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Reflections on Faith - Transfiguration in the Church - August 2007

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August 27, 2007

Here we are at the end of August – and the last of my reflections on the goal… the prayer that all of us may be ‘transfigured’ in and with the Church. My previous thoughts have been a little more on the scriptural sides of this issue. Today, I’d like to do a little philosophical consideration of the Church -- asking us to consider the nature of the Church.

It seems strange, does it not, that some 2,000 years afterwards – and many are still trying to define the Church? You don’t think so? Consider these: early in his papacy, the late Pope John Paul II devoted well over one hundred of his weekly audiences to looking at the history, origin, institution and organization of the Church. And what was the most important document that came out of Vatican II? I would say the answer is Lumen Gentium, which is also referred to as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Dogmatic means that which relates to dogma – or what we ought to believe. And the words Lumen Gentium (from Latin) mean ‘light to the nations.’ That is what the Church must be. Well, perhaps we ought to say that is what the Church should be.

I use the words ‘should be’ because most know the Church is ever divine, but she is also ever human. And as we discussed last week – the daily newspapers remind us of the continuation of Original Sin -- even in Mother Church. So once again – I pose – how can we, you and I be transfigured in this Church?

Last week – I quoted from the book Living the Catholic Faith by Archbishop Charles Chaput. He shines a ‘wisdom flashlight’ on what it means for us to be Catholic – which is to say, what it means for us to be Church. I hope you’ll find this rather small, but thought-provoking book.

I’m reading another delightful book – I can’t think of enough adjectives to apply to this: it’s zestful, smart… poetic… tender in spots… It’s called: What Is The Church? It’s written by Dr. Regis Martin, a professor from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. In his introduction to the book, Martin writes: “The first time I ever laid eyes on Rome… it was an entirely unforgettable affair.” I could relate because I had the same beautiful experience when we went to the ‘roots of our faith’ in Italy in the year 2004.

Martin’s first chapter starts with a reasoned topic: “The Courtesy Owed to God.” In this, he talks about the importance of ‘conversation with God.’ It is followed by a gentle essay on ‘The Courtesy Owed the Author.’ In this chapter is a quote from Saint Cyprian of Carthage, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his Mother.” Martin pleads a powerful argument for an old-fashioned virtue called ‘docility’ (not to be confused with servility) towards the Church. He also leads a reasoned discussion on detachment from self in looking at the Church.

As a deacon with only a few years of ordained service – I can’t tell you how much I’ve seen… I’ve heard where Church is what people claim that it is from their experience… from their practice.

Another interesting construct of Martin is found in a chapter entitled The Courtesy Owed Our Ancestors. This reminds me of my visit to an old Catholic Church in Virginia City, Nevada. I was overwhelmed with the feeling that the prayers of miners and mine-owners and their families still reverberated off the rafters… one could feel the sense of the prayers and the Eucharists still having effect on those who come to worship… those who come to visit – and those who have yet to come. And this setting only dated back to the 1800’s. This sort of feeling about honoring the prayers, the Masses, the litanies, the tears and joys was what I felt in that Virginia City church. But guess what? It was so much more profound (in me) when we visited the catacombs outside the walls of Rome. Touching the dug-out places where the martyrs were buried… I asked their help so that my faith becomes transformed till it is like theirs was.

In respect of time and space – I must stop. Yet there is so much more to say. The Church is also the Kingdom of God, if we but let it be so. How do you think Christ calls you and me to be transfigured by what takes place inside of the Church? I’d love to hear from you. There are days and times when, once again, I say what Peter said, “Lord, it is good for us to be here!”

August 20, 2007

On the first Monday in August, the Church presented for us the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain. This ‘reflection’ is a continuation of the theme started by the Transfiguration – and especially concerning the idea… the goal of each one of us being transformed in-and-with the Church.

Let us consider two readings; the first is from the inspiring Psalm 84 – which is titled Longing for God’s Temple. In part – the psalmist wrote these words: “How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of Hosts. My soul is longing and yearning for the courts of the Lord…. The sparrow herself finds a home and the swallow a nest for her brood… they are happy who dwell in your house.”

The next words are from the Liturgy of the Hours, Week Four. It is a psalm-prayer which says, “When you rose from the dead, Lord Jesus, you formed the Church into your new body, and made of it the new Jerusalem… make all nations come to your Church to share in the gifts in fellowship….”

I think we would do well to meditate on that which was evident to the earliest of God’s chosen people, the Jews. That is – that there is an inherent beauty and longing in the people of God – in fact a longing for all created beings to come to the place where the Lord is. And as raised in our last reflection, Jesus himself called the Temple (of that time) God’s House – a place he and others longed to be.

And if you’ll allow me to extend a thought from last week – remember the words of Scripture how the parents of Jesus search for three days. Mary, his Mother said that they had ‘great anxiety’ during the time they were looking for Jesus. Can we not see a ‘message’ in this – that those who search for Christ ‘outside’ of the traditional structure of a worshiping community – that they are outside of the model of Christ… the model of where Jesus told us we should be.

Many of us struggle with the brokenness and weakness… the outright sin we see in the Church. Heavens – all we need to do is look at some of the bishops and priests who were either mislead, or they betrayed the sacred confidence of the authority they were given. This erroneous or sinful leadership led to the pedophilia scandal. Surely there is sin here – as there was in the earliest minutes of Christ’s Church.

I remember an Irish priest in Florida who said that when people tell him they don’t want to be a part of the Church because of the hypocrites in it – the priest says, “Why not join us – there’s always room for one more!” OUCH! Many of us in the Church don’t want to think that we are that sinful, or that hypocritical… but the evidence condemns most of us. But I heard another priest say that there is no better place for sinners than inside the Church – because in it – there are sacraments, there is forgiveness… there is healing… there is restoration… there is support… and for many of us there is progress.

In my own life, I can only imagine what would happen if I reverted back to my life prior to… that is without the Church.

Therefore – my closing thoughts in this reflection are for us to pray to see the transfigured lives and the ways in which the Church helps God’s people… The Church is the ‘sacrament’ of Christ… As the wonderful Archbishop Chaput (from the Denver Archdiocese) says: “We should be able to look on the Church and see Jesus Christ… Christ is the sacrament of God…. (The challenge is that…) we who belong to the Church are commissioned to be Jesus’ presence in the world…. Preaching the Gospel… spreading the kingdom of God… building up the community of the faithful, and then reaching out to those who are most in need. (To the extent that we don’t accomplish…) these things, we are not the full, clear presence of Christ in the world.” (From Living the Catholic Faith, Charles J. Chaput, O.F. M., Cap., Servant Books, 2001)

And so – transfiguration is invited… is called for from those outside of active membership in the Church… and transfiguration is called for from those inside the Church. Let us pray to the Holy Spirit as I said (and sung) last week: “Transfigure us, O Lord; transfigure us, O Lord… break the chains that bind us, speak your healing word. And where you lead, we’ll follow… transfigure us, O Lord.”

August 13, 2007

Last week we celebrated the beautiful Feast of the Transfiguration. I would like to take the remaining weeks of this month of August to lay out a proposition for all of us – and that is that Transfiguration of one kind comes about by our (active) membership in the Church. This will take a little time to develop, but with God’s help, we start with the first view of how one form of transfiguration can happen in our lives.

Just prior to starting the research and preparation necessary for this reflection – I had been in prayer, specifically concluding with the Rosary. I was praying the Joyful mysteries and was struck by the teaching found in that mystery called the “Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple.” I’m sure many of you remember the story told to us in Luke’s Gospel in Holy Scripture – how the parents had gone up to Jerusalem for the annual feast of Passover. (Luke 2:41-42).

After completing those days, the parents left and traveled towards home. After a full day, they discovered that Jesus was not in the caravan – not with family or friends. Imagine stopping for the evening – fires being lit – tents and windbreaks being set up. And Joseph and Mary begin to circulate among the campfires of the travelers… “Have you seen our son, Jesus?” Moving on… “Did any of you see our boy Jesus from Nazareth?” Everywhere the answer was “No.” The way the Gospel account is written – the parents may have taken off perhaps during that night or the next morning. Scripture tells us that it took three days before they find their son.

Three days – isn’t that an interesting thing to meditate upon? What lesson can we take from the ‘nugget’ that tells us that the parents traveled away from Jerusalem for one day – and yet it took three days to find Jesus after the parents had left ‘the Church?’ Interesting?

At any rate – continuing with this story – on the third day, Mary and Joseph find Jesus ‘sitting in the Temple, in the midst of teachers, listening to them and asking questions.’ (Luke 2:46). The parents (and others?) were astounded. Mary said to him, “Why have you done this to us? We have looked for you with great anxiety.” Jesus replied, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)

It was when I read those words that Jesus must be in his Father’s house that I felt this was the subject of a teaching for me – and I hope for you. We humans tend to think of ‘our’ churches… the places where we donate our money… perhaps the buildings that we or our parents helped to establish… we think of ‘our’ parish council or our style and type of worship… in other words, the type of liturgy that we want.

Jesus teaches us that the temple… the church… the physical building that we enter… the liturgies that we participate in… these are all done in his Father’s house. No matter who funded or how they are started, the Church belongs to God.

The Masses and other services that we participate in – these are for the praise and honor and petition of God the Father – they are not ours in the sense that they ‘belong to us.’ And further – Jesus is present in his ‘Father’s House.’ He is there, listening and sometimes speaking (if we are quiet and listen). Gosh – this one sentence could get me started. Certainly it is good for us to share community but I submit that it is afterwards in a donut and coffee session… not in Church or in the gathering area. During time in the ‘Father’s House,’ we are invited to listen for the voice of Jesus speaking to us in our minds and hearts. Call me old-fashioned -- but Jesus speaks to us as individuals in silent moments – not in talk with friends.

There are many folks who live in beautiful settings – the grandeur of the Rockies where I happen to have been in recent years… or out on God’s fruited plains. Some will tell us that they can find God in their homes or on a walk out among the aspens… and that is true. God is present there. But God’s house – the place where Yahweh dwells is in his temple – his churches. That is where the people of God are summoned… at least once a week on the Sabbath.

If you are among those who are estranged from ‘the church’ may you find transfiguration in seeing that Christ is found among the leaders and the sinners in his church. Join us. We need your prayers. Then, like the joyful Peter, we will say, “Lord – it is good to be here.”

Reading 1
Dt 10:12-22
Moses said to the people: “And now, Israel, what does the LORD, your God, ask of you but to fear the LORD, your God, and follow his ways exactly, to love and serve the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul, to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD which I enjoin on you today for your own good? Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God,
as well as the earth and everything on it.

Yet in his love for your fathers the LORD was so attached to them
as to choose you, their descendants, in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and be no longer stiff-necked. For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him. So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.

The LORD, your God, shall you fear, and him shall you serve;
hold fast to him and swear by his name. He is your glory, he, your God, who has done for you those great and terrible things which your own eyes have seen. Your ancestors went down to Egypt seventy strong, and now the LORD, your God, has made you as numerous as the stars of the sky.”

Responsorial Psalm
Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20
R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has granted peace in your borders; with the best of wheat he fills you. He sends forth his command to the earth; swiftly runs his word!
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them. Alleluia. R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Mt 17:22-27
As Jesus and his disciples were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were over-whelmed with grief. When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the temple tax approached Peter and said, “Does not your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes,” he said. When he came into the house, before he had time to speak, Jesus asked him, “What is your opinion, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take tolls or census tax? From their subjects or from foreigners?” When he said, “From foreigners,”

Jesus said to him, “Then the subjects are exempt.

But that we may not offend them, go to the sea, drop in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up. Open its mouth and you will find a coin worth twice the temple tax. Give that to them for me and for you.”

August 6, 2007

Oh what a glorious celebration on the Church’s calendar – this most glorious feast of the Transfiguration… a glimpse… a tiny suggestive glimpse of what awaits God’s chosen and holy ones on the ‘other side’ of the veil….

One of the more prolific and wonderful preachers is Fr. Phil Bloom. Last I heard he was pastor at Holy Family parish in Seattle. Here are some of his thoughts that teach that there can be a link between the mysteries found in the Eucharist and the Transfiguration.

“The most obvious way in which the Transfiguration illuminates the Eucharist is that it exposes the reality beneath the appearances. If we love a play, we naturally want to know about what happens behind the curtains… It would have been magnificent to see and hear Jesus in his earthly appearance, but indescribably more wonderful to know what was going on behind the scenes. We get a small glimpse today. We hear about how even his clothes turned dazzlingly white and part of the Communion of Saints became manifest: Moses and Elijah conversed with him. [I love Fr. Phil’s reminding us of the Communion of Saints --- all of God’s holy ones – those who are in Heaven waiting for us… sharing about our world and what is going on in it.]

Over the years certain mystics glimpsed a bit the reality behind the Eucharist. Fr. Bloom said that he remembers one of his seminary professors.

This priest felt such awe toward the Eucharist that he was unable to celebrate a public Mass. He trembled and stuttered when he said Mass; it sometimes took a couple of hours. What a compelling story of faith in what is seen in faith, behind the scenes so to speak. And many have heard of the late Padre Pio – now a saint. He trembled before the Eucharist… And I know a priest in the Archdiocese of Denver that has similar ‘fear’ (that word means awe and powerful love and trepidation) of the power of the Eucharist…

Wouldn’t it be wonderful for us to grow in our faith such that we shared in some glimpse of what is behind the Eucharist? How to do this? Well, for sure faith is a gift… but it is a gift we need to accept…. To accept in prayer and in humble anticipation. Our faith needs to be transfigured if it is to grow…

Some years ago – I was honored to preach on the Feast of the Transfiguration. And it happened that one of our music ministers who plays the guitar knew the words to a hymn called” Transfigure Us, O Lord. I invited him to step into the middle of my homily. And as well as I can remember, these are words he sang “Transfigure us, O Lord, transfigure us, O Lord. Break the chains that bind us, speak your healing word. And where You lead, we’ll follow, transfigure us, O Lord…. You light the path before us, to show the way that we must go…. We glimpse your highest glory… God’s promise to us shining …. Transfigure us, O Lord.” Our musician (Gary) sang wonderfully that day – and it fit right into the theme of the homily.

This is what we need… to be changed… God has already given us the gift of Himself… now we need to accept the gift and follow the path laid out before us. To all who are Catholic – I encourage you to seek personal transfiguration in your knowledge of the Eucharist… Study the early Church and its practices. Consider the writings of the Church Fathers. If you wish – consider the lives of the Saints… St. Francis of Assisi – so venerated by our Church and even many other Christian faiths… He wrote and had such deep, deep love for our Holy Communion… And beloved Mother Theresa of Calcutta and her nuns spent a minimum of an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament each day. And didn’t it seem that all Christians loved our late Holy Father John Paul II? Was there ever a greater example of love of the Eucharist and the Church’s liturgies?

To those who don’t believe or understand – it is simply bread… a ground wheat, baked and passed among churchgoers as some sort of a nice symbol of Christian practice. To those who are transfigured, we can call to mind the words of Jesus, “Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.'" (Mt. 28, 20) And in humble, awe-filled reply, we say, “Lord it is good that we are here.”

© 2006-2008 Deacon Tom Online