Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Homily on the Feast of the Transfiguration

Sociologists who study the Bible like to point out that the people of Israel received the Torah in the wilderness on Mount Sinai, about as remote from civilization as they could be. To do this, they had to depart from the midst of one of the greatest example of civilization in the ancient world: the land of Egypt. In the wilderness of Sinai, the people met God Himself, and the spectacle was terrifying. If you have ever been in a lightning storm on a mountain, or at sea, you will know what they are afraid of. We had a small taste of that with Monday night’s storm: the immense power of the natural elements and the mystery of the force behind them, the Creator God. We suddenly realize how small and dependent we are on God’s love, how fragile and easily consumed we are.

The people of Israel resisted urbanization for several centuries, but eventually requested a king like all the other peoples, and with the king received the great urban center of Jerusalem, the King’s city. While the city also has a long and distinguished history in the Bible, culminating in the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven in the book of Revelation, the fact is that even in ancient times, the city was understood to be a place where the raw power of nature was subdued or lost, depending on your perspective. Part of what is lost in urbanization is an appreciation for God’s grandeur and might. In our modern cities, where we seem increasingly to be able to control nature and direct to our own ends, we easily lose sight of our fragility, our need for God, God’s power and, let’s not forget, God’s beauty. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I ever really saw the stars, and they are beautiful! But we don’t get to see them in Chicago.

The problem with this loss is that we need a reason to persevere through suffering. Jesus understood this about his disciples, and so after he predicted his Passion, but before He underwent it, He wished to strengthen and reassure them with the vision of his might and glory. Moses and Elijah, two prophets who experienced God’s terrifying presence as well as His consolation, bear witness to the fact that this man in our midst is also the God of glory.

It is of great importance that we city dwellers meditate frequently on this mystery: of God’s power and glory veiled in the human flesh of Jesus Christ. To do this, we should find ways of calling to mind the beauty of creation, and the mystery of life, so that when we encounter the weakness of the flesh we do not fall prey to discouragement or scandal. We need to take time out to go to the wilderness alone with Christ, not merely for friendship and companionship, but to be reminded how mysterious this man is who calls us ‘friend', who touches us and says, "Do not be afraid."

2 comments:

Maria from Elmhurst said...

I was very moved during my attendance at mass in the suburbs for this feast yesterday. The priest said that on the Feast of the Assumption, we should also remember those moments when the veil parts for us, those rare occasions. Sometimes hopeless feeling or distraction gets the better of me, I hope that I can continue to be so blessed by the daily humanity around me as well as God's grace.

Anonymous said...

The transfiguration is my favorite mystery of the rosary. I am very grateful to Pope John Paul the Great for adding the luminous mysteries to the rosary. The transfiguration is my favorite mystery of the Rosary not so much for what I understand about it, but because it is so full of mystery, power, and glory. The bible says in one of the letters of St. John, that we will be like him for we shall see him as he is.

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