March 11, 2019

Lent II (March 17, 2019) Sunday Homily

Lent II [C] Sunday (March 17, 2019) Homily: One-Page Summary 

Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is metamorphosis or transformation. The readings invite us to work with the assistance of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent so that they radiate the glory and grace of the transfigured Lord to all around us by our Spirit-filled lives.

Scripture lessons summarized: The first reading describes the transformation of a pagan patriarch into a believer in the one God, the transformation of his name from Abram to Abraham, and the first covenant of God with Abraham’s family as a reward for Abraham’s obedience to God. In the second reading, St. Paul argues that it is not observance of the Mosaic Law and circumcision that transforms people into Christians, and hence, that Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians. In the Transfiguration account in today’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as a glorious figure, superior to Moses and Elijah. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to allow Him to consult his Heavenly Father in order to ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and Resurrection.  The secondary aim was to make his chosen disciples aware of his Divine glory, so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial. On the mountain, Jesus is identified by the Heavenly Voice as the Son of God. Thus, the Transfiguration experience is a Christophany, that is, a manifestation or revelation of Who Jesus really is. Describing Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Gospel gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly glory awaiting those who do God’s will by putting their trusting Faith in Him.

Life messages: (1) The “transfiguration” in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength: In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar become “transfigured” or transformed (transubstantiated) into the living Body and Blood of the crucified, risen, and glorified Jesus. Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration was meant to strengthen the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of Heavenly strength against temptations, and for our Lenten renewal.

(2) Each time we receive one of the Sacraments, we are transformed: For example, Baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God. By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness. (3) The Transfiguration of Jesus offers us a message of encouragement and hope: In moments of doubt and during our dark moments of despair and hopelessness, the thought of our own transfiguration in Heaven will help us to reach out to God and to listen to His consoling words: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased — listen to Him!” and so share the glory of His transfiguration. 4) We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the mountain-top experience of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent. Fasting for one day can help the body to store up spiritual energy. This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking.

(Full Text) LENT II (March 17) Gn 15:5-12, 17-18, Phil 3:17—4:1, Lk 9:28-36

Homily starter anecdote # 1: Transformation of 27 minerals into pearls, gems and precious stones: Precious stones like the diamond, emerald, ruby and sapphire, are the most valuable of all commodities. The most expensive gem, Alexandrite, costs $30,000 per carat (200mg). Pearls are less costly. All these precious stones are the result of years of transformation or transfiguration. But today’s Gospel describes Christ’s instant Transfiguration revealing His Divine glory which surpasses the beauty of the most expensive gems. Most pearls are produced by oysters or some other mollusks in both freshwater and saltwater environments. Natural pearls are formed when a foreign object enters an oyster’s shell. To defend the oyster, layer after layer of calcium carbonate (nacre) along with other minerals grow and form like onionskins around the particle. Gradually the foreign objects are transformed into pearls, which are very rare and expensive. Like natural pearls, cultured pearls grow inside an oyster, but with human intervention. Shells are carefully opened, and different shapes of beads are inserted. Over time, the inserted beads become transformed by coats of nacre, which makes a pearl appear to glow inside and gives it a beautiful shine. The most valuable gems come from crystallized minerals that have formed under heat and pressure deep inside the earth for millions of years. Diamonds are formed far under the earth where the heat and pressure are very intense. Under these conditions the carbon atoms line up perfectly and a diamond crystal is formed. Today’s readings challenge us to radiate the glory of the transfigured Jesus by renewing our lives in the observance of Lent.

# 2: The transforming vision of Elisha’s servant:  There is a mysterious story in II Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the Transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha, the man of God, is using his prophetic powers to reveal to the Israelites the strategic plans of the Aramean army. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy. But when he learns the truth, he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are trapped, and he fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see. Then the Lord opens the servant’s eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe, but the invading army was totally humiliated. The Transfiguration scene described in today’s Gospel was intended to have a similar effect on Peter and the other apostles who were really afraid for their master’s safety in the context of the growing hatred against and opposition to Jesus.

#3: “Lord, give me the grace for transformation. The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s Gospel) to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly. Fr. Anthony de Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man.  “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’  If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”

Introduction: The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent highlight Jesus’ identity as God’s beloved Son (revealed at his baptism and Transfiguration) and confront us with the mystery of Jesus’ death on the cross. In order to experience the joy of Easter in this life and to experience of the joy and glory of the Resurrection in the next life, we need to face the Cross head on. Each of the Synoptic Gospels contains an account of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36). No such account appears in the Gospel of John, in which one might say that Jesus is somewhat transfigured as the transcendent Son of God on earth all the way through! The Transfiguration is also referred to in 2 Peter 1:18. The main theme of today’s readings is an invitation as well as a challenge to us to do what Abraham did — put our Faith in the loving promises of the merciful God Who sent His Son to die for us and to transform our lives by renewing them during Lent. Our transformed lives will enable us to radiate the glory and grace of the transfigured Lord to all around us by our Spirit-filled lives. The three readings describe the spiritual transformation experiences of three of our heroes in the Faith, Abraham, Paul and, of course, Jesus. The first reading describes the transforming of a pagan patriarch into a believer in the one God, the transforming of his name from Abram to Abraham, and God’s making of His first Covenant with man through Abraham and his descendants as a reward for Abraham’s obedience to God. In the Responsorial Psalm (Ps 27), the Psalmist sings with us a declaration of Faith in the Lord God — “my Light and my Salvation: and “my life’s Refuge,” calls to Him for Mercy and expresses our Hope that we “shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living!” In the second reading, St. Paul argues that it is not observance of the Mosaic Law and circumcision that transforms people into Christians, and hence, the Gentiles need not become Jews to become Christians. In the Transfiguration account in today’s Gospel, Jesus is revealed as a glorious figure, superior to Moses and Elijah who appear with him. He is identified by the Heavenly Voice as the beloved Son of God. Thus, the Transfiguration experience is a Christophany, that is, a manifestation or revelation of who Jesus really is. Describing Jesus’ Transfiguration, the Gospel gives us a glimpse of the Heavenly glory waiting for those who do God’s will by putting their trusting Faith in Him.

First reading, Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18, explained: The Church gives us this story of Abraham at the beginning of Lent for two reasons. First, we are called to have the same Faith as Abraham. Second, what Abraham did with Isaac foreshadows God the Father’s sacrifice of His only-begotten Son 1800 years later; this is what we are preparing to celebrate at the end of Lent. Abram (God later changed his name to Abraham), is presented as the first person since Noah to hear and heed the Voice of God. At God’s prompting, Abram moved his considerable holdings from the ancient city of Ur in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), to a land he knew not (modern Palestine). As a reward for Abram’s trust and obedience, God promised him numerous descendants. He also promised Abram a land for himself and his family. When Abram asked for a sign that would seal this promise, God entered into a unilateral contract with him, using an ancient ritual of contract. The parties who wanted to seal a contract would split the carcass of one or more animals, lay the halves on the ground, and walk between them, saying “May I be so split in half if I fail to keep the agreement we are sealing here.” Abram fell into a trance and witnessed the procession of the fire pot and torch moving between the carcass halves. This symbolized God’s presence and action. As this was a unilateral contract between God and Abraham, Abraham was not asked to walk between the carcass halves. The Holy Spirit, through the Church, has chosen this reading for us today because the story of Abraham prefigures the unwavering Faith of Jesus Christ who strengthens the Faith of his disciples for the Paschal event of his passion, death and Resurrection glory. Today’s Responsorial Psalm, (Ps 27), provides words for us to express our own Faith in God and in His unfailing love that supported Abraham, Paul and Jesus in their trials.

Second Reading, Philippians 3:17-4:1, explained: Among early Christians in several places there was a controversy about whether one had to keep the old Jewish law in order to be a follower of Christ. Saint Paul argues forcefully here that one does not have to do so. Those who say one must, are really “enemies of the cross of Christ,” because they’re acting as if the death and Resurrection of Jesus are not what save us; rather, they hold that keeping the Mosaic Law is what saves them. In particular, the law required eating kosher food and having males circumcised. The food is what Paul alludes to in ridiculing their devotion to their stomachs, and the circumcision is what he means when he says they glory in their “shame.” St. Paul reminds us that the Christian journey of transformation is radically initiated at Baptism, but needs to be perfected day by day, until the end of time when “Christ will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” Transformed by love, grace and Faith, Paul emerges from his conversion experience with a new heart, mind and will. Totally given to Christ, he helps others to welcome that same transforming power of God into their own lives. The reading challenges us to welcome the transforming power of God’s love and to cooperate with the transforming power of God’s grace.

Gospel Exegesis: The objective: The Holy Spirit, through Church, invites us to reflect on Christ’s humanity by presenting the temptations of Christ on the first Sunday of Lent, But, on the second Sunday, by presenting the Transfiguration scene, the Church invites us to reflect on Christ’s Divinity. The Transfiguration of Our Lord, like Christmas, is a Christological Feast. In the Incarnation, the Divine enters the human condition. In the Transfiguration, the human shares in Divine glory. The Transfiguration of Our Lord on this Second Sunday in Lent gives those at worship a glimpse of the coming future glory of Christ on Easter. But it also reminds us that the only way to Easter is through the cross. The primary purpose of Jesus’ Transfiguration was to allow him to consult his Heavenly Father in order to ascertain His plan for His Son’s suffering, death and Resurrection.  The secondary aim was to make his chosen disciples aware of his Divine glory so that they might discard their worldly ambitions and dreams of a conquering political Messiah and might be strengthened in their time of trial. Further, the Transfiguration enabled Jesus to present himself to the apostles as Israel’s redeemer, as had already been foretold by the prophets (St. Ephrem). The Transfiguration established Jesus’ glorious identity as the beloved Son of God and placed His Divine Sonship in the context of Jewish expectations about the Kingdom and the Resurrection. The Transfiguration took place in late summer, just prior to the Feast of Tabernacles.  Hence, the Orthodox Church celebrates the Transfiguration at about the time of the year when it actually occurred in order to connect it with the Old Testament Feast of the Tabernacles.  The Western tradition recalls the Transfiguration at the beginning of Lent, and then celebrates the formal feast on August 6. (Some Bible scholars think that the transfiguration narrative has been influenced and informed by the early Christian community’s post-Easter Faith. Some even argue that the transfiguration was actually a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, which the evangelists anachronized into the period of his earthly ministry).

The location of the Transfiguration was probably Mount Hermon in North Galilee, near Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus had camped a week before this wondrous event.  Mt. Hermon was a desolate mountain, 9200 feet high. The traditional oriental belief that Transfiguration took place on Mount Tabor is based on Psalm 89:12. But Mount Tabor is a small mountain or a big hill in the south of Galilee, less than 1000 feet high, with a Roman fort built on it.  Hence, it would have been an unlikely place for solitude and prayer.   Moses and Elijah received God’s revelations on mountains. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17). Elijah fled to Mount Horeb, and there, God spoke to him in “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV; RSV: “a still small voice”). It is those two men who appear on the mountain with Jesus and his companions.

The scene of Heavenly glory:   While praying, Jesus was transfigured into a shining figure, full of Heavenly glory. “In 1st century Judaism and in the NT, there was the belief that the righteous get new, glorified bodies in order to enter heaven (1 Cor 15:42–49; 2 Cor 5:1–10). This transformation means the righteous will share the glory of God. One recalls the way Moses shared the Lord’s glory after his visit to the mountain in Ex 34. So the disciples saw Jesus transfigured, and they were getting a sneak preview of the great glory that Jesus would have. (NET Bible notes).”

Moses and Elijah are seen with Jesus at the Transfiguration, because both of them had experienced the Lord in all His glory.  Moses had met the Lord in the burning bush at Mount Horeb (Ex 3:1-4). The Transfiguration scene closely resembles God’s revelation to Moses, who also brought along three companions and whose face also shone brilliantly (see Ex 24:1; 34:29). After his encounter with God on Sinai, Moses’ face shone so brightly that the people were frightened, and thereafter, whenever Moses went into the Tent to consult the Lord, he had to wear a veil over his face when he came out (Ex 34:29-35). The Jews believed that Moses had been taken up in a cloud at end of his earthly life (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 4. 326). Elijah traveled for forty days to Mt. Horeb on the strength of the food brought by an angel (1 Kgs 19:8).  At Mt. Horeb, Elijah sought refuge in a cave as the glory of the Lord passed over him (1 Kgs 19:9-18).  Finally, Elijah was taken directly to heaven in a chariot of fire without seeing death (2 Kgs 2:11 -15).

These representatives of the Law and the Prophets – Moses and Elijah – foreshadowed Jesus, who is the culmination of the Law and the Prophets.  Both earlier prophets were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God. The Jews believed that the Lord had buried Moses in an unknown place after his death (Dt 34:5-6), and that Elijah had been carried to heaven in a whirlwind (II Kings 2:11).  Thus, the implication is that, although God spared Elijah from the normal process of death and Moses from normal burial, He did not spare His Son from suffering and death. Peter, overwhelmed at the scene, exclaimed how good it was for them to be there.   His remark about three booths (or tents) may be a reference to the Jewish festival of Succoth, the most joyful of Jewish days, when booths were erected in which the people dwelt during the time of the feast and from which all kinds of presents and sweets came.  It commemorates God’s protection during the wilderness wanderings (Leviticus 23:39-43). As such the booths also symbolize a time of rest, which could be interpreted allegorically as the messianic rest.  Or they may be a reference of reverence, alluding to tabernacles to house the patriarchs and the Son of God.

God the Father’s Voice from the cloud: “In the Old Testament the cloud covered the meeting tent, indicating the Lord’s presence in the midst of his people (Ex 40:34-35) and came to rest upon the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of its dedication (1 Kgs 8:10).” (NAB notes). The book of Exodus describes how God spoke to Moses at Mount Sinai from the cloud.  God often made appearances in a cloud (Ex 24:15-17; 13:21 -22; 34:5; 40:34; 1 Kgs 8:10-11).   I Kgs, 8: 10 tells us how, by the cover of a cloud, God revealed His presence in the Ark of the Covenant and in the Temple of Jerusalem on the day of its dedication.  The Jews generally believed that the phenomenon of the cloud would be repeated when the Messiah arrived.  God the Father, Moses and Elijah approved the plan regarding Jesus’ suffering, death and Resurrection.  God’s words from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him,” are the same words used by God at Jesus’ baptism (3:17), with the addition of “listen to Him.”  At the moment of Jesus’ death, a Roman centurion would declare, “Truly, this man was the Son of God” (15:39). These words summarize the meaning of the Transfiguration, that on this mountain, God revealed Jesus as His Son — His beloved — the One in whom He is always well pleased and the One to whom we must listen. By the words “This is my Son; listen to Him!” Jesus is not simply presented to the apostles as the Son of God, but as God’s mouthpiece. This designation is especially significant in the presence of Moses and Elijah because it tells the apostles that Jesus is the voice of God par excellence—even compared with the Law and th[e Prophets—through his filial relationship with the Father. The experience] is directed to the prophets as well, granting them a theophany in the person of Christ; Moses and Elijah had wished to see God in the Old Testament, and the Transfiguration of Christ fulfilled their wish.” (Andreas Andreopoulos, Metamorphosis: The Transfiguration in Byzantine Theology and Iconography, 48-49). While Peter’s suggestion to build three tents may have sprung from an enthusiastic desire to prolong such a wondrous moment of grace, it was probably prompted by the popular expectation (Zechariah 14:16), that the Messiah would appear in glory during the feast of Sukkoth (Tents or Tabernacles). According to Dr. Watson, “the Transfiguration demonstrates the glorious value of Jesus’ suffering and death. This story reminds us that the extent of God’s love for us is revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus, which, though painted in hues of defeat and disgrace, is really an image of unimaginable victory and glory.”

The three transformations in our lives in our journey towards eternity: The first transformation in our lives begins at Baptism which washes away original sin, transforming us into children of God and heirs of heaven. The second transformation takes place through our victory over the trials and tribulations of life. Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity for transformation and spiritual growth. The third transformation takes place at death. Eternal life in Heaven, perhaps after a period of further transformation in Purgatory, is granted to those who have been found worthy. The last transformation or transfiguration will be completed at the Second Coming when our glorified body is reunited with our soul.

Life messages: (1) The “transfiguration” in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength: In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar become “transfigured” or “transformed” (transubstantiated) into the living Body and Blood of the crucified, risen and glorified Jesus. Just as Jesus’ Transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of Heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent. In addition, our Holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts so that we may do more good by humble and selfless service to others.

(2) Each time we receive one of the Sacraments, we are transformed: For example, Baptism transforms us into sons and daughters of God and heirs of heaven. Confirmation makes us temples of the Holy Spirit and warriors of God. By the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God brings back the sinner to the path of holiness.

(3) The Transfiguration offers us a message of encouragement and hope: In moments of doubt and during our dark moments of despair and hopelessness, the thought of our transfiguration in Heaven will help us to reach out to God and to listen to His consoling words: “This is My beloved Son.” Let us offer our Lenten sacrifices to our Lord, that through these practices of Lent and through the acceptance of our daily crosses we may become closer to him in his suffering and may share in the carrying of his cross so that we may finally share the glory of his Transfiguration.

4) We need “mountain-top experiences” in our lives: We share the mountain-top experience of Peter, James and John when we spend extra time in prayer during Lent. Fasting for one day can help the body to store up spiritual energy. This spiritual energy can help us have thoughts that are far higher and nobler than our usual mundane thinking. The hunger we experience can put us more closely in touch with God and make us more willing to help the hungry. The crosses of our daily lives also can lead us to the glory of transfiguration and resurrection.

Joke of the week

# 1: The old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, come on here, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”

# 2: At the transfiguration Peter offered to build three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Jesus said, “And what about you, Peter?” And Peter replies, “Don’t worry about me Lord, I got a better place in Jaffa.”

WEBSITES OF THE WEEK

# 1: RCIA assistance website: http://www.callingallconverts.com/

#2: http://www.catholic.com/radio/shows/calling-all-converts-34199

# 3: Confirmation Family Guide Book 2013: http://www.stanastasiacc.org/documents/Confirmation_Family_Guidebook_2013.pdf

# 4: Mountain top experiences: http://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/library_article/970/Mountaintop_Experiences___Transfiguration.html

# 5: http://www.wadhams.edu/xianformation/Lent/Week1.pdf

# 6: YouTube videos on transformation of Jesus: https://youtu.be/Pl-6pTDa1yU

Jesus_Moses_Elijah

20 Additional anecdotes

1) Transformation of a frog into prince: The word “transfiguration” is not often part of our vocabulary today. I can’t image a mother coming to the table with a beautifully done casserole proclaiming that she had “transformed” the macaroni into this exotic dish. We might use it if someone goes to the beauty shop and gets a daring haircut. “Look how transformed she is!” we might say. Or we might use it in telling fairy tales to our children – someone was transformed into a princess, like Cinderella, or a frog was transformed into a Prince. But despite the fact that it isn’t a common word to use, what the word signifies does happen pretty often. Something is changed into something more beautiful or altered in some way, making it more “awesome” to use today’s cliché. Lent is a transformational season in the Church. This is, of course, why we hear the story of the Transfiguration read to us today. (Bishop Ron Stephens).

2) Transfiguration of Aluminum silicate into Topaz: Precious stones have a magical quality about them, as anyone who has visited the Tower of London to see the Crown Jewels can testify. One such precious stone is the exquisite and priceless blue topaz. Blue topaz is chemically a silicate of aluminum, which of itself has no beauty or brilliance. But under great pressure and heat exerted over millions of years, this dull opaque silicate is transformed into a transparent crystal with a remarkable blue color and clarity. -Today’s readings tell us about other striking transformations. In the first reading from Genesis, not only is Abram’s name changed by God to Abraham, but his whole destiny is changed as he is now to become the father of many nations. In the second reading, Paul says that our homeland is in Heaven. It is from there that our Savior will come “to transfigure those [buried or cremated] bodies of ours into copies of his glorified Body” (Phil 3:21). Finally, in the Gospel, Luke describes the Transfiguration of our Lord in the presence of his disciples: “As he prayed, his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning” (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

3) No Cross, No Crown: Arthur Ashe, the legendary Afro-American Wimbledon player was dying of cancer. He received letters from his fans, worldwide, one of which read: “Why did God select you for such a dreadful disease?” Ashe replied, “The world over, 5 crore children start playing tennis, 50 lakhs learn the game, 5 lakh turn professional; 50,000 come to the circuit, 5,000 reach Grand Slams, 50 reach Wimbledon, 4 to the semifinals, 2 to the finals. When I won the Wimbledon crown, I never asked God, “Why me?” Today, in pain, I shouldn’t be asking God, “Why me?” Wimbledon crown, cancer cross. That’s Christianity! That is why Jesus reminds his three apostles about his death and Resurrection immediately after his glorious transfiguration. (Francis Gonsalves in Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

4) “I’ve been to the Mountain.” The three apostles’ mountain-top experience of the transfigured Jesus reminds us of Martin Luther King’s last sermon. He delivered it April 3, 1968, on the eve of his assassination, at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, the headquarters of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal denomination in the United States. He concluded his remarks that night: “I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountain-top. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord” (Martin Luther King, Jr., adapted by David E. Leininger, “WOW!!!”)

5) Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay: Those of us who are old enough certainly recall that amazing story of more than sixty years ago, May 29, 1953. A New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, were the first ever to reach Everest’s summit. Here was a mountain – unreachable, tantalizing, fearsome, deadly – that had defeated 15 previous expeditions. Some of the planet’s strongest climbers had perished on its slopes. For many, Everest represented the last of the earth’s great challenges. The North Pole had been reached in 1909; the South Pole in 1911. But Everest, often called the Third Pole, had defied all human efforts – reaching its summit seemed beyond mere mortals. (Don George, “A Man to Match His Mountain,” http://www.salon.com/bc/1998/12/cov_01bc.html) Now, success. And heightening the impact even further was the delicious coincidence of their arrival just before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and of the dramatic announcement of their triumph on the morning of the coronation. A “mountain-top experience”…literally. Today’s Gospel presents the “mountain-top experience” of Peter, John and James.

6) “Listen to Him!” Perhaps you have heard of the man who wanted to test his wife’s hearing. He stood some distance behind her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?” Having received no answer he moved closer and again whispered, “Honey, can you hear me?” Again having received no answer he moved right up behind her and softly said, “Honey can you hear me?” She replied, “For the third time, yes!” – In some ways this story could be analogous of our communication with God. We constantly check to see if he is listening in hopes that He will respond to our needs. In reality, He hears us, but He has asked us to listen to Him as well. Lent should be a listening time for each of us. When we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. At the close of the Transfiguration scene described in today’s Gospel the three apostles hear the word of God from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” (John Pichappilly in The Table of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

7) Serve others after the “mountain-top experience”: In Port Arthur, Texas, there is a special school for very sick children, most of whom have few, if any, motor skills. One very sick boy lived at that school, dying little by little. As tragic as that is, that’s not the point of the story. Unfortunately, children get grievously ill every day. This little boy, though, had the good fortune to be living in the same community with some faithful believers who took the Transfiguration story as their own. God’s glory lived in them. They carried it with them wherever they went. A group of these folks joined together to go to this little boy every day and read to him. Since he was slowly dying, unable to move or read for himself, their act of kindness and ministry was the only activity that brought him any comfort. The social workers were amazed. Just being read to by three different women, one every day, transformed that boy. He was transformed from being depressed and despondent into a responsive bright young man. And even though his spark of life would soon leave him, it got brighter and brighter not dimmer. The boy died, but his life had been forever changed. It had been transformed by the ministry of these caring Christians. They had allowed the light of Christ to shine through them. And a young boy’s life had been transformed. [The Clergy Journal, Logos Productions Inc., (Inver Grove Heights, MN), Vol. LXXIII, Number 7, pp. 88.]

8) Baby powder: You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia, he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk: you just add water, and you get milk. Then I saw powdered orange juice: you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’” Smirnoff is joking but we make these assumptions about Christian transformation—that people change instantly at salvation. Some denominations make Christianity so simple: accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, confess your sins to him, you are instantly saved and born again. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it most traditions expect some quick fix to sin. We go to Church as if we are going to the grocery store to become saved Christian. Just accept Jesus as Lord and Savior or get baptized with water and you become instantly transformed into born-again and saved Christians! Unfortunately, there is no such powder as “Christian powder,” and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised and transformed through many trials, suffering, and temptations.

9) “I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end.” William Booth who spoke these words was a Methodist preacher, too, you know. “Willful Will” they called him, but Booth became disillusioned with the political wrangling of the Methodists. So he left the church and started a Christian mission in the poverty-stricken East Side of London that reached out to the worst. That Christian mission became the Salvation Army, which declared war on poverty and homelessness. Or, as William Booth said: “While women weep, as they do now. I’ll fight. While children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight, I’ll fight, I’ll fight to the very end.” That was one hundred years ago. It seems like the kind of war all of us could get behind, the war on poverty, the war on homelessness. Maybe it’s time for another William Booth. If you have a heart, help us. Discipleship is a matter of your heart. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus,/Look full in His wonderful face,” as Peter did on the Mount of Transfiguration. He’ll give you a lift. He’ll give you a life

10) Transfigurations are Big Business: The Church calls this event the Transfiguration of Christ. Jesus was “transfigured”: the figure, the image, the look that he had, the face that showed to others was changed. The appearance of his face changed. Jesus had a different look. Transfigurations are big business today. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want one, including me. And many of us work hard and spend a lot of money to get one — a new face, a new look, a changed appearance. Larushka Shikne did not like the image he thought his name projected, so he changed his name to Laurence Harvey. Issur’ Danielovitch Densky did the same thing and became Kirk Douglas. In the same way, Frances Gum transfigured herself and her image into Judy Garland. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Aaron Schwalt became Red Buttons. And would you have paid money to see Marion Morrison in the movies? Maybe, but Marion didn’t take that chance; he became John Wayne. Remember that in Holy Scripture many people got new names to go with a new life and a new image. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter, “The Rock.”  Transfigurations are not the exception. They are the rule. We are all being altered in the appearance of our face, our countenance. We are all changing. To live is to be continually transfigured. So who are we becoming? I don’t mean to suggest that Jesus’ Transfiguration was a triumph of cosmetology. It wasn’t. He did not have it done to himself; it was given to him. St. Luke’s Gospel says that Jesus was praying when it happened.  (Rev. Robert Johnson).

11) Raphael’s great painting of Christ’s Transfiguration: Remember how in Raphael’s great painting of Christ’s Transfiguration, the whole story is depicted? Up above Christ is hovering in glory, lifted from the earth and clothed in light and accompanied on each side by his saints. Down below in the same picture, the father holds his frantic child, the helpless disciples are gazing in despair at the struggles which their attempts to heal him in Jesus’ Name have wholly failed to touch. It is the peace of Divine strength above; it is the tumult and dismay of human feebleness below. But what keeps the great picture from being a mere painted mockery is that the puzzled disciples in the foreground are pointing the distressed father of the child up to the mountain where the form of Christ is seen. They have begun to get hold of the idea that what they could not do He could do. So they are on the way to the Faith which Jesus described to them when they came to him with their perplexity (Phillips Brooks in More Quotes and Anecdotes).

12) A name called in love: Maude and Harry have been married for fifteen years and their relationship is limited to newspapers exchanged at breakfast-table and weather reports noted at dinner-table. Maude spends her days lingering over the housework because she dreads the time when she has nothing to do. Harry works long hours and says he is too tired to talk in the evenings – so they settle for drowsy boredom in front of the television. Maude never hears Harry call her by her name; only as “you”. She feels like an old plant that has been left to wither quietly behind a curtain in the attic. One day Maude’s friend, Mabel, arrives and tries some advice: “Maude, take a look at yourself! You’re always going around with a colony of curlers in your head and tripping over your face. You’re a mobile mess, dear. What you need is a new hairdo and a new outfit – then Harry will notice you. Get some spark, dear! Tomorrow, we will go shopping.” Next day Maude spends hours at the hairdresser and at various stores. Mabel is enthusiastic about the results, but Maude feels the whole exercise is wasted effort. After their long day they return to wait for Harry. And when the key turns in the lock Maude stands up feeling foolish.  When Harry comes in, he stops; he looks at his wife and when he sees her, he realize what he has done. He moves over to her, takes her in his arms, and calls her name over and over again. When that happens, Maude becomes radiant and aglow. She is transfigured – not because she has a new outfit but because this is the first time in years, she has heard her name called in love (Denis McBride in Seasons of the Word; quoted by Fr. Botelho).

13) Seeing him differently: A movie called Mask is based on the true story of a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis. He has a rare disease that causes his skull and the bones in his face to grow larger than they should. As a result, Rocky’s face is terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance causes some people to shy away from him, and others to snicker and laugh at him. Through it all, Rocky never pities himself. Nor does he give way to anger. He feels bad about his appearance, but he accepts it as a part of life. One day Rocky and some of his friends visit an amusement park. They go into a “House of Mirrors” and begin to laugh at how distorted their bodies and faces look. Suddenly Rocky sees something that startles him. One mirror distorts his misshapen face in such a way that it appears normal – even strikingly handsome. For the first time, Rocky’s friends see him in a whole new way. They see from the outside what he is on the inside: a truly beautiful person. Something like this happens to Jesus in today’s Gospel. During his Transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way. For the first time they saw from the outside what he is on the inside: the glorious, beautiful Son of God (Mark Link in Sunday Homilies).

14) You can’t describe the Transfiguration of Christ: There is a story told about Napoleon during the invasion of Russia. He somehow got separated from his men and was spotted by his enemies, the Russian Cossacks. They chased him through the winding streets. Running for his life Napoleon eventually ducked into a furrier’s shop. Gasping for air and talking at the same time he begged the shopkeeper to save him. The furrier said, “Quick hide under this big pile of furs in the corner.” Then the furrier made the pile even large by throwing more furs atop of Napoleon. No sooner had he finished when the Russian Cossacks burst into the shop. “Where is he?” they demanded to know. The furrier denied knowing what they were talking about. Despite his protests the Russian Cossacks tore the shop apart trying to find Napoleon. They poked into the pile of furs with their swords but did not find him. The eventually gave up and left the shop. After some time had passed, Napoleon crept out from under the furs, unharmed. Shortly after Napoleon’s personal guards came into the store. Before Napoleon left, the furrier asked, “Excuse me for asking this question of such a great man, but what was it like to be under the furs, knowing that the next moment could surely be your last? Napoleon became indignant. “How dare you ask such a question to the Emperor Napoleon?” Immediately he ordered his guards to blindfold the furrier and execute him. The furrier was dragged out of the shop, blindfolded and placed against the wall of the shop. The furrier could see nothing, but he could hear the guards shuffling into a line and preparing their rifles. Then he heard Napoleon call out, “Ready!” In that moment a feeling the shopkeeper could not describe welled up with him. Tears poured down his cheeks. “Aim!” Suddenly the blindfold was stripped from his eyes. Napoleon stood before him. They were face to face and Napoleon said, “Now you know the answer to your question.” The lesson here is obvious: How can you describe a near-death experience? You can’t. It has to be experienced. Jesus’ Transfiguration falls in the same category of events which cannot be described. I think that is why Luke says that they kept it to themselves and told no one what they had seen. How do you describe it? It had to be experienced (Brett Blair, www.eSermons.com. Adapted from a story by Richard Hayes Weyer)

15) Mountain-Top Experience: Fred Craddock tells a wonderful story about a young minister, newly graduated from seminary, serving his very first church. He gets a call telling him that a church member, elderly woman who has just given her life to the church, is in the hospital. She’s so weak she can’t even get up out of bed, and the doctors don’t hold much hope for her recovery. Would he go up and visit? Well, of course he will and he does. All the way to the hospital he’s thinking about what he will say to this Christian lady, what words of comfort he can give her to prepare her for her immanent death. He arrives at the hospital, goes up to her room for the visit. He sits and talks with her a few minutes, just small talk really, nothing earth shattering. When he makes ready to leave, he asks if she would like him to have prayer with her. She answers, “Yes, of course. That’s why I wanted you to come.” He then asks politely, “And what exactly would you like me to pray for?” “Why, I want you to pray that God will heal me,” she answers in a surprised tone of voice. Haltingly, fumbling over the words, he prays just as she wanted, that God will heal her, even though he’s not really sure that can happen. When he says the “Amen” at the end of the prayer, the woman says, “You know, I think it worked! I think I’m healed!” And she gets out of the bed and begins to run up and down the hallway of the hospital, shouting, “Praise God! I’m healed! Praise God! I’m healed!” Meanwhile, the young minister, in a stupor, stumbles to the stairwell, walks down five flights of stairs, makes his way to the parking lot and somehow manages to find his car. As he fumbles to get his keys out of his pocket, he looks Heavenward and says, “Don’t You ever do that to me again!” He had a mountain-top moment, but he didn’t know what to do with it! Life is like that. Profound moments just fall in our lap and we’re not prepared; we are caught off guard and unsure what to do with them. (Johnny Dean, Sermon on Matthew 17:1-9: Reality Check)

16) Cinderella then and now: We all know the story of Cinderella. Cinderella is a girl who finds herself in horrible circumstances, unloved and abused by the people who should care for her the most. With the help of some friends, Cinderella overcomes all the hurdles and finds her Prince Charming. At the end of the story we see Cinderella living happily ever after. She is on top of the mountain, reveling in the glory of her new and transformed life. Disney made a sequel to their version of this age-old story called, Dreams Come True. In this story, Cinderella finds out what it is like to live in the everyday moments of running a castle. She has to be a hostess to all the visitors, acting royal as was expected by the people in her new world. Unfortunately, she could be not be her usual warm and welcoming self and be hostess in the traditional ways. So, she had difficulty living up to everyone’s expectations. She could not be herself – she had to act like something different. By the end of the movie, Cinderella discovers that she must be herself to succeed. We are told that Jesus came down from the mountain of Transfiguration and continued his preaching and healing ministry as if nothing happened on the mountain.

17) “Children shall feel something of what is serious and solemn.” In his autobiography, Out of My Life and Thought Albert Schweitzer said that one of the main things his parents did for him as a child was to take him to worship services, even though he was too young to understand much of what was going on. He claimed it is not important that children understand everything. What is important is “that they shall feel something of what is serious and solemn….” Can you see Peter, James, and John as they contemplated what it meant to be in the presence not only of Jesus but also Elijah and Moses, and then on top of all that, to hear the Voice of God as well? No wonder they were silent! Here was dust encountering Divinity, the temporal in the presence of the eternal, the imperfect face to face with Holiness itself. How we need such experiences today! Such experiences demand silence. In that silence, however, there is power. (Rev. King Duncan).

18) Religion in the Valley: Bishop Arthur Moore loved to tell the story of a man who had been away from his home church for some years, involved in all kinds of shady practices and criminal activities. But when he came back to his home church and testimony-time came, he was ready. He stood and said, “I’m so glad to be back in my own church, and I want to tell you that, while it’s true that I have beaten my wife, that I have deserted my children, that I have stolen and lied and done all manner of evil and served several terms in jail, I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that not once, in all that time, did I ever lose my religion!” Now, if your religion is nothing more than an insurance policy for Heaven, if it has no effect on how you live and how you treat others now, then first of all, you are missing out on life. And second, you’d better check your motivation. Christianity is good religion because it works in day-to-day life. (James W. Moore, You Can Get Bitter or Better).

19) Transformation of poor kids to school and college graduates: Mary Ann O’Roark’s article appears in the March 2004 issue of Guideposts magazine, which contains true stories of hope and inspiration. Her story tells of a hardworking mom, Oral Lee Brown, who helped poor children obtain an education and fulfill their potential. Raised in her poor family of cotton-pickers in Mississippi, Mrs. Brown moved to California where she raised her three daughters. When they were grown, Oral Lee turned her energies to running a real-estate agency and a restaurant in Oakland. In 1987 she met a classroom of 23 first graders in Brookfield Elementary and realized that kids who are in the midst of poverty and crime-blighted neighborhoods hunger most of all for inspiration. She told the first graders in Brookfield Elementary: “If you stay in school and graduate, I’ll send you to college. That’s a promise.” Oral Lee made herself a part of the students’ lives, inspiring them with her own climb out of poverty. The kids did not disappoint their “real life angel”. Twenty of those 23 first graders graduated from high school. Oral Lee’s trust fund sent them to college. Last May, Oral Lee watched the first of her class graduate from college. Latosha Hunter got her diploma from Alcorn State University in Mississippi, which she chose in part because it’s near where her mentor grew up. “If she can make it, I can make it,” Latosha says. Indeed, Oral Lee has given these privileged kids a glimpse of their future glory and inspired them to attain their wonderful destiny. Oral Lee Brown shows us how we should put Christ’s transformation into our lives. (Lectio Divina).

20)  Jean Vanier and his full response to the Divine “gift of transformation”. Vanier’s participation in Christ’s paschal mystery is transformed into a “gift for living” in a world where the handicapped and the weak are faced with rejection [cf. “Jean Vanier’s Gift for Living” by Carolyn Whitney-Brown in America (December 22-29, 2008), p. 22]. In August 1964, Jean Vanier was a 36-year-old former naval officer seeking to follow Jesus and the Gospels in a new way. He invited two men who had been living in an institution for people with intellectual disabilities to share a house with him in a French village. Since then, more than 132 similar communities, called L’Arche (Arc or Rainbow), have developed in over 34 countries, welcoming people of all faiths and traditions. Its related network, called Faith and Light, included more than 1,500 communities. Jean Vanier has become internationally recognized for his profound reflections on social inclusion, peace, forgiveness and what it means to be human. A celibate spiritual leader who is not a priest, a philosopher with a doctoral degree who is not a professor, Vanier is not easily categorized. When he turned 80 in the fall, the Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper commended his peacemaking, ecumenism and humanitarianism. The editorial endorsed Vanier as a worthy candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, created to honor those who have “greatly contributed to fraternity among human beings across the world”. Jean Vanier was born into a distinguished Canadian family. His family was the last of Canada’s diplomats to flee Nazi-occupied France when he was 11. At age 13, Vanier decided to join the British Navy and again crossed the dangerous North Atlantic. In his early 20s, after reading Thomas Merton, getting to know Daniel Berrigan, S.J., visiting Friendship House and the Catholic Worker in New York City, and completing a 30-day Ignatian retreat, Vanier resigned from the Navy. For the next 14 years, he studied and prayed, became leader of an innovative community of international students near Paris, wrote a well-received doctoral thesis on Aristotle’s understanding of happiness and was invited to teach at the University of Toronto.

In 1964 his long search to follow Jesus came into focus in a new way, when with Philippe Seux and Raphael Simi, he moved into a small house in Trosly, France. Within a year the community had grown, because Vanier was asked to take on the directorship of a local institution. A trip to India in 1969 deepened Vanier’s understanding of the spirituality and vision of Gandhi and expanded his critical understanding of poverty and community. Around that time L’Arche communities began to grow rapidly around the world, including 16 in the United States. If Vanier had any tendency to romanticize handicaps or spiritualize weakness, that changed when he himself became weak and dependent from a prolonged tropical infection in 1976 and endured a long recovery. He wrote to friends, “After twelve years at L’Arche as an assistant, I am now experiencing what it is like to be on the other side.” His self-understanding deepened in 1980, when he spent a year living with people with more severe handicaps, whose pain touched his own anguish and even hatred. In learning to recognize his own hidden places of pain, Varnier learned to befriend weakness not just in others but in himself. “Let’s stop running away from ourselves and from the deepest part of our beings,” he encouraged people on retreat. “Let us simply stop and start listening to our own hearts. There we will touch a lot of pain. We will possibly touch a lot of anger. We will possibly touch a lot of loneliness and anguish. Then we will hear something deeper. We will hear the voice of Jesus; we will hear the voice of God: ‘I love you. You are precious to My eyes and I love you ‘“

For Vanier, movements inward and outward follow naturally like tides. He learned not to be an enemy of his inner contradictions and pain and began to speak more about “the teaching of Jesus that, if it had been followed, would have changed the history of the world – Love your enemies.”  Love is about coming out from behind barriers, he observed. “Do we want to win, or do we want to be in solidarity with others?” he asked a Harvard audience in 1988. After September 11, 2001, Varnier participated in gatherings where people reaffirmed their vision of mutual acceptance, but he found that those evenings of prayer left him uneasy. “I felt as though people were not praying for a new just order between people and nations, but, motivated by fear, were praying to keep the status quo – no change, no insecurity …” In words that sound especially resonant now as the economy dominates headlines, Varnier wrote that perhaps “certitudes will crumble, and stock exchanges will wobble again before more of us truly begin to search for new ways of living.” Varnier’s life offers one example of a new way of living. For him, life’s work is not simply internal growth or accepting one’s humanness. We each have something to offer. “The fundamental principle of peace is a belief that each person is important,” writes Vanier. “Even if you cannot speak, even if you cannot walk, even if you’ve been abandoned, you have a gift to give.” (Lectio Divina). L/19

“Scriptural Homilies” Cycle C (No. 16) by Fr. Tony: akadavil@gmail.com

Visit this website: http://frtonyshomilies.com/for missed our previous Cycle B homilies, 141 Year of Faith “Adult Faith Formation Lessons” (useful for RCIA classes too) & 197 “Question of the Week.” Contact me only at akadavil@gmail.com. Visit http://www.vaticannews.va/en/church.html for the Vatican version of this homily.

Fr. Anthony Kadavil, Chaplain, Sacred Heart Residence of the Little Sisters of the Poor, 1655 McGill Ave, Mobile, AL 36604.

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