Bottom line: Each of us has within us a glory - not absolute but potential. We realize that potential by taking two steps.
This Sunday I am going to talk about human potential in light of the Transfiguration. I start with a disclaimer or clarification. People sometimes shy from talk about human potential because it can seem like a put-down of animals. It is not. To say we are in some ways superior to animals is not to deny that in other ways they are superior to us. I love my dog for his innocence, his exuberance, his sincerity and his acceptance of me with all my flaws. But I can only go so far with him. Once I found a picture of Samwise as a puppy. It made me nostalgic and I showed it to him. The results were disappointing. He barely glanced at the picture, but instead began sniffing it. As much as I love Sam, I have to recognize that between him and me there exists what Chesterton calls a "division and disproportion."
This morning I going to make reference to that division and disproportion - our great potential and how to realize it. That you and I have to make a choice in a way that other animals do not. This relates to today's Gospel where we hear about the Transfiguration - that moment when Peter, James and John glimpsed Jesus' glory. Something similar applies to us. We have within ourselves a certain glory - not absolute, of course, but potential. C.S. Lewis expresses it this way. It is a lengthy quote, but well worth hearing in its entirety:
"It is a serious thing," says Lewis, "to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no 'ordinary' people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations -- these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit -- immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously -- no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner -- no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment."
In this quote, C.S. Lewis is pointing out something that Jesus often spoke about - human being faces two possibilities: never ending horror or never ending splendor - heaven or hell. The question is: How do we avoid becoming an everlasting horror? How do we become an everlasting splendor? How do we realize our true potential - the glory that is within each of us?*
In the Scriptures, we see two steps. The first step is somewhat obvious. We have to follow the covenant, obey God's law. Last Sunday we heard about the covenant with Noah (and this Sunday we hear about the even deeper one with Abraham). In the covenant with Noah, God made a new beginning for the human race. That covenant has certain commandments - certain ways of behaving that enable a person to realize his potential: respect human life, respect the goods of others, respect marriage, give first place to God.
The covenant involves what we are doing now - attending Sunday Mass. The Catechism says, "The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice...Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin." (2181)
God has given us the Eucharist, the other sacraments and the commandments so that we can realize our potential - who we are meant to be.
So, following the covenant, keeping God's law, that is the first step. But there is something else, a second step - something we have to face about ourselves: No matter how hard we try, we fall short. We might be basically truthful, but we sometimes fudge, we equivocate, we cover up. We all - I hope - reverence marriage, but who has not committed what Jesus calls "adultery in the heart"? I could multiply examples, but you know what I mean. We each have a potential for truth, goodness, beauty and justice, but we fall short. We need outside help.
Let me make a comparison to illustrate the second step: Once a man bought a new suit of clothes. With his tie and white shirt, he looked great. In fact, he noticed how he shone in relation to others. He held his head so high that he didn't see an edge in the pavement. He fell - straight into a puddle. Fearing that people would laugh at him, he did not want to get up. But instead of laughter, there came a hand. The man felt reluctant to extend his own muddy, bleeding hand, but he did. As that strong hand lifted him up, he felt a gratitude, a peace, a joy he had never experienced before.
So it is with us. We must do everything we can to realize our potential, whom God made us to be. But sooner or later - for some of us much sooner than later - we come to a point where we cannot do it ourselves. That's why, after his Transfiguration, Jesus immediately speaks of his humiliation - his suffering and death at the hands of cruel men. You see, we realize our true glory only by joining ourselves with Jesus' humility. In the end there is no other path to the resurrection.
To sum up: Each of us has within a glory, not an absolute glory, but the potential for glory. We realize that potential by taking two steps - first, following the commandments and second, facing that we need outside help. That only through the passion of Jesus can we realize our glorious potential - the resurrection. Amen.
*Regarding human potential, in his Ten Universal Principals Fr. Robert Spitzer has a thought provoking appendix titled "Evidence of the Transmateriality of Human Beings." Here is his opening statement: "Human beings have an awareness of and desire for five Transcendentals: perfect and unconditional Truth, Love, Goodness (Justice), Beauty and Being (Home). The following is a brief explication of this assertion, which explains why human consciousness is distinct from animal consciousness, why humans have creative capacity beyond present rules, algorithms and program (Godel's proof) and why human beings have a natural propensity toward the spiritual and transcendental."
I highly recommend not only the appendix, but the entire book. Fr. Spitzer writes very lucidly and this book will richly repay a careful reading.
These represent basic precepts of the covenant. The prophet Micah summed up the covenant with these words: "He (God) has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?" (6:8)
Justice, kindness, humility - those basic virtue enable us to realize our potential.
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
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