20 March 2011
2 Timothy 1.8-10
Many years ago a young man from Canada who came from a rich family was appointed as a professor in a famous university. Because of an experience he had in meeting people with special needs he gave up his university career and a great future. He took in two young men with special needs and lived with them feeling called by God to treat them as normally as he could rather than allowing them to remain in a big institution where they received very little human friendship. The man’s name is Jean Vanier. He is regarded by many as a modern saint. From his own experience he started a foundation called L’Arche meaning Ark in which throughout the world there are over 100 small communities looking after those with special needs in as human a way possible. This man has literally transfigured the lives of these people. One can see their joy and happiness when he visits them. But most of the time it is a very challenging lifestyle for the people who have dedicated themselves to caring for them daily.
The times when Jean Vanier visits his communities are full of joy for the residents themselves and their helpers They are like transfiguration experiences. These highpoints encourage the helpers to be faithful to their daily commitment, struggle and hard work with the residents when he is not around.
Perhaps the gospel account of the Transfiguration is like that. This experience comes between two prophecies of his passion and death that Jesus gave to his disciples. The three disciples, Peter, James and John were privileged to see Jesus transfigured. Yet these three same disciples will also be with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene. It is as if Jesus wants them to see that his difficult life, his passion and death are not the end of the story. He gives them a preview, an advance look at what is the climax of his vocation.
It is as if we watch a preview of a movie, getting only an idea of highpoints without being told the final part of the movie. The final part of Jesus’ life is not his Passion and Death but the Resurrection and Ascension. Thus today’s gospel is a reminder to each one of us his followers, that despite the suffering, pain, difficulties in life that we experience it is not the end of the story. At the end of our lives there too will be the ultimate transfiguration for us as sons and daughters of God.
And yet does not each of us get occasional glimpses of great joy and happiness? It may be the birth of our first child, sheer delight at seeing the baby for the first time and in the months after. Yet there will be a lot of struggle to bring up the child as we would wish. There may be sickness, misunderstandings, and rebellion on the child’s part. But also at birthday times or other highpoints in our lives we are maybe almost overcome with joy and happiness. Perhaps for others it may be a recovery from a serious illness or falling in love. But we know these experiences are not the norm in that they do not last, but they give us the strength and courage to deal with our daily struggles.
Peter on the mountain wanted to build a permanent place and stay with that experience of joy at seeing Jesus transfigured. But he is very quickly reminded that the mountaintop experience is a passing experience, though very important to serve as a reminder when later on suffering and rejection come the way of Jesus their memory of the transfiguration will encourage and support them. Life has to go on.
The Good News is that each one of us who is a disciple of Jesus will one day be fully transfigured or transformed too. As we go through life and are trying to be faithful to Jesus we know that we are gradually being transformed into being more kind, more loving, forgiving and so on. If God can transform bread and wine each time at Mass into the Body and Blood of Jesus can he not transform us also? This is why going to Mass is so important. It is both a reminder of what God is doing for us and also to receive the nourishment that allows change to happen in our lives. Our Father says from the cloud ‘this is my Son the Beloved, listen to him. To listen to Jesus and live out what he asks is a constant struggle. Listening to Jesus and to God’s Word at Mass can transform us if we are open. To listen to Jesus means to hear what he says, to accept what he says and to make it our own, to identify with it.
Maybe we also have the experience of the three disciples who fell to the ground in fear because of being in the darkness of the cloud. When our faith is weak, when we doubt God, when we fail maybe we too feel fearful like the disciples. We feel as if we are in a cloud. Yet we can be sure that Jesus will be there to touch us as he did the disciples and encourage us with the same words, “Do not be afraid”.
The Transfiguration experience for the three disciples and for us is meant to serve as a glimpse of what is to come. It is an encouragement; it is given to reinforce our faith in the face of future difficulties and trials. It is to encourage us to follow Jesus and not give up along the way. We are called to be people of hope.
“Lord Jesus, Abraham is our father in faith. Let us be courageous like him in setting out on our journey of faith confident that God our loving Father will transform us too despite our struggles and failings”.
Fr Jim Kirstein SMA