Message: We ask God for spiritual sight to see reality.
Last Sunday we saw how the ministry of angels can help us have a new mind and heart. Today, in our opening prayer, we ask God for "spiritual sight" - in other words, a new heart and mind so we can see reality as it is. In our Gospel we have a remarkable example of spiritual sight: the Transfiguration - that moment when three disciples glimpse Jesus' glory, his inner reality.
Before talking about the inner reality of Jesus, I would like to make a comparison: When we look at someone's face we are seeing an external, material reality, something science could analyze - cells, chemical reactions and so on. But unless you are dermatologist, when you look at a face, you want more than what science can provide. In that other person's eyes, their smile, the lift of the eyebrows, you want to see some of their inner reality. You've no doubt heard, "eyes are the window of the soul." When we look at another's eye, we hope to glimpse the soul.
Something similar applies to the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John - the three men closest to Jesus - had walked with him for months. They have heard his teaching, seen his wonders and experienced his moods and emotions. Now they have a time of silence, alone with Jesus - on a mountain, away from the crowds. They glimpse something glorious - more than Mount Rainier on a clear day, more than the most stirring song.
St. Mark describes this glory in an interesting way. To understand you need to know that while we moderns tend to be more impressed with size - big buildings, big galaxies - what most impressed ancient people was not size, but brightness.* Mark notes that Jesus' garments became dazzling white! Even his outer robe reflected the glory of his inner reality.
The glory shines in more than the clothes. Next to Jesus appear Moses and Elijah. In the Bible and Jewish tradition Moses and Elijah had been taken bodily into heaven. So the three disciples see not just their souls, but their transformed bodies.
Moses and Elijah represent the Laws and the Prophets. Their presence indicates that Jesus completes Jewish sacred history. The more we understand the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) the more we see the reality of Jesus.
Our first reading - which is from the Old Testament - gives us a key. The reading tells about Abraham and, as I am sure you know, Jewish history begins with Abraham. God tells him that by an act of faith he will become the "father of many nations." To believe that promise requires enormous faith because he and his wife Sarah are old - and they have no children.
And when they miraculously receive a son, God tests their faith a second time - and in a severe way. He tells Abraham to offer his son in sacrifice. It's a double sacrifice: father offering the son and son obeying the father.
You might ask: Why does God put Abraham and Isaac through something so horrible? From a human point of view it seems against reason, but we have to remember: God sees all in a single glance - from the Big Bang till the end of the world. When God looks at creation and human history, he sees the cross. He sees his own Son offering his life in perfect obedience. That's the central event - the cross.
As Isaac walks up Mount Moriah he carries something on his back - a bundle of wood. Isaac foreshadows - previews - Jesus carrying the wood of the cross.
The Transfiguration prepares Peter, James and John for the mystery of the cross. Isaac's sacrifice ends well - and so ultimately will the cross. That's why Jesus charges them not to tell about the Transfiguration - until he has risen from the dead.
These past weeks I have seen a beautiful witness to faith in the cross. Many of you know Archbishop Sartain had a serious operation in January which involved removing two cervical vertebrae. I talked to someone who had a similar operation and he told me he had five years of terrible pain before the operation. Archbishop Sartain never indicated to us what he was suffering. He always seemed upbeat and happy. Believe me, if I was going through that I would let everyone know. About 25 years ago when I was in Peru I experienced two days days of intense back pain. I moaned to everyone. And I am still talking about it today.
Well, Archbishop Sartain is different. And it isn't just a matter of suffering in silence. At the Rite of Election he spoke about trials and temptations. When they come, he said, we should say, "Praise God." When you think about it, every trial, every temptation contains something good.
For example, I am sometimes tempted to anger. I can grit my teeth, but how much better to recognize something good in the anger. I might be angry because of an injustice. Anger is the desire for justice. Praise God - and, God, help me to direct that energy not take it out on the person next to me. So it should be with any temptation. Praise God for whatever good draws me. But also if I say "Praise God" the devil flees. He can't stand to hear God praised - and he leaves.
So we have learned that we need to ask God for spiritual sight to see reality. Not to just see the surface, not just to see someone's face but what it reveals. And above all the spiritual sight to see Jesus and his cross: A new mind and heart as we confront suffering, trials and temptations.
It's not easy. Next Sunday we will see Jesus carrying out an act of violence. But that's for the coming week. For today let's go back to the initial prayer:
Nourish us inwardly by your word,
That, with spiritual sight made pure,
We may rejoice to behold your glory.
*Lewis says it this way: "Any reader of old poetry can see that brightness appealed to ancient and medieval man more than bigness, and more than it does to us. Medieval thinkers believed that the stars must be somehow superior to the Earth because they looked bright and it did not. Moderns think that the Galaxy ought to be more important than the Earth because it is bigger."
From Archives (Year B homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
2015 Peru Mission Trip
Blessing the New Home of Felipe & Maria
with gratitude to Mary Bloom Center donors