize that, just as Peter, James and John had to come down from the mountain in today’s Gospel, so we too must come down the mountain of this celebration of our faith, into our daily lives, and transfigure our world into the true image of Jesus Christ.  We must transfigure the violence, hatred, and injustice that is so prevalent in our world into true peace, inclusion, love and justice that is the very image of God, the glory that longs to burst forth from us and every part of our world.

The Second Sunday of Lent: Yearning for Our True Home

Today’s readings

I think it’s very important for us to realize that we are not at home in this world, wherever we are.  We are always travelers until we reach heaven, which is our true home.  I remember on the last day of my dad’s life, almost ten years ago now, he kept looking at his watch and saying, “It’s almost time to go home.”  We kept telling him he couldn’t go home, because he was too sick.  But later that day when we were talking, we realized what he really meant.  He was on his way to his true home, our true home, that place we all want to go one day.

Jesus gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of that in today’s Gospel.  On seeing the vision, I think Peter realized that there was something like that going on here.  He wanted to build tents, to keep Moses and Elijah there and make that their home.  But he really was babbling, because, quite understandably, he didn’t know what to make of it all.

What they were getting, in a way, is a glimpse of heaven.  Jesus appearing with Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the epitome of Old Testament Prophets.  It’s Jesus himself who brings the Law to fulfillment, and Jesus himself who is the fulfillment of all the prophets’ messages.  They appeared in a dazzling vision that revealed what Jesus’ resurrected body would be like.  It was obviously different and glorious, and had the disciples stunned.

As they come down the mountain, Jesus tells them to keep the vision under wraps until he has risen from the dead.  That’s because no one, not even Peter, James and John, would understand what it was about until they had actually seen Jesus risen and glorified.  Then they could have that “aha!” moment and realize that there is something more than just this life here on earth.

So in these days of Lent, it is well for us to remember that there is more to life than just what we see here.  So the task is to live our lives like we’re going to heaven.  Because that’s what we want.  Yes, we will have to take up the cross to get there.  Yes, we will have to venture into unknown territory like Abram.  But if we ever want to get to the joys of heaven, we have to be willing to brave the unknown and endure the cross and go wherever it is God takes us.

Sadly, this year, God is taking me somewhere too.  My term as pastor is up this summer, and I had hoped to be reassigned here.  But last Saturday, Bishop Conlon called to ask me to take a new assignment.  I didn’t want to, and I was praying about it all last weekend, but when I remembered my Ordination promises and when I actually listened to my own words preaching last weekend, I knew my answer had to be yes.

So this June, I will become the new pastor of Saint Mary Immaculate Parish in Plainfield, which is the largest parish in our diocese, over five times bigger than Notre Dame.  I can hardly wrap my mind around that, so I would ask your prayers.  Transition may be God’s will, but it’s never easy.

This weekend, the diocese will invite my brother priests to apply to be pastor of Notre Dame, and in the coming weeks, Bishop Conlon and the personnel board will make decisions about our parish and the other openings in the diocese.  I have been assured that Notre Dame will be taken care of.  I will let you know when I hear of the appointment, but now would be a good time to begin praying for your new pastor too.

There will be time in the coming months for goodbyes and thanksgiving, but I want to assure you that being your pastor has been one of the greatest experiences of my life, and I’ll never forget you.  I am grateful for all that you have done for me, and all of your prayers for me each day.  Please be assured of mine for you.  Our prayer today could be the prayer of the Psalmist: “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.”

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

How do you picture Jesus? We’ve never seen him face to face, but we have definitely seen artwork depicting him. That artwork can be very inspiring. But that artwork can also give us a perhaps false, overly-familiar look at Jesus our God. I tend to think Peter, James and John also had a kind of familiar picture of their Jesus. Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity. We can be like that too. We’ve been taught to see Jesus as a friend, and so sometimes we forget that he is also our God. Or vice-versa. The truth is, of course, that he is both.

Today’s feast changes things for those disciples, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

The Transfiguration of the Lord 

Sometimes I think that, because of the limitedness of our minds, we accept a rather small view of Jesus. We think of him as a friend and brother, which is okay, but he is also our Lord and God. The disciples had this problem too, although they had a good excuse: they didn’t have two thousand years of Church history to guide them! So they were definitely familiar with the human side of Jesus: Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity. 

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created. 

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.” 

The Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

Sometimes I think that, because of the limitedness of our minds, we accept a rather small view of Jesus.  I think that was true for the disciples too, although they had a good excuse: they didn’t have two thousand years of Church history to guide them!  So they were definitely familiar with the human side of Jesus: Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher.  But they were always having trouble with his divinity.

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well.  If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now.  That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”  Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed.  While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place.  He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship.  If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity.  That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories.  Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation.  We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior.  No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Today’s readings

How do you picture Jesus? We’ve never seen him face to face, but we have seen artwork depicting him. That artwork can be very inspiring. But that artwork can also give us a false, overly-familiar look at Jesus our God. I tend to think Peter, James and John also had a kind of familiar picture of their Jesus. Over the time they had spent with him thus far, they had become close to him and saw him as a friend, a companion on the journey, and a great teacher. But they were always having trouble with his divinity.

Today’s feast changes all of that for them, and for us as well. If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, it’s gone now. That voice from the cloud is absolutely specific: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus is the Son of God and his divinity must be embraced and proclaimed. While it can be comfortable for us to have a picture of Jesus that is absolutely human, we must always keep in mind the Transfigured Christ, dazzling white, radiating glory, the lamp shining in a dark place. He is the Son of Man of whom Daniel speaks, and to him belongs dominion, glory, and kingship. If Jesus were only human, we would have no Savior, we would have no chance of touching divinity ourselves, that divinity for which we were created.

On the way to the mountain, the disciples came to know Jesus in his humanity, and on the way down, they came to know Jesus in his divinity. That trip down from the mountain took him to Calvary, and ultimately to the Resurrection, the glory of all glories. Christ is both human and divine, without any kind of division or separation. We must be ready to see both natures of our Jesus, so that we ourselves can transfigure our world with justice, compassion and mercy, in the divine image of our beautiful Savior. No matter what challenges may confront us or what obstacles may appear along the way, we must be encouraged to press on with the words of the Psalmist: “The Lord is king, the Most High over all the earth.”

The Second Sunday of Lent [B] – Children’s Mass

Today’s readings

This weekend’s Gospel is a little strange, I think, maybe a little hard to understand.  We have Peter, James and John go up with Jesus to the top of the mountain, where Jesus is changed in appearance.  He becomes radiant and his clothes become dazzling white, like the garment here on the rock in front of the altar – only more radiant.  Moses and Elijah are suddenly with him, and Peter, James and John are astounded.  They don’t know what to think.  And I think we don’t either!

For Jesus’ friends this story is a very special, defining moment.  They have seen Jesus do great things: heal the sick and raise the dead; and his words have been very inspiring.  There is a little bit of a movement behind Jesus now: the ministry is just getting started.  But right before this awesome sign on the mountain, he starts talking about how he is going to die.  And the disciples don’t want to hear it.  They’ve given everything to follow him, and now he’s doing this crazy talk about dying.

But up there on that mountain, they find out that he’s right.  That in order for Jesus to accomplish what he came to do, he’s going to have to die, and rise from the dead.  And the vision on the mountain gives them a sneak-peek at what that’s going to look like.  They get to see Jesus as he is going to look right after he rises from the dead.

Jesus didn’t just come into the world to say nice things and do mighty deeds.  Those are great, but that wasn’t his whole mission in the world.  He didn’t come to make everyone feel good about themselves and go with the flow.  He came to turn the world upside-down and to make everything new.  There was going to be lots of change that would make people uncomfortable and even mad.  And then they would kill him, and then he would rise from the dead.  That’s how it had to work, that’s how he had to pay the price for our many sins so that we could live forever with God.

The other great story we have in our readings today comes from the first reading.  Abraham and Sarah have been praying to have a child all their lives.  Now they are very, very old, and God promises to fulfill his plans for Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.  And so, Sarah, in her old age, gives birth to a son, Isaac.  They are of course thrilled at how blessed they are.  But now, with Isaac growing up, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to prove his faithfulness to God: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to thelandofMoriah.  There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”  So now Abraham has to weigh his trust in God’s promises against the loss of his only beloved son.

Now again, we know the end of the story: God did not allow Abraham to harm Isaac, but instead provided a lamb for the sacrifice himself.  It wasn’t that Abraham had to prove his faithfulness to God; instead God turns it all around and proves his faithfulness to Abraham – and us!

There is a whole part of this story that was cut out in the reading we have today.  What we miss is the conversation between Abraham and Isaac on the way, which, as you might imagine, is a pretty sad conversation.  At one point, Isaac, who is carrying the wood and the torch for the sacrifice asks his father, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”  Can you imagine how heartbroken Abraham was in that moment?  But he answered out of his faith in God: “Son, God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.”

And Abraham was absolutely right – God himself will provide the lamb for the sacrifice – the perfect lamb, Jesus Christ.  This whole reading is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and our salvation.  God provided the Lamb – his only Son – to die for us, to pay the price for our sins, to lead us to everlasting life.

The world never looked so bright as it did on that Transfiguration day on top of the mountain.  But that’s not the last glimpse of that kind of light.  That light was just a tiny sample of the glory of the Resurrection.  And the Resurrection was just a sample of the Glory of God’s heavenly kingdom, for which we all yearn with eager anticipation as we muddle through the pains and sorrows of this present life.

This is a chance for us all to see in Christ what Peter, James and John did.  It’s a chance to see what Abraham did up on that mountain.  God did what he asked Abraham to do – he offered his only Son.  To take all our sins away.