Musing on the Transfiguration

A Musing on the Transfiguration & Obedience

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus…
Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen. –Luke 9:28-36

A few summers ago, I spent every Thursday teaching grade-school children about the Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration. As we begin the second week of Lent, the Transfiguration account from Luke takes center stage in today’s Sunday Gospel. (Or, as I once heard it described, the “Shut Up, Peter” Gospel.)

The story of the Transfiguration was a difficult one to explain to children: Jesus went up the mountain with His disciples, then He changed appearance. Why? To reveal to them that He was the Son of God, and to prepare Himself for His Passion, Death, and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

While there are many thoughts out there about the experience of the Transfiguration, whenever I hear this Gospel, I harken back to what I taught my students that summer:

The Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us about obedience.

First, the apostles Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up the mountain. They probably had no idea why they were going up there with Him. Maybe He told them He wanted to pray. Maybe He didn’t tell them anything except “Follow Me” or “Come with Me.” But, they followed Him nonetheless, because they had faith in Him, and they were willing to follow Him obediently.

Then, when they arrive at the mountain and see Jesus transfigured, they hear the Voice of God the Father telling them: This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.

Yes, later, Peter had his struggles – denying Jesus and abandoning Him to the Cross, even though he had promised his Master he would die with Him. James also abandoned Him in the Garden, but his brother John the Beloved was with Mary at the foot of the Cross.

Despite their struggles of obedience during Jesus’ Passion, they were reunited with Him after His Resurrection and, after Pentecost, began preaching His Gospel to the world.

They listened and obeyed Jesus. Did they listen perfectly? No. Did they always obey Him? No. But, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they listened to Him and obeyed His Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations…

The second example of obedience we find in the Gospel today is Jesus’ obedience. He went up the mountain, more than likely, to transfigure before them as a final preparation for His Passion in Jerusalem. The Gospel tells us that He converses with Moses and Elijah about this while He is transfigured.

Before His three most trusted Apostles, He reveals Himself in all His Glory as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He also, it seems, reveals His Mission in Jerusalem, as the Apostles overhear Him talking to Moses and Elijah.

He has and is listening to the Will of the Father, and He commissions us to do the same. As the Son listens to the Father, so we must listen to the Son.

I gave a meditation on this Gospel reading last Tuesday to a group of high school students. I did not know beforehand I was supposed to lead this meditation, so I fell back on what I remembered from teaching it previously: obedience.

I asked them (and myself): “Where do you hear the Voice of God? How can you listen to Him better? What will God ask of you today … tomorrow… next week? How can you be more obedient to Him, as Jesus was, as the Apostles were?

Let us pray for an increase of obedience and discernment for ourselves and our brothers and sisters, especially those in authority. This Sunday, let us ask ourselves: “How can I be more obedient to the Voice of God in my life?”

Musing on Isaiah 1:18

“Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” — Isaiah 1:18

photoToday, my entire state was covered by a record-breaking snowfall. I spent most of my morning shoveling snow almost a foot deep out of my driveway. It was everywhere I looked — blindingly bright, especially when the sun came out. The snow was so deep over the yard that I was having a hard time remembering what it looked like normally.

I began to admire it and reflect on it. I remembered the words of David in Psalm 51: Purify me, that I may be clean; O wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Upon further reading, I also re-discovered the quote from Isaiah. It was interesting to see that snow is a standard of purity in the Scriptures. (Even in this weekend’s Gospel reading on the Transfiguration, it says Jesus’ garments are white as snow.)

Snow, when untouched, undisturbed, is pure. But, when it is disturbed, when things are added to it, it changes color – it becomes dirty. The slushy snow alongside the roadways – brown and black from the gasoline and the asphalt – is ugly compared to the once-beautiful sight it was when it first fell. Thus, snow is most beautiful when it is untainted, untouched.

imageYet, are lives are not so. Our sins and transgressions against God and neighbor disrupt and contort our souls, even as much as a muddy shovel or vehicle uglies the beautiful frosted landscape.

Martin Luther believed that our sinful nature needed to be covered by God’s grace, like snow covering dung.

Yet, our nature is good and beautiful. God made Man, and He made him good. Yes, we sin, and our sins distort our nature and our relationship with God. The snowy landscape of our soul is tainted and disturbed. In mortal sin, it seemingly melts away. God’s presence is no longer there, and we regret the impurity of our hearts and minds.

In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (and in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, also) we are filled with God’s grace once again. Our sins, though they be like muddy slush, are washed away and a new, pure snowfall of God’s Grace and Life returns.

Yes, no one on this Earth, presently, is perfect. The ‘snow of our souls’ will be disturbed and tainted by our sins, but that is why we must seek God’s Mercy and Forgiveness so readily in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.image(1)

We must ask trust in God to purify our hearts once more with a splendid volley of snow-like grace; that our souls may be as serene, pure, and beautiful as an immaculate, wintry landscape.

“Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool.” — Isaiah 1:18

Musing on 1 Cor 2:2

“NON ENIM IUDICAVI SCIRE ME ALIQUID INTER VOS NISI ISEUM CHRISTUM ET HUNC CRUCIFIXUM.” – PAULUS

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”  –St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:2

A Musing on Remembering Christ Crucified

A few months ago, I was at a conference where the speaker at breakfast was a former Pentagon official. He began his speech by telling us what his typical days at the Pentagon were like, one day in particular. He said he had drank several Cokes that morning, and had told his coworkers he needed to step out for a moment, and walked down the hallway to the restrooms.

“Had I known in that moment, that was the last time I would’ve spoken to my coworkers, I would’ve said something different,” he told us.

He exited the restrooms and was beginning to walk back toward his office, which laid on the outer-most ring of the Pentagon (with a window looking out toward Virginia) when the plane hit the building.

He went on to describe how he survived those next few seconds, minutes, hours – the third degree burns on his body, the weakness in his muscles and lungs, the feeling of being on the edge of life, and the encouragement and comfort he felt when the hospital chaplain read the Psalms to him.

He had survived the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on September 11. His trip to the restroom, and various other circumstances, ultimately had saved his life, but the coworkers who had remained in the office where he’d worked had all died in the attack.

His memory of his coworkers and that day live on in his memory and on his body, as his burns are still visible, and still painful. He said every day, with every speech he gave, he remembered 9/11 and his coworkers and the others who died. He could never forget. It was thanks to God that he was alive, he told us, and he gave thanks for that every day.

Today, he shares his story with others, and continues to spread Christ’s message through his ministry. But, he understands that he lives thanks to Another.

St. Paul understood this, too. After persecuting the early Christians, and seeing a vision of Christ himself on his way to Damascus, he understood that he was living on “borrowed time.”

Just as the 9/11 Pentagon survivor saw that he was alive (physically) thanks to Christ and His Mercy, St. Paul recognized that he was alive (spiritually) thanks to Christ and His Cross.

We, as sinners, recognize the saving merits of Christ’s passion, as without them, we would have a chance to be with Him in Heaven when we die.

O My Dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which Thou didst die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death; but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy death, give me the grace to die, embracing Thy Feet, and burning with love for Thee. (The 12th Station, St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Stations of the Cross)

St. Paul mentions the saving graces of Christ’s Cross throughout his letters, but in 1 Corinthians, he marks that his ministry is centered on the remembrance of that Sacrifice which won our freedom from death.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”

For the 9/11 survivor – in every speech he gave, every move of his burned body, every prayer he uttered – he remembers that he was saved from death that day, and remembers and prays for those who died.

St. Paul – in every teaching, every sermon, every shared meal and prayer – remembered the important work he had been commissioned through his ministry. He remembered Christ’s Mercy and Love – which He demonstrated through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

In those moments of his ministry, St. Paul walked a spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary with Christ. The Crucified Lord was beside St. Paul, helping him draw others to the foot of the Cross, to remember the Sacrifice that took place there.

And, so do we, too. We remember. We commemorate the Crucified Lord with every Mass and, during Lent most especially, we make that spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary by praying the Stations of the Cross.

So, let us continue to do so. May the Crucified Lord be in our thoughts, words, and actions during every moment of our day – especially those moments when we are actively ministering to others, as St. Paul did. Let us walk with Him to Calvary and commemorate His Sacrifice for us.

The Prayer to Jesus Christ Crucified

My good and dear Jesus, I kneel before you, asking you most earnestly to engrave upon my heart a deep and lively faith, hope, and charity, with true repentance for my sins, and a firm resolve to make amends. As I reflect upon your five wounds, and dwell upon them with deep compassion and grief, I recall, good Jesus, the words the prophet David spoke long ago concerning yourself: “They have pierced my hands and my feet; they have counted all my bones!”

Lord, we also offer a special prayer for those who died on September 11, 2001. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. +CHS

Musing on Mercy & Justice

les-miserables-posters-jackman-crowe

The Mercy of Valjean and the Justice of Javert

Author’s Note: This musing is based on my knowledge and understanding of the musical “Les Miserables” and its movie adaptation that was released in theaters last December. I fully admit I have never read the book “Les Miserables” by Victor Hugo, and I realize there are differences in characters, plot, etc. between the musical and its source material. Still, I hope you enjoy it!

Meditation on Mercy & Justice from “Les Miserables”

In 19th century France, the starving teenager Jean Valjean, in desperation, steals a loaf of bread to feed himself and his family members. For his crime, and various escape attempts, he is imprisoned for 19 years. Upon his release, he finds little welcome in the world outside prison. He is treated as an outcast, because of his brand as an ex-convict. He struggles to find food and shelter, as few are willing to help him. As he sleeps in a graveyard, a bishop finds him and offers him food and shelter for the night.

Later that night, Valjean takes advantage of the bishop’s kindness by stealing his silver. The police arrest Valjean and return him to the bishop, as Valjean claims that the bishop gave him the silver as a present. The bishop confirms Valjean’s story, and by doing so, saves him from returning to prison:

“And remember this, my brother,
See in this some high plan.
You must use this precious silver
To become an honest man.
By the witness of the martyrs,
By the passion and the blood,
God has raised you out of darkness” (Valjean Arrested / Valjean Forgiven)

Because of this act of mercy, Valjean realizes the sinfulness of his life as a criminal and commits himself to God. Valjean expected justice, but received mercy instead. He sees and experiences the bishop’s and, more importantly, God’s love for him. And thus, sees his unworthiness, and desires to change his ways by committing himself to God.

And, because of the bishop’s single act of mercy, Valjean, in turn, becomes an apostle of mercy – spreading Christ’s love and forgiveness throughout the rest of his life.

Because of Valjean’s commitment to mercy, he:

  • rescues a man who was trapped under a cart;
  • reveals himself as the ex-convict Jean Valjean, to save an innocent man (whom the police had identified as Valjean) from going to prison;
  • saves the prostitute Fantine from jail and ensures she receives medical care;
  • saves Fantine’s daughter Cosette from her unloving caretakers and adopts her as his own daughter, continuing to provide for her;
  • joins the revolutionaries, trying to help as many of them as he can, and ultimately saves Cosette’s boyfriend, Marius;
  • spares the life and career of his ruthless pursuer, the policeman Javert; and
  • continually gives money to the poor and various charities, etc. throughout the course of the story.

Conversely, the police inspector Javert, who pursues Valjean after he broke parole, has committed himself to justice. He simply cannot allow himself to do anything except what is right by the law. He tells Valjean:

“Men like me can never change
Men like you can never change…
My duty’s to the law…
Dare you talk to me of crime
And the price you had to pay
Every man is born in sin
Every man must choose his way” (The Confrontation)

He believes that men are set in there ways: they are either good or bad, and their choices prove their character. Because Javert has dedicated himself to following the law and punishing those who do not, he believes he is a good man. Those whom he pursues, like Valjean, because they broke the law, are bad.

And neither can change. Good men cannot become bad; and bad men cannot become good.

Yet – unlike Valjean, the apostle of mercy – Javert is an administer of justice. No long-term goodness comes from his actions; he does not directly impact anyone’s lives for the better. He arrests and imprisons those who commit crimes; he “cleans the garbage off the street” (Look Down). He has no sympathy for the poor, and only looks to please the rich.

Valjean spreads his virtue through God’s grace and love; Javert spreads his through his position and the force of the law.

The difference source of their virtues results in different lives, different impacts, and different fates.

Even so, Javert admits that “every man is born in sin,” but will not admit that he is guilty of any sin, seemingly, except for original sin. He is committed to goodness, perfection, and the law.

But, after Javert infiltrates a group of rebels and fails in his deception of them, Valjean spares his life and allows him to go free, allowing the rebels to believe he did kill Javert. Later, Javert catches Valjean as he carries the unconscious Marius home; Valjean pleads for Javert to let him take Marius to a hospital, and he will return and “all our debts are paid.”

Yet, as Valjean walks away with Marius on his back, Javert tells him to stop. Valjean continues to walk away, and Javert cannot bring himself to shoot Valjean.

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief!
Damned if I’ll yield at the end of the chase.
I am the Law and the Law is not mocked
I’ll spit his pity right back in his face
There is nothing on earth that we share
It is either Valjean or Javert! (Javert’s Suicide)

Javert cannot reconcile himself to accept that has received mercy, and – though unwilling – has shown mercy in return. He cannot accept that he lives because of the goodness of a criminal; and, because of this, he jumps off a bridge into the river, ultimately killing himself.

He gave me my life. He gave me freedom.
I should have perished by his hand
It was his right...
Can this man be believed?
Shall his sins be forgiven?
Shall his crimes be reprieved? (Javert’s Suicide)

Here is the difference between the two, and the focal point:

As Javert could not accept, justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive. One can accept both, as justice is what we deserve from God, but mercy is what we receive. A man can change, but only through God’s mercy.

Through our sin, we fall; through God’s grace, we rise.

Justice and mercy are both virtues; neither is a weakness. And, because we have received mercy from God, we must show mercy to others (as Javert could not understand or accept). Justice, or giving someone his/her due, is also a righteous thing. In our society, we recognize that those who commit dangerous crimes should be kept apart from the public for safety.

But, as Javert did not understand, there must be a balance between the virtues. In some cases, we can and should show mercy; in others, we might not have that ability (such as a judge during a court case).

The hard part is knowing when to show justice, and when to show mercy.

But, when we pray, we cross our fingers right over left – mercy over justice. We pray for mercy; we appreciate when others are merciful to us; and we hope that our mercy toward others is not abused.

Yet, that is the risk with mercy. Like love, it is a virtue that many can take advantage of. Just so, we have taken advantage of God’s mercy toward us by continuing to sin; still, he continues to show us mercy, despite repeatedly injuring Him.

So, we must – to the best of our ability – show mercy to our brothers and sisters. And when they abuse our ‘pity’ and ‘leniency,’ we must show them mercy once again, in the hopes that they will realize our love for them and change their ways.

The rippling effects of mercy, seemingly, flow out much farther than those of justice. In Valjean’s case, through the bishop’s mercy toward him, many lives were saved and changed for the better. In Javert’s case, many criminals were imprisoned, and he advanced further in his career.

Thus, we should continue to cross our fingers right over left – mercy over justice. For “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7)

For further reading about Les Miserables and Catholicism, check out this FOCUS blog post. Kudos to its author! Very well written, and much shorter than my stuff. 🙂