The former things have passed away… Behold, I make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5)

Archive for August, 2012

Evangelize Yourself First (Part 1)

[The following is excerpted from a talk I gave last Saturday on the New Evangelization. Since I’m a monk and not a missionary, I focus mainly on personal conversion and good example as fundamental to witnessing to Christ. What is presented here is not exactly how I actually gave it—I’m a little freer with the prepared text when I’m “live”—but it’s close enough.]

There’s a book of the New Testament that you probably hardly ever hear at Mass.  Maybe you don’t read it very much yourself.  It’s the shortest of St Paul’s letters and the least doctrinal: the Letter to Philemon.  But there’s one verse in it that perfectly sums up the essence of the New Evangelization. It is this: “I pray that the sharing of your faith may promote the knowledge of all the good that is ours in Christ.” So today we will reflect on “all the good that is ours in Christ” and how we can prepare ourselves to share our faith and promote the knowledge of the Gospel.

We have to start with understanding what we have already received, so we know just what it is that we are called to share with others.  But to share our faith doesn’t necessarily mean we have to stand up in front of crowds and preach the Gospel to them.  Remember what St Francis said when he sent his brothers out to evangelize the region: “Preach the Gospel, and, if necessary, use words.”  By this he meant that actions speak louder than words.  The example of a faithful and devout Christian life will convince more people about the truth of the Gospel than many homilies and speeches.  So I will mainly be talking about evangelization by personal conversion and example.

We don’t have to think that the whole burden for saving souls is placed on us.  We have an important role to play, but it is the Lord and his grace that make things happen, that change hearts and minds from the inside, leading people to repentance and conversion.  Our task is simply to offer the invitation, in one way or another.  Someone recently wrote this about our role and the Lord’s: “Fish are caught, then they’re cleaned. We’re fishers of men. It’s our job to catch them; Jesus will clean them.”  So Jesus does the hard part; we just have to attract them by our good example.

I think that much of “the good that is ours in Christ” can be fairly summed up in the first chapter of St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

First of all, what we have to share is the awareness of how much God has blessed us in Christ—St Paul says, “with every spiritual blessing from Heaven.”  We were chosen in Christ to be children of God the Father, a free gift of his grace.  But this gift came at a great price.  For St Paul says that we have “redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins.” We became children of God by Spirit and water and blood. So we should not take lightly the gift of faith and of all the means of sanctification that the Church offers to us.  All the graces of God, even though they are free gifts, bring with them a certain responsibility.  It is precisely because they are free that we have a responsibility: we didn’t earn them, we don’t deserve them, and so if there are others who haven’t yet received them, we ought to offer them the opportunity to receive these graces as well.

We are the ones, St Paul says, “who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in [Christ], were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the Guarantee of our inheritance…”

Having thus received the sacraments of initiation and the message of the Gospel, we need to mature in our faith.  These are the things Paul says we still need:

–a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of God
–the enlightenment of our hearts
–knowledge of that to which He has called us, our heavenly inheritance
–experience of the immeasurably great power of the Lord at work in us who believe

If we are going to receive these greater gifts, we have to be serious about living our faith.  When our faith is the primary thing in our lives, and when in bears fruit in our joy and peace and hope and sense of fulfillment, then others will notice this and ask us the reason for our joy and hope.  That is when we can start telling them that the Lord Jesus makes all things new, through all He has given us in his holy Catholic Church.

There’s an important element we should consider when attempting to deepen our faith so that we can have more to share with others.  It is a point made by Archbishop Arenas, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.  He notes that in the Book of Revelation, Christ says this to the people of one of the local churches: “You have abandoned the love you had at first” (2:4).  According to the archbishop, that verse offers a key to understanding the New Evangelization.  He writes that the New Evangelization “does not consist in proclaiming a new message different from the one that has always existed, nor in merely using new strategies or boisterous methods to attract people. It is in fact a question of returning to the ‘first love’ mentioned to us in the Book of Revelation.”

So this is what you need to reflect on: Try to remember the time when you were most fervent in your love for God.  Perhaps there was a special grace when you first heard the Gospel message, or when you first embraced it freely and personally.  Maybe there was a time when the Lord did something very special for you, or when you felt his presence strongly, or when He answered an urgent prayer of yours.  You need to recall your “first love” for the Lord, as a married couple might like to relive the times when they first fell in love.

This will be for you several things.  It will be a moment of gratitude. It may also be a call to repentance if, as the Lord said in the Book of Revelation, you have fallen away from your first love.  And then it will be a moment of decision, of renewed conversion, and as your love and faith are renewed, you will spontaneously desire to share this with those you love and with any others who may be interested.

Many fallen-away Catholics are such because they have “abandoned their first love,” have wandered off in other directions, or their faith has been weakened through various trials or even the pleasures of life and the seductions of the world.  But God always offers the grace of recovering our first love, and those who do so find their lives renewed with hope and with joy.  So if you are reaching out to fallen-away Catholics, try to get them to remember a time when their faith was alive, when they felt God’s love for them and were able to love Him in return.  Let them know that it is possible not only to recover that first love, but also to deepen it so that their faith permeates every aspect of their lives.  This is when they can truly be transformed by the power of the truth and love of the Lord.

The Bible gives us some important counsels on how to live our life in Christ once we have recovered our first love.  If we live in God’s grace and peace and truth, then it will radiate around us and bring others to Him, even without our explicit preaching.  A Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, once said: “Acquire inner peace, and a thousand souls around you will be saved.”  To live the Gospel and the whole of the Catholic faith is to acquire this inner peace, for it gives us a clear consciences and opens our souls to receive all that God in his goodness wants to give to us.

There’s a whole program of living the sort of life that will attract others to Christ, and St Paul outlines it in chapter 12 the Letter to the Romans. One of the main points, which in a sense encompasses all the others, is this: “Do not be conformed to this world [or, to this age] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” that you may know and do the will of God.

We do not live in a Christian society; the values of this world are not the values of Christ.  It has been that way to some extent for the last 2000 years, but today it seems to be worse than ever.  So if we are not to be conformed to the mentality of this world, we have to receive the mind of Christ, we have to turn to the teaching of the Gospel and of the Church, so that we can know and do the will of God in the midst of all the confusion in this world about what to believe and how to act.  We have no excuse if we do not know.  The Lord, through his Church, is holding out the answers to us.

I remember something that happened a number of years ago, which points out the value of not being conformed to the mentality of this world but rather standing up for what we know is right. It may be a relatively small point in itself, but it ended up bearing much good fruit.  I used to live in a monastery about 150 miles north of here, and for a while I was the guest master, the one who receives people coming on retreat and takes care of them.

Once a very attractive woman, a nominal Catholic, came on retreat.  She was a successful corporate attorney, but she had taken some time off to make a sort of generic spiritual retreat at various places in California, including New Age, Buddhist, and other non-Christian places.  I guess it was only by God’s providence that our monastery somehow got on her itinerary.

Anyway, she arrived on a hot summer day wearing a lot less than she should have been.  I could have thought to myself, “Well, this is just the way of the world; many women dress immodestly these days” and just left it at that.  But the Bible says not to be conformed to the ways of the world, and since she was there in our monastery, I said to her: “Before you come down to church for services, make sure you put some clothes on.”

She of course became indignant at this, but what happened was that it sparked a debate on all sorts of issues in the Catholic Church.  She had many ideas not in keeping with the Church’s teaching, and she wanted to change the Church.   We corresponded for a while, and she came back for more retreats, and the Holy Spirit started to reach her a little at a time.

Well, to make a long story very short, she recently professed her solemn vows in a traditional Catholic community of cloistered nuns, and she loves it!  Every time she writes to me she thanks me for helping to set her straight and redirect her from the ways of the world to the truth of the Gospel and the Church.  It all started when I took a little risk and told her she was not dressed appropriately for church.  It was a very simple way to witness to the truth and to basic Christian morality, yet it planted the seed of a religious vocation, which is bearing much fruit and will give perpetual glory to God, by winning many souls for the Kingdom through the prayer and sacrifice of her consecrated life.

There are other issues, especially moral issues, about which Christians have to be careful about not conforming to the ways this world and this present age.  Pope Benedict reminds us that “it cannot be assumed that all Catholic citizens think in harmony with the Church’s teachings on today’s key ethical questions.”  So we have to align our minds and hearts with the Holy Spirit, who is leading and preserving the magisterium of the Church in the fullness of the truth.

To be continued…

A Memory for Wonders

I went on retreat a few weeks ago (now that I’m posting only once a week, I don’t have to tell you when I’m gone!), and there I read an interesting book entitled A Memory for Wonders.  It is the autobiography of a woman who was raised to be a militant atheist and Communist, but who ended up as the abbess of a Poor Clare monastery!  Her name is Mother Veronica Namoyo Le Goulard.

There are a number of wonders recounted in this book, mainly having to do with the way God personally intervened in her life to teach her things that her parents refused to teach, things she couldn’t have learned any other way.  She had lived with her grandparents for a short time while still an infant, and they secretly got her baptized, so her soul was open to the influx of grace.  She was far too young to have learned anything from them, but the Lord was now more free to work in her soul.

Her parents never even told her there was a God or anything about Him (and later, as she grew up, they only fed her with a hateful anti-Catholicism).  But God began to work on her little soul quite early.  She describes this experience when she was just a child in Morocco after several days of a fierce, burning sandstorm:

“Suddenly the sky over me and in some way around me, as I was on a small hillock, was all afire.  The glory of the sunset was perhaps reflected in the myriads of particles of powdery sand still floating in the air.  It was like an immense, feathery flame all scarlet from one pole to the other, with touches of crimson and, on one side, of deep purple. I was caught in limitless beauty and radiant, singing splendor.  And at the same time, with a cry of wonder in my heart, I knew that all this beauty was created, I knew God.  This was the word that my parents had hidden from me.  I had nothing to name him: God, Dieu, Allah or Yahweh, as he is named by human lips, but my heart knew that all was from him and him and him alone, and that he was such that I could address him and enter into relationship with him through prayer.  I made my first act of adoration.”

She said that subsequently she somehow decided to kneel down by her bed to pray to pray at night, and then: “I had never seen anyone kneel down in worship, but there was an instinct telling me to do so and, in the morning, to offer the day to the unnamed One who had created me and all beauty, all goodness, all being in the universe.”

The Lord inspired her even more directly than that, with infused knowledge.  Her parents never allowed her to see any religious writings or pictures, but once when she was looking through a gift catalog, she saw a picture with three crucifixes for sale.  She was drawn irresistibly to the Man on the Cross, but she did not know his name.  She writes: “But while I was silently looking at these strange pictures, I suddenly knew: this man on the cross had been killed, and it was for all men, women and children.  It was for me.  He was a man, but he was also the Son of God whom I was already adoring as Creator and loving, universal presence. He was God.  I would not have formulated this in one sentence as I do now, but all this was gathered in one insight and clearly formed even with words in my mind, contrary to my first ‘sunset’ religious experience, which had been purely intuitive.  It is very difficult to explain, because this complex theology was taught to me in a moment and looked perfectly simple and as evident as a first principle, given as absolute truth.”  She ripped out that picture and kept it in a secret place, and would often return to gaze upon it and kiss it.

On another occasion, she saw a picture of Mary, not knowing who she was, but then suddenly: “Something fills my heart, and again I know: she is the Mother of the Crucified One. I still do not know his name, but now I know hers; it is written [on the picture]: Mary! … I repeated, ‘Mary is his Mother.’ Like everything that I knew this way, it seemed evident, normal, and matter-of-fact. I did not wonder how a woman could be Mother of God. It looked perfectly sure and fitting.”  Such were the ways the Lord taught this chosen child.

As she grew up and received a secular education and more Communist indoctrination, a number of other experiences still took her more deeply into her relationship with God, which was always more or less hidden, though she did have a couple of Catholic friends.  The Lord was preparing her for a total consecration to Him in religious life, but this was not yet in her thoughts.  She had just had a pleasant and youthful romantic experience, and without making a whole lot of it, assumed that she was destined for marriage as most people are.  But while vacationing in France, she went to Lourdes, still not knowing very much about the Catholic faith. Here’s what happened there:

“In the recurrent murmur of the rosary, I looked up again at the white shape in the rock hole [i.e., the statue of Our Lady in the grotto] and tried to repeat the unfamiliar words of the Ave Maria (Hail Mary).  Suddenly Mary spoke very distinctly in my heart a few perfectly clear words: ‘You are not meant to marry.’

“I was astounded… Even when I heard, or, rather, received these words in my heart, the idea of religious life did not come to my mind; it was too far from my world.  But I understood perfectly that our Lady had just forbidden me not only marriage but also, and even more, any kind of complaisance for whoever would pretend to love me.  A whole area of life, of pleasure, of experience, intimacy and fruitfulness was suddenly and forever closed to me.  I was very conscious of the loss; but something rose in me: a movement of love and trust.  My response was wordless and total.  There at the feet of the Virgin and consciously into her hands, I surrendered myself to the Lord who was claiming my life.  The impression was very strong and left no room for doubt… It was done.”

I’ll leave it to you to discover the rest of her story, which is a unique testimony to the power of and love of God, and an insight into his mysterious ways.

It’s a good book, and all the more so since it is true.  People today may sometimes wonder where God is and what He is doing in this world that seems to live without reference to Him.  Yet such testimonies of the wonders He can and does work ought to be an encouragement to seek and to trust this mysterious Man on the Cross, this “One who had created me and all beauty, all goodness, all being in the universe.”

Celebrating Our Mother and the Meaning of Our Lives

[This is a homily I gave on the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God, ten years agoThanks be to God, all his mysteries are timeless!]

Why are we going through all of this trouble today, this ritual and ceremony with flowers and incense and candles and song and vestments and all the rest?  To the whole world, this is just another day, but in this little space, it has been transformed into a great and holy celebration.  What we’re celebrating is our Mother!   Now, if something glorious and miraculous happened to your own mother, you would certainly be filled with joy and want to share in that wonderful thing. And when other people learned about what great things God had done for your mother, you would be so proud, and you would say, “That’s my mother!”

Well, it’s our Mother that we’re celebrating today.  We’re celebrating the great things that God has done in her.  But it’s not just our Mother that we’re celebrating.  We’re celebrating the ultimate meaning of our lives and our eternal destiny in the Kingdom to come—that’s the profundity of the mystery of the dormition and assumption of the Mother of God.  It’s not just for her glory that we’re doing this—of course, it is to a certain extent, and we should be glad for all that God has done in her life and all that she does for us, through her intercession and her maternal protection and presence in our lives—but it still goes beyond that.  There’s a mystery of our salvation that’s being expressed here in the dormition and bodily assumption of the Mother of God.

Sometimes when I give retreat talks on subjects that relate to this, I ask, “What is it that confirms Christ’s promises to us about everlasting life and the resurrection of the dead that we say in the Creed?”  And nobody ever gets it!  They sit there, scratching their heads, and come up with some far-fetched replies to this.  But this mystery is the answer: the fact that Christ has raised up his Mother, body and soul, and glorified her in Heaven, proves to us that He’s good for his word!   For Himself, He rose from the dead by his own power.  He had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again.  But Mary did not, and we do not: we can’t raise ourselves up from the dead.  Now the Lord told us that this resurrection is something that we can expect, too, and that should be enough for us.  But the Lord gives us a little more: Not only am I going to tell you that I’m going to do this for you, I’m going to start it off. I’m going to give you an example.  I’m going to do it for one of you, and you will see that this is what is meant for all of you.

Thus Our Lady, in her own being, in her own state of glory and perfection before the face of God in Heaven, is what God is telling us we are going to be—that what she is, as the icon, the image of the Bride, of the Church of Christ, is something that we are to share in.  All this is something that God has done out of his everlasting love for us.  We see, in the Letter to the Philippians today, the passage about the Incarnation, about the self-emptying of Christ: his descent into this world.  He, being in the form of God, came to us in the form of man, literally, “in the form of a slave.”  He became one of us.  He came down so that Mary, and we with her, could go up.  As the fathers say, “God became man so that we can become like God.”  So this mystery of Christ’s self-emptying and descent unto suffering and death, is the sine qua non of our exaltation, of our going up to Heaven where He has been from all eternity.  That is why this reading from St Paul is chosen, to show that the descent of Christ and his subsequent exaltation is the foundation for the ascension, the resurrection, the glorification of each one of us, and in a special way of Our Lady, because she has gone before us as the witness to everything that God is going to do with us, and the manifestation of it in her own person.

So what are we to do now?  We have this mystery placed before us; it looks so wonderful, and it is, and it should inspire us with much hope and motivation to hear the word of God and keep it.  What is sometimes recommended, for our living the mystery and being faithful to God, is the imitation of Christ and his Mother, in their holiness of life.  Now, I don’t much like the term “imitation,” and neither did the fathers, because “imitation” sounds too much like a sort of mimicking or external reproducing of words and actions.  But literally that’s impossible, simply because we can’t do and say everything that Christ and Our Lady did, and we’re in a completely different historical and cultural context, and we have different and unique personalities and temperaments and capacities and life histories, which have an effect on the way we think and act.  So the fathers, rather than speak of imitation, speak more of participation, of communion, of transfiguration.

It’s not so much we see this model out there that we try to imitate, but we enter into a personal communion with God, and also a personal relationship with Our Lady, and through that personal communion the face of Christ shines through us and transforms our thoughts and words and actions.  That’s something different than just trying to put our feet in his footsteps.  He goes into us and changes us and then it’s not imitation any more: it’s participation, it’s communion, it’s transfiguration.  It is sharing the life of Christ, like his Mother did.  That’s the important thing. It’s better to be like the Mother of God, let her guide us, and let the Holy Spirit change us from within, than simply to sing praises.  The praises are one way of manifesting something that’s already happened, something that’s already real inside of us.

I remember when I was getting ready for my ordination to the priesthood, and I’d chosen the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady as the date for my ordination.  I was already getting holy cards made up—an icon of Our Lady.  But at the last minute, the Bishop called up and said, “I can’t do it on that day; we’ll do it next week, on the feast of the Cross!”  I felt like, “What! After all this?”  I really wanted to do something for Our Lady, I really wanted it to be a Marian event because of my devotion to her, and I wanted to be ordained on her feast day—and all of a sudden the Bishop says, “Oh, I forgot, I have to cut the ribbon at this new parish…”  It was over: no ordination on the feast of Our Lady.   So I remember talking to Fr. Boniface, kind of grumbling about it, and he said, “Rather than grumble about not having your ordination on the feast of Our Lady, why don’t you just be like Our Lady, and just say ‘yes’ to God, and do his will?”  He didn’t mince words about stuff like that, but it was the truth.  It’s like it says in the beginning of the epistle of St Paul:  it’s better to have the mind of Christ in you.  So he was telling me to have the mind of Our Lady in me, live in her spirit, and don’t just do external things, saying you think you’ll give her honor by being ordained on her feast day when she says “I want you to do the will of God and make a little sacrifice.”

So that’s the communion with God and the relationship with Our Lady that we want to have, that expresses itself in a new way of living, a new way of perceiving, thinking, and feeling, as members of the Body of Christ.  Then things will start to change; then our praises of Our Lady will have more meaning and won’t be just an external thing, but will really be an expression of a communion that already exists.  This is the kinonia that the fathers speak about and that the liturgy speaks about; it’s a real participation.   In the Second Letter of St Peter he says, “You become partakers of the divine nature,” and that’s what we do in a special way at Holy Communion.   We talk about one of the fruits of the Eucharist as being kinonia or communion in the Holy Spirit.  Some of the translations are bad, they say things like “fellowship” with the Holy Spirit, but that brings to mind a sort of back-slapping camaraderie—but we’re not buddies with the Holy Spirit!  We are in a deep and profound, mystical communion in love and faith with the Holy Spirit.  This is what happens when we worthily receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

So let this feast be a time of both the joyful praise of Our Lady and of all God has done in her and through her for us, but also a time of reflection on just what is our relationship with God: to what extent are we willing to give ourselves over to that participation in his life, allowing Him to take over our lives, and make something new out of us?   St. Paul said, “He will transform these lowly bodies of ours, and make them like his glorious Body.”  That’s what He did for the Mother of God; that’s what He wants to do for us.  But it’s not automatic; we don’t line up in single file at the last day and receive our glorious bodies like ticket stubs at a movie theater—“here’s yours; ‘Admit One’.”   No; there’s something that has to be real, a change in us, so that God can recognize Himself in us and say, “You belong to MeMy Spirit is in you, and I see that you are changed, that you have surrendered yourself to Me,” as Our Lady did.

So let us walk with her, and keep our eyes on the vision of this heavenly glory.  She is already in the New Jerusalem.  Just like it says in the Book of Revelation about the new Jerusalem, she is gleaming, shining, with the glory of God that already penetrates her body and soul.  Everything has been accomplished in her, and we, as her children, are in this pilgrimage on our way to that glory, step by step through that ascetical, sacramental, and mystical life of the Church, of our vocation, our interior relationship with God.  Our lives should move in that direction of communion, of participation, of letting Christ live in us, so that we will come one day to the gates of Heaven, to that glorious kingdom where the Mother of God and all the righteous will be standing, transformed, in this eternal, loving, living communion with God forever—which is his will for us from the very beginning.  Let us realize that now, today, God is opening the gate of the Kingdom and saying, “Come, my beloved; I invite you to share this life, this joy, this transformed existence for all eternity which I, in my everlasting love, give to you.”

The Light and the Voice

[This is a homily for the feast of Our Lord’s transfiguration, which I gave in 2003.]

Our Lord Jesus Christ was transfigured, the Gospel [Mt. 17:1-9] says, “six days later.”  Six days later than what?  It was six days later than Peter’s confession of faith.  It’s important to see the connection here, because there was a great revelation on Mt. Tabor of who Jesus is— and six days before, He had asked them, “Who do you say that I am?”

Peter came up with the right answer, but even he, as when he was on Mt. Tabor, “didn’t know what he was saying”—because when he saw who Jesus really was, that was another story! That was the revelation greater than simply something that came to him intuitively or as an inspiration from God.  So, six days after the question was raised, “Who am I?” He showed them who He was, on Mt. Tabor.

Now, it’s also significant that it was Mount Tabor where this revelation took place.  It says:  “He took them up a high mountain apart.”  Now, in practically all religions, mountains are sacred places, not only because of the great strength and majesty and glory that a mountain has just by its sheer magnitude, but by the fact that it’s high, that it comes close to the sky, where God dwells (so it was thought), so that a mountain is the closest place on earth to heaven.  And so on mountain tops, theophanies happen: God manifests Himself.

We see it in our own Scriptures, in the Old and New Testaments: Mt. Sinai, where God revealed Himself to Moses, and also to Elijah.  And so, here we have Mt. Tabor, a place where the disciples were going to witness this manifestation of God.  They had to go up a mountain, a sacred place that was close to God.

It’s interesting, too, that Moses and Elijah, who had seen these mountaintop theophanies, appeared with Christ on the mountain, to the disciples—and that was a message for them.  It was not merely that Moses and Elijah were there as representatives of the Law and the Prophets, which were fulfilled in Christ, though that’s certainly true, but it’s also telling the disciples, “Look: God appeared to Moses on a mountain.  God appeared to Elijah on a mountain.  God is appearing to you on a mountain, through the Lord Jesus Christ!  And Moses and Elijah are there to testify to that,  to say, ‘Yes: the same God that appeared to us on a mountain, is now appearing to you on a mountain—shining through the face of Christ.’”

There’s something else interesting that happened.  I’ve probably read this passage dozens of times in my life, and there’s something that I just noticed for the first time, yesterday, when I was reading the text to start preparing for this homily. I’d never noticed this before, and it contradicts the iconography and the liturgical texts.  When you look at the icons of the transfiguration, what do you see?  You see Christ radiant with the glory of the Father, and the disciples, seeing that glory, falling down on their faces, unable to bear the sight.  And you hear in the liturgy, “when they saw the light of his face and the glory of God, they were filled with awe and fear, and fell to the ground,” etc.   But that’s not what the Scripture says!

The Scripture says—well, first of all, it describes what happened when Jesus’ face was changed and shone with light, and his garments were bright, and the rest.  But it informs us that only later, while Peter was still talking, this bright cloud came and overshadowed them, and the voice of the Father came, and “when they heard the voice they fell to the ground in awe.”

Now that’s very interesting!  I’m not sure exactly what it means, but they didn’t fall to the ground when Christ was blazing with glory, which they saw with their own eyes!  Peter was merely coming up with this silly idea about putting up tents on the property!   But when they heard the Voice of the Father, then they fell to the ground, in awe.  Now, I don’t know how precisely to explain this, but there are a couple of things that come to mind.

One thing is (and we have no idea of what that experience was like for them), it could be, maybe those guys had gotten so used to seeing Jesus perform all kinds of extraordinary wonders—raising the dead, and healing, and doing all kinds of things—maybe it was like: “Well, now He’s shining with glory!” One more great thing was happening.  And so Peter said, “This is really so good! Let’s build some tents here!”  Maybe that’s so. And maybe at that moment they still didn’t realize what it meant, that Jesus was “the Son of God,” meaning God the Son!

But then, when they heard the Voice of the Father, there was no mistaking it: this is God.  The great God of Sinai and the Creator of the Universe, all of a sudden spoke to them,and they heard it!  Something about that Voice of the Father put more awe and trembling in them than the vision of the glory on the face of Christ.   I don’t know why, I don’t know how, but that’s what the word of God says happened, so I think we should believe it.

Here, I think, is a lesson for us: that we ought to pay more attention to the word of God than to any sort of extraordinary experience that we might have in our lives.  Maybe once or twice in your life you’ll have some great, extraordinary experience of the glory of God.  But the word of God, the voice of God is here in the Scriptures, available to us every day, all the time.  That’s the message that the Father gave: He didn’t say, “Watch Him shine!  He said, “Listen to Him!”  “Hear His words, and do them.”  (Well, Jesus added the “do them” part later…)

That may be one of the things that the evangelists, and the Holy Spirit through the evangelists, want to tell us: focus on the word of God, the Voice of the Lord, and follow—and don’t merely say, “I wish I could see the glory.”  Well, do what He says, and you’ll eventually see the glory.

When it was over,  “they came down from the mountain.”  If we ever do have these great and glorious experiences, we’re still going to have to come down from the mountain.  We’re still going to have to get back, roll up our sleeves, and get back into the nitty-gritty of daily life, of sacrifice and service for others.  But it’s going to be with our eyes on Jesus, as we go about the tasks of our daily faithfulness to God.

Finally, this transfiguration is something that we should look at too, at least briefly, in the meaning of the term and how and where we see it in the Scriptures.  The Greek word for “transfiguration” is metamorphosis (which we’ve taken into English), and this is what happened to Christ: there was a metamorphosis, which means literally a “change of form.”

As we know from St. Paul, in the letter to the Philippians, although the Son was in the morphe, the form, of God, He did a kind of “anti-transfiguration” thing—a “downscaling” kind of metamorphosis—He took the form of a man, “of a slave.” Then, on Mt. Tabor, He changed form again: He returned, so to speak, for that moment of manifestation, to the form of God, showing that He was still in the form of God, but made it more obvious to them that this was the case.

Now, we too have a metamorphosis to undergo, in our own lives.  The term for transfiguration (metamorphosis) appears in the New Testament only twice, outside of the transfiguration accounts themselves in the Gospels.  Once in chapter 12 of Romans, where it refers to a kind of intellectual and moral transformation; and once in the third chapter of Second Corinthians, where it refers to a kind of mystical metamorphosis, in the context of the going from glory to glory, beholding the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, and reflecting it as in a mirror.

In just those two places, we have the culmination of what our spiritual life is supposed to be: it’s supposed to be a metamorphosis, a transfiguration—intellectually, morally, spiritually and mystically—into that full image of God in which we were created but which we obscured by our sins, but that has to shine forth again.

You know, metamorphosis is also a term that is used in zoology about what happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly: the change that happens in the chrysalis is called the metamorphosis.  The caterpillar begins as a lowly thing, creeping on the ground, yet it becomes a beautiful creature: a glorious, colorful butterfly.

And so we “caterpillars” are called to become “butterflies”!  We’re called to undergo, to enter into, to allow ourselves to be “metamorphosed.” God has to do that, but we have to be disposed to that, open to that, willing to accept whatever it takes. But with the grace of God, we will become spiritual butterflies: and we will rise and fly to God, without fear, as Jesus said, keeping our eyes fixed on Him, and being transformed, transfigured, from glory to glory, until we perfectly reflect that image of God in which we were created.  We, like Christ, will shine forth the glory of the Father, in honor of Him, and in love of Him, and as our ultimate joy and fulfillment to be with each other, all of us radiating the glory of God and expressing our eternal joy and thanksgiving that He has chosen us, that He has called us, that He wants to take us apart to go up the holy mountain!

That’s something that you can’t always do, just anywhere.  God is everywhere present, as we always say, but you can’t always find Him deeply enough in the workplace, or on the highway, or in the shopping mall.  He is in all those places, but if you really want to go deeply into that mystery, you’ve got to go up the mountain; you’ve got to be taken to “a place apart” with Him.  That’s where the work, the metamorphosis, will begin.  It will be carried out in all the other places and activities of your daily life, but we have to keep returning to that place and renewing our strength, renewing our desire, renewing our love for God, so that we can experience that ultimate transformation—for His glory, and for our everlasting happiness.

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