March 17, 2019
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
From last Sunday’s struggle in the desert with the Tempter, we go up the mountain of glory with Jesus. From wrestling with temptations in the drabness of the desert, we climb the mountain with Jesus in order to see Him as He is in glory and know our destiny as glorious.
The Gospel of the Transfiguration, proclaimed every year on the 2nd Sunday of Lent, reminds us that our Lenten penances are not ends in themselves but are meant to lead us deeper into the mystery of Risen Life with the Lord Jesus. Every year without fail on the Mount of the Transfiguration, we see Jesus as the Father sees him. Why? So we might see ourselves as the Father sees us, for when he looks at his fully human and glorified Son, he sees us.
The most common way the devil attacks disciples of Jesus is to discourage them. For example, many people come to Confession and say, “Father, I keep struggling with the same sins. I seem to take 2 steps forward and 1 step back.” They are being discouraged by the enemy, and I remind them they are not in the same place they were before, because 2 steps forward and 1 step back equals 1 step forward.
The Spirit of God encourages us to move forward along the way of discipleship, while the evil spirit always tempts us to give up hope. That’s why every so often, by God’s grace, we have these mountaintop experiences, which remind us of our destiny with the Lord Jesus. Glory is our destiny for baptism has made us citizens of heaven. That’s right, we are citizens of heaven, and each day need to recall this marvelous truth.
But earth and heaven are not completely separate realities. Why is that? The God of heaven and earth created the earth and all living things, including human beings, out of love. Then Love, which is who God is, propelled the 2nd person of the Divine Trinity to become human in Jesus, uniting heaven to earth. Then, out of love for humanity, this God-man died on the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into glory to unlock the gates of heaven. So that heaven’s gifts, namely divine life in and with the Trinity, could flow from heaven to earth by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
As the English poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning notes: “Earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush aflame with God …” The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, speaks of this mystery in a similar way: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God …” One of the many paradoxes of our faith is that as we experience life on earth, we come in touch with the things of heaven. In the Sacraments, the Church uses the stuff of earth to bring us heavenly realities. However, it takes a new way of seeing, a walking by the light of faith, in order to receive these divine gifts wrapped in the stuff of earth.
The saints walked by the bright light of faith and saw the presence of the divine surrounding them. St. Patrick speaks of it this way:
Christ before me, Christ be after me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right hand, Christ at my left.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me.
Christ in every ear that hears me.
The One who is the Light of the World deeply desires that we see His divine presence in our world, so he might lead us from this world to the next. But we only see with the eyes of faith when we listen to what Jesus has to say. So the Father’s voice on the Mt. of Transfiguration commands us to “Listen to Him.” For Jesus will teach us “how to see” if we but have ears to listen to Him.
One of the truths he longs to teach us, if we are willing to let go of the deafening lies we live by, is that suffering love is the only way to glory. Loving as Jesus loves means giving of ourselves, what we have and what we are, to others freely and generously. The glory of God shines forth in those who give of themselves in love of others.
This kind of love is costly—it demands something of us, it causes us to suffer. Jesus invites us to come down the mountain with Him to die with Him, for dying with Him is the only way to rise with Him. Dying and rising with Jesus is the central mystery of our life, a mystery hidden in the waters of our baptism, a mystery hidden in blessed bread and wine, a mystery hidden in ordinary acts of love.
So Jesus invites us to enter more profoundly into the Paschal Mystery with him: By letting go of the life we know in order to receive new life from the giver of all good gifts, the Father of all. By emptying our lives of the things we hang onto in order to receive the gifts the Risen Lord longs to give us. By being open to the liberating movement of the Spirit in our lives, a Spirit which purifies us & prunes us and makes us even more fruitful for the Kingdom.
It is significant that Jesus invites us up the mountain of Transfiguration to pray with Him. For he invites us this mountaintop of the Holy Eucharist to pray with Him today, that we might be transfigured and transformed with Him. So we might remember where we are going – our citizenship is in heaven. So we might remember who we are going with – the One who has the Words of Eternal Life, the One who is life itself.
Here we listen to his words once again—
Take and eat, this is my body given up for you.
Take and drink, this is my blood poured out for you.
Share in my life that has no end or limit. Share in my death by giving of yourself with me, all that you have and are, to the Father. Here, on this mountaintop, we are all transfigured, shining like the sun with the Son, radiant in glory as the Body of Christ.