August 27, 2017 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Aug 272017
 

Matthew 16:13-20

Jesus went into the region of Caesarea Philippi and he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly ordered his disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

The Gospel lesson we just heard is pivotal for Roman Catholic self-understanding. It’s the foundational scripture for St. Peter becoming Christ’s Vicar here on earth. Jesus proclaims: so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Every successor of St. Peter has inherited this promise and it is the bedrock of the Church’s authority.

At the beginning of this passage we hear Jesus asking his disciples: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

The responses were interesting: John the Baptizer, who had recently been killed by Herod, Elijah the OT prophet who was taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot and who would usher in the Messiah, the Christ. Or some thought the Son of Man might be Jeremiah or one of the other prophets. But Jesus presses them: “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s response is among the most important in scripture.

Among other things, this Gospel lesson is a story about conversion, the conversion of Simon Peter and by implication it’s a call to conversion for all who would serve Christ in His Church. This is the underlying message of the “New Evangelization” that the Church is emphasizing so strongly. We know that Simon Peter wasn’t a newcomer to following Christ, but this revelation depicted in the Gospel lesson was a call for Peter to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God and for Peter to receive him fully and to serve him with the entirety of his being. For the faithful thereafter, this was and is a call for all of us. We are to commit to Jesus deeply, strongly and with fervor. To embrace the fact that he is the Christ the Son of the living God.

The Catechism defines conversion as “A radical reorientation of the whole life away from sin and evil, and toward God. This change of heart or conversion is a central element of Christ’s preaching, of the Church’s ministry of evangelization, and of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.” (p 873)

It’s important to remember that for us Christians, our conversions start at baptism but they continue until we reach the throne of Grace. Even time spent in Purgatory is time spent in conversion, in changing whatever would separate us from God until we finally enter heaven. This is the process. The goal is to put our full faith, love and trust in Christ. This is the basic message of Evangelization.

As just mentioned, we Catholics are so blessed to have a Church which provides us with a sacrament that is focused entirely on conversion: the sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation. To lay our sins out to God in the presence of a priest as we repent them fully and then to have the words of absolution and pardon and peace proclaimed to us is so sacred, and so dear. Conversion in this sense is mostly course correction to make sure that we are walking on the path Christ has set out for us and when we deviate from it by our sins, God lovingly calls us back.

As we read through the rest of the New Testament, it is really evident that Peter’s conversion was to be a very long process. From denying our Lord 3 times to battling with St. Paul, St. Peter kept having to repent in order to stay the course. And for each of us, conversion is a long process too, a lifelong process if you will, and so often repentance is the only means that gets us back on course when we stray in thought, word or deed.

Other Christian traditions, especially evangelical Protestants, put more emphasis on a particular event in life which is frequently called “being saved.” When for example, a Baptist is asked when he or she was saved, often a specific point in time is mentioned. The Catholic Church acknowledges the validity of these experiences that turn one’s heart to Christ. So back in 1988 the Catholic Church and the World Baptist Confederation actually put out a statement of mutual agreement on the nature of conversion.

Here, in part, is what they said:

“Conversion is turning away from all that which is opposed to God, contrary to Christ’s teaching, and turning to God, to Christ the Son through the work of the Holy Spirit. It entails turning from self-centeredness of sin to faith in Christ as Lord and Savior. Conversion is passing from one way of life to another new one, marked with newness in Christ. It is a continuing process so that the whole life of a Christian should be a passage from death to life, from error to truth, from sin to Grace.”

“Individuals respond in faith to God’s call, but faith comes from hearing the proclamation of the Word of God and it is to be expressed in living together in Christ, that is the Church.”

I rather like this statement.

It’s important to keep in mind the primary purpose of Jesus’ declaration to St. Peter. He, Peter, would be the rock upon which the Church would be built; it was more about the Church and less about St. Peter. Individual Christians do need to engage in that long and important process of conversion, but as the Church teaches, the emphasis on personal conversion must be for the well being and furtherance of our community.  For us, conversion always takes place in the context of community. We Catholics think “we” rather than just “me.”

Put another way, conversion is personal but not private. Not only is conversion for individual piety and holiness, it is also to enhance the Church, sometimes this is even done from the grave.

The story is told of the Emperor Charlemagne, who according to legend, was buried sitting upright on his throne. He had commanded that the crown remain on his head and that his scepter be in his right hand. He also gave instruction that the royal cape was to be draped around his shoulders and an open Bible be placed in his lap.

Nearly 200 years later, the emperor Othello determined to see if the burial instructions had been really carried out— so he ordered the grave to be opened. They found the skeleton just as Charlemagne had commanded. But what was most interesting was that the bone of the index finger of his left hand was pointed to a passage in Scripture six verses farther from the end of our Gospel lesson today: Mt 16:26: What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? It was message from the grave as a reminder to us all. It was a faithful response from a converted king.

The combined task of the individual believer, the Church, all the angels and saints and the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is to see that one does not forfeit one’s soul. Individuals need to be engaged in the long process of conversion, all the while being surrounded and supported of such a vast community of faith. And all this is set secure on the solid rock of the Church.

 

 

 

August 20, 2017 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Aug 222017
 

Matthew 15:21-28

At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.

In our Gospel lesson we read that a Canaanite woman called out [to Jesus], “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus’ disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.” He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

For background it is important to note that the Canaanites were a loose federation of tribes who occupied the “Promised Land” before Abraham arrived to claim it in the name of God. The Canaanites had a long history of conflict with the Hebrew people dating back to Noah shortly after the flood, centuries before Abraham.

The story is that Noah got drunk, took off all of his clothes, and passed out. His son Ham walked in on him and ridiculed him to his brothers. Noah was so humiliated and infuriated that he put a curse on Ham and all his descendants, who later became known as the Canaanites. An aspect of this curse was that the Canaanites were to be slaves of Noah’s two other sons, Shem and Japheth. As you may guess, the Canaanites weren’t too keen on this. (Gen. 9:20ff)

Several centuries after Abraham, when Moses was trying to retake the Promised Land after the Children of Israel escaped from their Egyptian slavery, it was the Canaanites with whom they often engaged in battle. There was no love lost between Jew and Canaanite.

To make it even worse, there’s a passage in Deut. 20:17 in which God calls for the destruction of all Canaanites and in Zech. 14:2, Canaanites are specifically excluded from worship. You can see the basis of a pretty deep seated animosity. So in light of all this, it would not be possible to overestimate the “chutzpah,” the brass, the audacity of this Canaanite woman. She ruffled a lot of feathers by approaching Jesus as she did.

We read in the text that this woman rushed up and knelt before Jesus, begging for help for her demon tormented daughter. He couldn’t ignore her any longer, so said in reply: “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

This is a significant exchange; in Biblical times, dogs were not the revered pets that they are today in our society. In the Sermon on the Mount, Mt. 7:6, Jesus states, Do not give dogs what is holy… And then in the Revelation to St. John of Patmos, chapter 22 verse 15, it says, that some will be excluded from the heavenly city and the list includes…dogs, and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”

The Greek word for dog is Kuon, it is the basis for our word “Cur.” Even now, as then, in much of the mid-east, dogs are slinking street creatures that function as scavengers and sentries. These curs were and are nobody’s pets.  To add to the insult, the word Jesus used in the Gospel lesson is kunaria, the diminutive form and it means yappy little dog.

I think that with a twinkle in his eye, Jesus was comparing the Canaanite woman to the yappy little lap dogs that many Canaanites had as pets, something that disgusted Jews of that day. And the woman was quick enough to get it.  By implication, He was referring to her. He was comparing her loud persistence to a little dog that would not shut up. And this is what’s fascinating to me, she agreed. Note her esponse: “Yes Lord, yet even the kunaria, the yappy little dogs, get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”

I think Jesus then laughed. And then I think that with great warmth and humor in his voice he said, “‘Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”

In contrast, recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, are not a laughing matter.

One of the more insightful statements about that horrible situation came from Archbishop Charles Chaput (SHAP-you) of Philadelphia who said: “Racism is a poison of the soul. It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.” * I find his words uncomfortable, but we have to listen to them. Getting personal, I was raised in a family in which racial and ethnic slurs were commonplace. I suspect that many of you were too. When that kind of language permeates our psyches when we are young, it tends to stay put indelibly. It affects us both consciously and unconsciously, individually and our society as a whole.

Let’s take a minute to look at Archbishop Chaput. He is a member of the “Prairie Band of the Potawatomis;” He’s the second Native American bishop and the first Archbishop. His father is French Canadian and his mother is a member of the Potawanomi nation.

The Archbishop’s words have a political import, but they are also theological.

To talk about the original sin of the United States makes perfect sense. Not far from Charlottesville is Monticello, the estate of Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence. He is the one who declared that all men are created equal, and he enunciated a doctrine of human rights, but he also owned slaves, including Sally Hemings who was the mother of his six children, who were also slaves. That he mistreated not only numerous black people, but his own flesh and blood as well, represents the most breathtaking hypocrisy. This manifests the original sin of which Archbishop Chaput speaks; a Constitution that speaks of liberty for all, but which denies it to some on grounds of race.

Ironically Charlottesville is named after Queen Charlotte, the consort of King George III of England. Evidently she was a black Queen whose ancestors came from Africa, which is irony indeed.

When Archbishop Chaput speaks of original sin, he refers not just to the sin at the beginning, but the sin that endures. America today, despite the promise contained in the Constitution, is not a land of equality and great social mobility, despite having had an African-American President. Things are better along racial lines, but they are a long way from being fixed.

Archbishop Chaput, of course, is of Native American stock on his mother’s side, and therefore has a special insight into questions of race. We should not forget that our country existed before Europeans “discovered” it, and that their settlement of the land was anything but peaceful.

Our current troubles, of which Charlottesville represents but the tip of the iceberg must make anyone sad, but the question remains: “What is to be done? The Archbishop rightly points out: “We need more than pious public statements.” He goes on to say: “If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change. Charlottesville matters. It’s a snapshot of our public unravelling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country. We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories. If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others. That may sound simple. But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.”*

I find this “original sin of our country” of which Archishop Chaput speaks is manifest in other areas. It’s tied up with what punsters are calling “identity politics.” I interpret this to mean that we are getting tribal in our country; we want to be with folks who are just like us and we are suspicious of anyone who is different. There is also a strong reaction to what I like to call the politics of guilt and pity. Many are tired of being blamed for the problems of others, particularly if it has to do with being “politically correct.” Unfortunately, all too often, there is an overreaction to folks of color who have a legitimate beef because of serious discrimination. Yeah, I get it. We don’t like aspersions of guilt being thrown on us and we often over react. But we do have a problem. The oppression against others, especially against people of other races is real.

The Sin of Adam and Eve, the Original Sin, led to dissension between these first two human beings and it has been passed on to us. The reconciliation that heals such dissension comes from Christ Jesus, himself. He is the one who undoes the damage inflicted by our first parents. Moreover, He is the great sign of unity, as He died and rose for all, black, white, brown, Canaanite and Jew . The Redemption wrought by Jesus is the foundation of human dignity as it shows that He thought we were all worth dying for. So the Archbishop is right to call for conversion of heart.

Ours is a deeply religious nation. A reflection on the foundations of our expressions of faith would be a good place to start to address the injustices of racism. And we can look to Jesus and the Canaanite woman as an example.

*STATEMENT OF ARCHBISHOP CHARLES J. CHAPUT, O.F.M. CAP. REGARDING RACIAL VIOLENCE IN CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA

Racism is a poison of the soul.  It’s the ugly, original sin of our country, an illness that has never fully healed.  Blending it with the Nazi salute, the relic of a regime that murdered millions, compounds the obscenity.  Thus the wave of public anger about white nationalist events in Charlottesville this weekend is well warranted.  We especially need to pray for those injured in the violence. 

 But we need more than pious public statements.  If our anger today is just another mental virus displaced tomorrow by the next distraction or outrage we find in the media, nothing will change.  Charlottesville matters.  It’s a snapshot of our public unraveling into real hatreds brutally expressed; a collapse of restraint and mutual respect now taking place across the country.  We need to keep the images of Charlottesville alive in our memories.  If we want a different kind of country in the future, we need to start today with a conversion in our own hearts, and an insistence on the same in others.  That may sound simple.  But the history of our nation and its tortured attitudes toward race proves exactly the opposite.

+Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap.

Archbishop of Philadelphia 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 13, 2017 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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Aug 132017
 

Matthew 14:22-36

After he had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once Jesus spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how strong the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”

As we look closely at today’s Gospel lesson from the 14th chapter of Matthew, we read that Jesus wanted to be alone. Following the miracle of the feeding of the multitude, Jesus needed to restore his spiritual energy, so as our text said, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.

His disciples went on ahead of him in a boat to get to the other side of that fresh water lake called the Sea of Galilee. They probably thought that Jesus would either catch a ride in another boat, or take his time and walk around.

It wasn’t a long voyage for the disciples, 5 miles at the most. If it remained calm, they could row across in under two hours; if the wind came up they could sail across in half the time; after all many of them were experienced fishermen and boatmen and they knew the waters well. What we assume began as a routine evening crossing, soon turned into a nightmare. Even today, Galilean fishermen fear the treacherous storms caused by cold winds blowing off the surrounding mountains. They create a sudden tempest in the warm air covering the low lying waters.

The storm that broke on the disciples so unexpectedly that evening came from the direction in which they were heading. Against such a head-wind it was nigh on impossible to make much progress. But the disciples knew that they dared not allow the boat to be driven back to the shore they had just left. The waves could dash their craft against the rocks, endangering it and everyone on board. Their only hope was to ply the oars as long as the storm continued, trying to remain a good distance from the rocks. You can almost hear them uttering what I like to call the “Please, Oh Please, Oh Please God Prayer: “Oh Please God, we gotta stay in deep water, gotta stay away from the rocks, gotta stay in deep water, Oh Please, Oh please, Oh please God!” Most of us know that prayer pretty well.

Our story is set in the “4th watch of the night.” The night in those days was divided into four equal parts or watches. So if there were 8 hours of darkness, each watch would be two hours in length. Assuming they had embarked before nightfall, they would have been in the boat at least six hours. They’ve been battling the storm and they are exhausted, soaked to the skin, cold and frightened. Small wonder, then, that they cry out in fear as they see a figure approaching across the wind-whipped waves. It is Jesus, coming to them walking on the water. “Take courage,” he calls out. “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Acting in his typically impetuous manner, Peter shouts back, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” Jesus replies. Peter’s willingness to do the unthinkable at the command of his Lord enables him to experience the impossible. He climbs out of the boat and starts to walk to Jesus across the storm tossed waves. “But when he saw how strong the wind was,” Matthew tells us, “he became frightened. And beginning to sink [and] he cried out, “Lord, save me.”

“Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him and said, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” They both got into the boat and the wind died down.” Those in the boat did our Lord homage, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Now to us, as far as we know, walking on water wasn’t something members of the early Church expected to do themselves. So we can assume that Matthew expected us, his readers, to hear this story in terms of our own journeys and our own times of doubt, especially when we have stepped out in faith.

We all know what it’s like to start something with confidence and then right in the middle things happens and down we go: maybe we were crossing a stream on a fallen log, stepping carefully on the mossy surface, doing just fine until we look at the rocks and rushing water below and fear takes a grip and balance is lost and we wobble or freeze, and we lose our balance, and down we go into the water, or if we catch ourselves, we sit down and scoot the rest of the way on our backsides.

Or maybe we we’ve been learning to ride a bicycle and we’ve gained enough speed that we’ve suddenly stopped wobbling and we’ve started flying and as the grin grows larger and the heart is rejoicing, a rock is hit, confidence gives way and we lose balance and crash into the neighbor’s hedge. We all know what this is like.

So, how many times have we asked ourselves “Why don’t I have more faith? Why can’t I trust God more? Why am I afraid to let go and let God take care of this? I believe I’m in God’s hands and that they are really good hands, but then I lose my job and can’t find another and as the interviews go on and on and our savings disappear, my faith seems to go with them and I begin to sink.

And we do have the hope of heaven and a bright future with all the Angels and Saints but then sickness sets in and no healing miracles occur and the doctor says six, maybe nine months and we all pray for a miracle and no miracle comes and the waves start to creep up our legs and we begin to sink.

Personally, I have no doubt that God is all powerful and lovingly present and active in this world, but as I look at the situation with Christians being driven out of Iraq and there is still the incredible barbarity of the those rogues who are trying to establish a pure Islamic state out of Syria and Iraq, or I look at those poor kids from central America who have gone through unspeakable hardships to flee from atrocities in their home countries, only to find such incredibly mixed messages once they arrive here in the United States; with all this I have to confront my own sinking doubt.

So why do we doubt? There are a bevy of reasons, but at the top of the list is cynicism which is usually a mask for fear, because the sea is so vast and we are so small, because the storm is so powerful and we are so easily sunk—AND— because we do have a modicum of faith, we have at least some. Like St. Peter, we do have at least a little, and a little is a whole lot better than nothing, even though there are times when it does not seem to be enough to save.

Like Peter, we have faith and we doubt. We take a few shaky steps and then we sink.

So I ask you, “What if Peter had not sunk? What if he had jumped out of the boat with perfect confidence, landed with both feet on the water and strolled across the waves to Jesus without a moment’s hesitation? What if the other disciples had followed suit, piling out of the boat after him and all of them with perfect faith, sauntering toward Jesus on top of the water while the storm raged and the wind beat the sails of their little ship and the lightning split the dark night above their heads and the thunder cracked all about them?

Well, it would be a different story. It might even be a better story, but it would not be a story about us. The truth about us is more complicated. The truth about us is that we are both obedient and we fear; we walk and we sink; we believe and we doubt. It is not one or the other. Our faith and our doubt are not mutually exclusive, they both exist in us at the same time, one buoying us up and the other beating us down, giving us courage and feeding our fears, supporting our weight on the wild seas and sinking us like stones.

This is why we need Jesus.

This story assures us that when the storms of life rage and the night is the blackest, when we cannot see the way ahead, when we are bone weary and life’s struggles are beating us down and our hearts are failing because fear is emerging victorious, there is good news, Jesus is close. As Catholics, we know this—we really know this—after all, we are here gathered as his Body, eagerly anticipating receiving him fully, completely, unequivocally in the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. We don’t doubt that and that is enough to give us the hope of salvation, no matter how strong the storm.

 

August 6, 2017 The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Aug 062017
 

2 Peter 1:16-19

Beloved: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts

 

Both Latin and Eastern rite Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration today. It’s the traditional date on both calendars.

For Eastern Catholics, the Feast of the Transfiguration is especially significant. It is among their 12 “great feasts.”  Eastern Christianity emphasizes that Christ’s transfiguration is the prototype of spiritual illumination, which is possible for the committed disciple of Jesus. This Christian form of “enlightenment” is facilitated by the ascetic disciplines of prayer, fasting, and charitable almsgiving.  A revered hierarch of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, the late Archbishop Joseph Raya, described this traditional Byzantine view of the transfiguration in his book of meditations on the Biblical event and its liturgical celebration, entitled “Transfiguration of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  “Transfiguration,” Archbishop Raya wrote, “is not simply an event out of the two-thousand-year old past, or a future yet to come. It is rather a reality of the present, a way of life available to those who seek and accept Christ’s nearness.”

For us in the Latin or Western Rite Church, the Transfiguration is also an important Feast Day. In his address before the Angelus in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI described how the events of the Transfiguration display Christ as the “full manifestation of God’s light.”  This light, which shines forth from Christ both at the transfiguration and after his resurrection, is ultimately triumphant over “the power of the darkness of evil.”  The Pope stressed that the Feast of the Transfiguration is an important opportunity for believers to look to Christ as “the light of the world,” and to experience the kind of conversion which the Bible frequently describes as an emergence from darkness to light.   “In our time too,” Pope Benedict said, “we urgently need to emerge from the darkness of evil, to experience the joy of the children of light!”

This feast commemorates one of the pinnacles of Jesus’ earthly ministry. On Mt. Tabor Christ revealed his divinity by means of a miraculous and supernatural light to three of his closest disciples: Peter, James and John. A couple of decades later, St. Peter shares his experience in today’s epistle lesson, the second letter which bears his name. It is the only place in the Scriptures outside the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, where anyone refers to the “Transfiguration.”

To refresh your memories, it’s the occasion when Jesus suddenly becomes radiant with divine light as he converses with Moses and Elijah. And then, behold!—Jesus is standing alone. And all of a sudden, God’s voice came from heaven proclaiming: “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” In a rather matter-of-fact way, Peter remembers that We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

We can presume that by the time of Peter’s writing in mid-first century that some of the opponents of the faith were scoffing at the extraordinary tales that were going around about Jesus. Peter insists that the “transfiguration” actually happened. He was a personal eye-witness.  The result of this eye-witness testimony is that the apostles could look back on the entire world of biblical prophecy; that grand, untidy seemingly chaotic collection of stories which revealed as one story the series of sign posts pointing to what was to come and by divine revelation through the teaching of the Church, it all somehow made sense.

Among the prophecies was one from Numbers 24 which referred to the star that would arise from Jacob. This was widely understood to be a prophecy of the Messiah and it may very well have supplied Peter with the inspiration for his statement at the end of our lesson today that Jesus is the “morning star.” (Num. 24:17)  Peter’s point in this little discourse is that the stories of Jesus reach something of a climax in the extraordinary revelation of glory at the moment of transfiguration. In part because of this event, the Church is now enlightened to read the entire Hebrew scriptures in the light of Christ.

Peter is addressing the new reality that has come about by the Incarnation of Christ. The Transfiguration bears witness to this. God had come in the flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and the transfiguration gives us a glimpse of his divinity. This was something incredible, something that culminated in the Cross and Resurrection. Everything had been straining forward to the day when God’s glory would be revealed.

But nobody thought that there would be this tremendous lag time between the Messiah’s appearance and the time of his return which would mark the beginning of the new age and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. There were no speculations what this interim period would be like or even why such a period would exist.

So Peter and the other Apostles went about the business of explaining. They shared why and how the scriptures were being fulfilled even yet and what the faithful should be doing in the meantime. Christians then and now are in need of solid teaching as St. Peter stated in verse 19 from today’s reading.  He writes… we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

As mentioned earlier, this “morning star” is most certainly a reference to the messianic proclamation from the OT book of Numbers, which speaks both to prophecy in general and specifically to one of the main reasons for the transfiguration; it was an act of enlightenment to show the faithful the way to true holiness in the glory of God.

For the faithful, Christ’s coming, his teaching and miracles, this transfiguration, his death and resurrection are to be held on to, like people clinging to a bright light in the most oppressive darkness, all the while awaiting the coming of Christ in the fullness of Glory.

So, let us step back a bit and take another look. We must remember that things were tough for the early Church. St. Peter’s ideas and practices confront a striking resemblance to our own day. He was confronting skeptics who questioned God’s direct intervention into the affairs of the world, especially those of the faithful. He also took to task those who refuted Christ’s imminent return in Glory to judge the living and the dead and to establish a new heaven and a new earth.

Peter was also calling to judgment an extremely permissive age, an age of excesses of appetites of all forms in the name of personal freedom.

Peter was also reminding the reader of God’s divine activity in our day to day endeavors and that ours’ is not just a God who is remote, far off in heaven—transcendent if you will—but a God who is also imminent, who is near and active in our lives.

For a good illustration of what things were like, I quote from the introduction to the “Student Bible.”  First-century apostles must have felt like pioneers in a mosquito-infested swamp. A pest attacked them—Slap—They’d kill it and instantly another would land. Wherever they went new dangers swarmed up.   One group denied Jesus was God; then another declared him God but not fully human. The apostles denounced scrupulosity, only to encounter free-swingers who assumed “anything goes.” Members of one congregation quit work and huddled together to await Jesus’ return; those of another gave up on his returning at all.

Second Peter was written in response to the young Church’s jumpy tendencies. Whereas First Peter centered on fearsome dangers from outside, this letter speaks of dangers from within. False teachers were stirring dissent, questioning basic doctrine, and leading Christians into immorality. 2 Peter’s purpose is to set the record straight and to call people to the holiness of observing the one true faith.

And from St. Peter’s second letter, it is the Transfiguration in particular that we honor today. It helps to enlighten us and show us Christ’s divinity and our hope of the glory of celestial holiness and to affirm the solid teaching of the Church, especially in the bedrock found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the teaching that keeps us faithful when there are so many forces that yearn to lead us astray.