Saturday, February 21, 2009

Teacher, It Is Good For Us To Be Here!

Today’s First Reading:

What is faith?

Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we cannot see. It is by faith that we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command. It is by faith that Abel offered to God a sacrifice more pleasing than his brother Cain’s was. It was by faith that Noah, after being warned about what was about to happen, built an ark to save his family. By trusting God he inherited the righteousness that comes from faith. (Hebrews 11:1-7)

Today’s gospel:

Six days later, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him to the summit of a high mountain. There, he was transfigured in their sight. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than any bleach could make them. Then Elijah and Moses appeared, conversing with Jesus.

Peter then said to Jesus, “Teacher, it is good for us to be here! Let us put up three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He really didn’t know what to say, because he and the others were terrified.

Then a cloud appeared, and overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what “rising from the dead” meant.

Then they asked Jesus, “Why do the scribes and teachers of the law say that Elijah must come before the Messiah comes?

Jesus answered: “Elijah will indeed come first, and set things in order. Then, why is it written that the Son of Man must suffer greatly, and be treated with contempt? Yet, I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, just as it was written about him.”

Sisters and brothers, the First Reading today reminds us that there are spiritual realities that we cannot fully understand, and we have to “take them on faith.” Mark’s source for his gospel was his mentor, Saint Peter, and there is something in this reading that suggests that it was a genuine experience. Mark writes, “He really did not know what to say, because he and the others were terrified.”

Even in our own experience, there are events that put our memories and our mental capacity to the test. It is not easy to describe events that occurred early in our own life. “Did that really happen? Did I just imagine it? Am I remembering it as it happened? “In life, memory, imagination, and symbolic representations of truths beyond our ken all come together. What we remember may be “enlightened” by what we wish had happened. Or, in other cases, it may be “darkened” by imagining that what occurred was worse that it actually was.

In what category do we put what Peter told Mark about what happened on the Mount of Transfiguration? The first element in answering that question is the fact that it comes directly, in Mark’s gospel, after the readings of yesterday and the day before. Those readings were questions about the identity of Jesus. Today’s reading is the answer: He is “the Father’s Son, the Beloved.”

We are in the presence of a great mystery, and mere words are inadequate to express it. Peter was overwhelmed with awe, and wished that the experience would never end. He suggested the building of three shelters to house the Lawgiver, the Prophet and the Messiah.

But this is merely a foretaste of the reality yet to come. Peter, James and John will first experience the Agony in the Garden. Peter will deny Jesus in Pilate’s Courtyard. James will flee. Only John will be there at the foot of the Cross of Jesus with Mary, His Mother. And eventually, they will see him rise into the heavens from another mountain top, where they will receive their mission to “Go out to all the nations and preach the good news.”

Saint Peter Damien, whose feast is celebrated today, reminds us of the effects of the Transfiguration in us:
Something is still needed before we can complete the payment of our debt, and deserve admission to the treasure-house of the eternal King. You ask what this is: the answer presents itself to me at once: obedience, love, joy, peace, patience and the other virtues. But I wish to put it more simply, so that it may stay more firmly in your mind. The words of the Apostle remind us: We bear in our bodies the death of the Lord Jesus”, so that eventually, we might share in his resurrection.” The human mind can never be utterly empty, but must be concerned always with some sort of love. Best it be surrounded completely by the wall of virtue, so that we might be carried beyond our surroundings, and above ourselves.” In brief, that we might be transfigured by our love for Christ, just as He was transfigured on the mountain, in the presence of his beloved disciples.

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