Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Reason for Your Hope

Patron Feast
of the Companions of the Transfigured Christ
Sunday, 3 August 2008


Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14
2 Peter 1:16-19
Matthew 17:1-9

“The Companions of the Transfigured Christ”:

ever since I learned the name of your community, I’ve been struggling with that name because of a long-standing presumption or prejudice on my part concerning this great mystery which unfolded on Mount Tabor. I’d like to share with you today my spiritual dilemma and how you have in a sense helped me to work through it and grow in my appreciation of the Mystery of Jesus’ Transfiguration and its importance for our life of faith. I hope these thoughts may be of help to all of you too.

Very simply, it boils down to this: For some reason and for as much of my life as I can remember, whenever I read the Gospel account of the Transfiguration or meditate on that mystery, even in conjunction with the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, Peter dominates the scene:

“Lord, how good that we are here! With your permission I will erect three booths here, one of you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Luke adds in parenthesis: “(He did not really know what he was saying.)”

What then is unique or special about being a companion of the TRANSFIGURED Christ, as opposed to being a companion of the Risen Christ, the Crucified Christ, the Adolescent Christ or the Infant King? If we focus on Peter’s offer to set up tents and stay on the mountain, it would almost seem as though the Transfiguration would have to be classed as an experience without application in the Christian life, as the one mystery in the life of our Lord and Savior which is not open to a discipleship experience. That, however, cannot be!

But it is not only Peter’s confused reaction to what he saw on Mt. Tabor which causes me to pose the question. We need only look a little further and ask why Jesus said what He did to them as recorded in the closing words of today’s Gospel:

“As they were coming down the mountainside Jesus commanded them, ‘Do not tell anyone of the vision until the Son of Man rises from the dead’.”

What kind of an experience did the first companions of the Transfigured Christ, Peter, James and John, have? We know that Jesus wanted to prepare the inner circle of His Apostles to endure the scandal of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection, but why did He command their silence? Moving on to our day and to us who live in the glory of Easter, what possible role can this mountaintop experience play in our lives or in the life of any Christian?

The Infancy of Jesus, His Adolescence, His Adulthood, His Passion and Death, His Resurrection and Ascension are all events that have something of the journey about them. We can identify with them to a greater or lesser degree and apply them to our life’s experience. They work as models to be imitated: the Child Jesus within the Holy Family is an easy one. The Adolescent Christ in the midst of the elders in the Temple may not be quite as easy, but really offers all sorts of hope to young people and to the parents and teachers who must deal with youth. All the rest of Jesus’ life-and-teaching is rich in impulses for the lives of Christians great and humble.
The Transfiguration is different. What sort of ground rules does this event provide me for living the Christian life? Where do I begin and where can I go with the Transfigured Christ – He accompanying me and I being His companion? What do I carry with me from this mountaintop experience?

The Second Reading for the Feast is the key to what discipleship with the Transfigured Christ is all about. St. Peter, reflecting on his mountaintop experience, puts it very clearly:

“We ourselves heard this said from heaven while we were in his company on the holy mountain. Besides, we possess the prophetic message as something altogether reliable. Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

What did these three chosen men hear said from heaven? “This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”

What are they and we to do? “Keep your attention closely fixed on it, as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

“This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.” The Transfiguration and the words of God the Father spoken from heaven as set out by St. Peter in his second letter tell us that the focus of our lives is and must be Jesus, true God and true Man, Son of God and Son of Mary.

Since the glorious day of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of the Father the question or real issue to be faced by any generation of Christians is not and never has been whether we live in the best of all times or the worst of all times. We are not and cannot be concerned with which way the wind is blowing or how the stock market is doing. No matter how dark the night, Christians have always and must always focus on the lamp of truth whose unwavering flame burns within the community of the Catholic Church. We wait in joyful hope for the Dawn from on high which is about to break upon us.

This is the insight; this is the wisdom to be found at the core, I believe, of the intuition which inspired your choice of a name, “The Companions of the Transfigured Christ”. It is not a question of pretending to be latter day Peters, James or Johns – the chosen ones among the elect. Moreover, Jesus admonishes you as He did those chosen ones that your message is not to be that of shouting out, “We’ve been to the mountaintop!” No, it would seem to me that your mission must be your focus as Peter would have it. Through your retreat and prayer apostolate, as well as through your work in the world, you can do no more and nothing better than take your cue from the lamp of truth burning within Christ’s Church, while living in joyful hope for the Lord’s return in glory. In the midst of darkness and confusion you are fixed on the lamp light until the Dawn breaks through.

In you people must discern a witness countering the prevailing distraction and consumerism of Blackberries, clothes and vehicles. While keeping what you saw on the mountaintop secret, you must be ready to respond to all who are drawn by your witness and explain to them when they ask the reason for your hope.

The Fathers of the Church in their commentary and in their preaching on the Mystery of the Transfiguration mention not only the insight gained by the three apostles from this manifestation. They point out that the Transfiguration was also a revelation to Moses and Elijah. On Mt. Tabor Moses and Elijah learned that the longed-for Messiah, the Savior had come. The Transfiguration was as prophecy and promise for Moses and Elijah what the descent among the dead was as reality and accomplishment for Adam and Eve on that first Holy Saturday. Not only did Moses and Elijah come to assure Peter, James and John that Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets, but Jesus had summoned them too to hear those words from His Father in heaven: “This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.” The Transfiguration was for the benefit of the living but also for the dead who had in this life fixed their gaze on the lamp of truth foreshadowing the Dawn from on high.

Today is your day for the renewal of vows and promises; you recall the covenant relationship which binds you to each other and to the Father’s beloved Son. When Peter awoke to see the face of Jesus “dazzling as the sun, his clothes as radiant as light”… and when he recognized that Moses and Elijah were attending to Jesus, Peter was carried away by emotion. His emotion was premature. The Father spoke from heaven and all three men fell forward on the ground overcome with fear. Jesus put everything back into perspective and admonished them to silence until the Resurrection. “This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”

In a sense, the Transfiguration is to the life of Jesus what the Creed is to the Christian Life: it’s all right there. Confessing yourselves before the Church and the World as Companions of the Transfigured Christ you are making, by the grace of God, a complete statement, a statement full of hope and expectation. Never doubt that you can do no better, nor offer the world around you any more.

The other day waiting in the Atlanta Airport, I watched a young man as he with more than evident pleasure unpacked some new electronic gadget he had purchased, showing it to his girlfriend. The man had dignity, the man had poise, and he unpacked the thing and showed it to her with absolute coolness and at the same time with unbounded pride radiating from his face and from every bone of his body. I don’t know what the gadget was or even if he had the slightest guarantee that it would work when he got it home and plugged it in, but it would be hard from his body language to imagine a happier man. I don’t know what he said to the young woman as I was out of ear shot, but it didn’t seem as though his lips were moving much at all.
Rooted, grounded in the Mystery of the Transfiguration you are and have much more than that young man had with girlfriend and gadget. The silence Jesus imposed on Peter, James and John on their way down from Mt. Tabor certainly didn’t keep them from radiating wonder, awe, boundless joy, fervor or whatever else positive and life-filling you’d like to name. They had seen and heard it all in a moment and were still in the company of the Father’s beloved Son, born of Mary. Why in the world would you want to say to anyone “I’ve been to the mountaintop” when everyone else is dying either to ask you the reason for the hope you radiate or simply to join you and your experience?

What you are as “Companions of the Transfigured Christ” may someday soon find its definitive configuration within the constellation of the Church. There you will have a privileged position for gazing upon the lamp of truth and waiting for the Dawn from on high to break upon us. Be of good courage! As the Lord has called you to His mountaintop so He will lead you as He led Peter, James and John. Go in His company, knowing that He is all you need for joy.