What Lies Beneath

(Homily for Transfiguration)

To judge by our media, people live between two poles. On one extreme we have the spin masters, those experts at putting a positive face on embarrassing events. We expect it from politicians and we get it from many others. A Hollywood couple shares the secrets of their romantic relationship, then a few months later breaks up. But they assure us they remain friends. Rather than say it is nobody's business, they try to convince their audience - and maybe even themselves - that everything is fine. And that they still do possess the key to close human relationships.

Perhaps as a reaction to such superficiality, some go to the other extreme. Instead of saying "everything is fine," they focus on human perversity: greed, duplicity, selfishness, etc. A television program called Survivor has achieved wild popularity by taking that angle. It supposedly gives an intimate look at human beings as the money grubbing double crossers we really are.

Those are the two poles of our culture: "Everything is fine" and "No, things are pretty rotten." Perhaps you expect me to make a synthesis - a golden mean between the two extremes, some kind of balancing act. I am not going to do that because, as I mentioned, the first, while superficial, is useful for fending off nosy people. The second, however, is true - but does not go far enough.*

Today's Gospel takes us deeper. Along with Peter, James and John we get a glimpse of history's central figure. He repeatedly referred to himself as the "Son of Man." The title bespeaks humility: "The Son of Man has no place to lay his his head." (Lk 5:58) "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve." (Mk 10:45) "the Son of Man is going to suffer..." (Mt 17:12). However, along with humiliation comes exaltation. Our first reading tells about a Son of Man who will appear "on the clouds of heaven" and have "everlasting dominion." (Dan 7:13) When Jesus used that title he was indicating a status greater than any other human.

For that reason when Peter, James and John finally had time alone with Jesus, he was transfigured before them. We sometimes think how beautiful to have been on that mountain. But the Gospel says, "they were terrified." (Mk 9:6) Plato got it right. We are like cave dwellers who only see shadows projected on a wall. We resent, maybe even laugh at the person who boldly concludes the shadows refer to solid reality. To look directly on the brightness of God would blind us. But Jesus prepared at least three men to get a glimpse of his real self. Many years after, a letter of Peter describes the event and how he was "an eyewitness of Jesus' majesty." (2 Peter 1:16)

When people say "everything is fine" it may mean more than "don't bother me." What if - in spite of the cold evidence that things fall apart - God has planted in us an intimation of something deeper? Jesus did have to face an unspeakable debasement (Elijah and Moses conversed with him about it) but another voice called him "beloved Son." (Mk 9:7) When Jesus takes us into the Father-Son relationship, things do become right.


*The fact we use words like rotten or corrupt implies a standard of health or goodness. The "realist" (a.k.a. pessimist or cynic) sooner or later betrays his disappointed idealism. He may considers man to be just one more animal, driven by Darwinian impulses. However, does he really believe it? Does he make the same judgment about a lion that attacks a sick antelope and a businessman who pays a Haitian child thirty cents an hour to make hundred dollar tennis shoes?

Homilies for Solemnity of Transfiguration:

2017: Spiritual Warfare Week 7: A Father Who Keeps His Promise
2006: The Son of Man
2000: What Lies Beneath

From Archives (Year A homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):

Best Lent Ever Week 2: Create Life-Giving Habits (2017)
Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2 (2014)
Sons of Abraham (2011)
Visit of Fr. Peter West (2008)
A Confrontation with Evil (2005)
The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection (2002)
God or Gods of Culture? (1999)

Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")

2017: Best Lent Ever Week 2: Create Life-Giving Habits
2016: First Things: Children
2015: New Mind and Heart Week 2
2014: Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 2
2013: Home of the Homesick
2012: Two Steps to Glory
2011: Sons of Abraham
2010: Freedom from False Gods
2009: A Glimpse of the Mystery
2008: Visit of Fr. Peter West
2007: Chosen
2006: Trust
2005: A Confrontation with Evil
2004: They Spoke of His Exodus
2003: Exposing a Modern Myth
2002: The Boston Scandal: A Lenten Reflection
2001: Voice from the Earthquake
2000: A Million Dollars for Your TV
1999: God or Gods of Culture?
1998: Enemies of the Cross

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)

Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)

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