Go figure, and transfigure

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He thought quietly while staring at a blank sheet of paper, “half the year is through (sigh)”. “Gone, disappeared, vanquished”. He knew that from the reading Mt 17:1-9 as it always occurs halfway through the year as if it were the fulcrum of a seesaw. Oddly, he pondered, the story is also halfway through Mat’s gospel. He had passed the halfway point through life years back. Short, fat, bald and old; he was now an elder and at what point had life changed? When did he become the elder, the presbyter? He had studied some Greek in his youth, he knew presbyteros translates elder and the root presbys bluntly screams old man. At some point his life had changed. Mat’s passage had reminded him of that, and he needed something to say. He needed to write something before tomorrow morning. A deadline was looming.

The story was well-known, Jesus and a couple close disciples climb a mountain. On the top of that mountain Peter James and John had witnessed something about Jesus. The scripture stated “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” He was transfigured, but what did that mean? And then the story mentions Moses and Elijah. And then the voice from the cloud “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased, listen to him.”

That last line spoke of an epiphany, God often spoke from clouds in the Old Testament. It was a cloud that led the Israelites on their exodus journey. Epiphanies are divine revelations and at that moment those disciples got a glimpse of the truth of that Jesus they had followed. Interesting but there must be more. Moses certainly was an important figure, they had followed Jesus as the Hebrews had followed Moses. Elijah the fiery prophet that urged a king to return to the God of Israel. For certain those disciples saw the Christ as prophet. The tent indicated they wished to remain stagnant, but scripture stated the LORD commanded them not to. That mountain top was not a journey complete. Scratching that bald head he pondered on how to shed light on a testament that was clear as day. His brow became furrowed, and his face red. His pencil lightly grazed the paper, its marks were more doodles than sentences.

Staring at that paper he thought, the transfiguration did not end at that mountain top, it was a point on a journey. A milestone, a shift of the teeter-tot. This, then that. The location is important. A moment when divinity was revealed. The tent hinted stability, they also hinted the feast of the tabernacle. Sukkot. The festival of booths. It is not just a moment when they witnessed the divine, it was a moment when they let the divine enter them. It was not simply the clouds that opened, so did their souls. They were not simply witnesses, but participants. And then the journey down. Like the seesaw they change directions, they go back to where they are from. A furrowed brow becomes a grimaced smile. Things are taking shape he thought.

On that journey down the mountain, were the disciples about to become the presbys? Elders? Certainly one can’t forget the timeline, time has a tendency to sneak up on people. At least that is what the short, fat, bald and old guy thought. Transfigured in the wrong direction (youth to old), but what of those disciples. They had walked with Christ for a while, and how did that walk influence them. Did they walk differently, or talk differently? How were they transfigured? The message on the mountaintop tells they saw something life changing. How did their life change? Was the change visible? Scratching his scalp he had to think yes. The old don’t act like the young. They look and act differently, and that is easy to notice. The disciples looked and acted differently too. They had to, and people must have noticed. Their manners must have changed, what they valued must have shifted. As they walked with Christ, they became like him? An analogy he pondered. A face illuminated? A spark to a bonfire? Young to old? A few quick scribbles on the paper about a thought to develop later. Fat fingers fidgeted with pencil and paper as he scrawled his text.

The grumpy, fat and bald and old man thought “of course those disciples had changed” such changes are expected to take place. No one expects a student to remain a student forever, eventually they take on the characteristics of the Master. If they don’t they are flunkies! Peter James and John are not flunkies! But if they changed what does that mean, what happened when they leave that mountain top.

“Sure, they changed” he scribbled on that piece of paper but did the world around them? There is the point. They changed, but the world did not. Their reception? A scratch of the chin, what does history say? History starts with the crucifixion, and continues with martyrdom. For certain they were changed, but there still were challenges to face. More than they knew. The world would not embrace their new-found discovery. Do they move forward or go back. Time moves in one direction, opinions and emotions teeter totter. To move forward with Christ is to walk into an opposition. For Christians, it isn’t Christ that changes. It’s the Christians that change, in fact they are commanded to. The command Jesus gave was “follow me” and to truly follow Him is to be transfigured. To follow him is to be changed. To follow Him is to become Christian and that changes ones appearance and demeanor. To follow Him is to confront an opponent.

A soft grumbling of the fat bald and red-faced old man could be heard as he put down the pencil and leaned back. Arm’s crossed and with his smuggest smile, he found a way to explain something that already was clear as day. He knew it was time for his reward ; couple of cookies and a small glass of milk. Sure his scalp and circumference and age suggested whiskey and cigar, but he had other ideas. Go figure.

 

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Lectionary: 614

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14

Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9

2 Pt 1:16-19

Mt 17:1-9

 

Amos

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Lately I have been reading from Amos the prophet. He was a dresser of sycamores, and a shepherd. A dresser of sycamores is a fig farmer, this Amos made his livelihood from working the land. He was not a scholar, or member of a royal court. Amos was not a prophet by title, but he spoke and wrote and travelled to prophesize none the less. Interesting. An amateur prophet perhaps? Why would a worker of the land prophesize and what would cause him to write about the fate of the nations? To the civic leader, a prophet is an advisor as they discern the pulse of a nation for good or bad. A false prophet is often a criminal offense. To speak out can always land someone into trouble. Prophetic wisdom is a risky affair. What would cause a humble worker of the land to be a prophet?

I read a little about the time Amos was active. The Prophet Amos lived during the long reign of King Jeroboam II. It was a time of prosperity as the King drove many of Israel’s enemies from the land. That king also worked on relations with Judea. The prosperity even formed relations with the Phoenicians, known as great sailors and merchants. All sounds good, or not.

Prosperity does cause a few problems, people flaunted their wealth. Power was king. The poor were neglected. Trade with the Phoenicians brought a mingling of cultures, and a mingling of cultures brought the worship of false gods. Worship of Canaanite gods prospered. Even the golden calves gained a new popularity as idols. Idolatry flourished. That and money are the hazards of a flourishing international economy. Morality sank and the commandments and Torah were ignored. But it was a prosperous time. I wonder what the mood of the common man was during that age of luxury? I wonder how that age compares to today, a free wheeling, progressive and liberal secular society.

Though on the surface it seemed a time of wealth and prosperity, a farmer began to preach that people return to their God. He prophesized what loomed on the horizon. What’s a killjoy, is that what his contemporaries thought of him? I wonder if people listened. His writing was beautifully poetic, certainly that must have enticed some. A rich society became a decadent society. The sins of wealth and prosperity. They thought they were going in the right direction and celebrated. I wonder how many like Amos prophesize today and I think that might be my interest in this farmer known as a minor prophet. In thinking of Amos, I think of all of the “letters to the editor.” People who comment with emotion. Odd thing with Amos, his commentary was not simply directed at his own. He admonished the cultures that surrounded Israel, warning them of the consequences of their actions. A fig farmer hits the international stage, and then he addresses his own. First one can notice that Amos urges people to correct their ways, second one notices Amos is the common everyman. The power of the person whose eyes are fixed on the LORD. I think I can hear people like Amos today, they rumble in the background, a noise heard beneath the clamoring politicians. Rumbling and churning making themselves known.

A boat begins to cross a rough and choppy sea. Mt 14:22-36 Peter spots the LORD walking on water and calls out “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus says “come.” Peter begins his journey but becomes frightened and calls out “LORD save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out His hands and caught him. Amos lived in a time of stormy and troubled waters, even though many saw a sea smooth as glass. Like Peter, Amos cried out so that the people might gain salvation. Amos kept his eyes fixed on the LORD and with that was granted the gift and obligation of prophesy. Odd that a time of wealth and prosperity can be likened to a stormy sea. Yesterday and today.

Pick up a cross

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Penance, fasting, starving, poverty, isolation. Is that denying myself? Does denial always mean suffering? To some denial is not admitting the truth. What is it to deny oneself? It could be simply to put someone ahead of us. It’s admitting that we are not the center of the universe, and should not even be the center of our own world. The denial that Jesus speaks of is a re ordering of our live, not living for ourselves but living for something greater. The denial might also be admitting that we don’t always have the right answers, admitting that sometimes we made the wrong choices. Denying ourselves can simply be getting out of our own way. Deny yourself.

Pick up our cross, what cross? What is it that I am supposed to carry? Some say it is our burdens, it is our troubles, to some it is our responsibility. My cross? It’s my bones, my skeleton, and the apparatus that holds up my flesh. The flesh that encases the spirit. My cross might be everything that I could not get rid of by denying myself. It is what persistently remains, it’s the hard stuff. That stuff I drag along following Christ. But why?

Why? Why? Because all of that stuff is heavy, it’s a burden, and it makes my life cumbersome. That is how life is burdened and cumbersome, and difficult. It is especially toilsome with all of that baggage; but why follow Christ? To catch up to Him, to scream out, to get attention, to ask advice, and to get help. Jesus Christ helps with my burden, my cross. He lightens my load, relieves me of that baggage, aids me in my struggles, and teaches me balance. He teaches how to deny, and accept and carry. He teaches how to order a life, to put things in perspective. A properly ordered life turns my disordered life upside down. Hard to believe the Son of God is here to help me, to lighten a load or relieve a cross. That is so different from judgement, but why will I suffer at the end of time if I refuse to pick up my cross and follow him? Because I was never relieved of that burden, it’s not so much that I suffer at the end of time, it’s that I suffer all of the time. For my eternity.

Mt 16:24-28

Saint John Vianney and the storm at sea

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(Yesterday, or the day before, or even before that) was the feast of Saint John Vianney, and that is an important feast day. He is the patron saint of parish priests. The gospel for his day is the one where Jesus commands Peter to walk on water during a storm at sea. Saint John Vianney went through some turbulent times, he kept his eyes on Christ and walked on water. His era was that of the French Revolution and that was one of strong anti-Catholicism. John wished to be a priest, the social climate made that difficult. John was also not the most gifted at academics and that contributed to his struggles. He weathered his storm, being born in an anti-Catholic era and poor at academics, and became the parish priests of a small community. The gospel reading paints an abstract  picture of the climate that the Apostle Peter lived in, it was again a period of much social upheaval . Jesus Christ taught His disciples to conquer the storms of that day. Jesus taught them to “walk on water.” Turmoil marked the beginning of Christianity, and has been part of its history ever since. The storms at sea are the turbulence of the times we live in, life has never been smooth sailing.

In Persona Christi, the parish priest guides his parishioners through the storms of their lives. John Vianney guided his parishioners through the destruction of the French Revolution. He was also known for his devotion to the sacrament of confession. We all have our own storms, look at some of the larger storms of today’s culture.

One leading secular news story of the past decade has been the gay pride movement, and that effort merged into the redefinition of marriage by many countries. A storm difficult to navigate? I think so, and for Catholics it is the parish priest that guides those in his care through that shift in culture. That is no easy task. That storm deals not only with gay lifestyle, it encompasses marriage and divorce, and the role of marriage. Is but one issue that started fifty plus years ago. Multifaceted, complex, and deceptive. It has dominated the secular news, the pulpits, and continues with the pope’s synod of the family. It is a difficult storm. Storms are not new to Christianity.

Look at those that confront the issue guided by a press or a president, or an entertainer, or an ideological agenda, or political campaign. How far have they veered off course ? Were they always aware of the shift, or were they caught off guard?  And for the Christian, their eyes are focused on Christ, do they weather a storm of shifting and changing morals? I think so, but one opinion. Christ guides them through the issue, and He guides them through His Priests. Saint John Vianney is the patron saint of priests. One group makes it across the sea, while the other is lost . In this era the family is going through turbulent times. Saint John Vianney, pray for us. Pray for our priests.

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!”

To continue with the storms of our days, there is another that has been in the news for decades. That is the storm of the Abortionists, and the storm lead by corporations like Planned Parenthood. Corporations for profit, with slick advertising campaigns and influential political action committees. The storm of their mission, and their campaign. I mention their campaign because it is both organized, focused, and funded. It is a very powerful storm indeed, and again it is often the parish priest that tries to keep his people on course while also trying to change the course of those winds. The priest preaches a different course, a course guided in Christian teaching. In the age of communications, and politics, and capitalism, and campaigns the abortionists are powerful opponents.

Sometimes it is good to look our environment, to look at the battles we face today. These are our storms. Christ calls us to walk on water, His priests are the ones that remind us of that. They keep our eyes focused on the Lord, guiding us through turbulent times. They command us to focus on the sacredness of life. In this battle against the abortionists, I mention one priest giving direction . Frank Pavone leads through his organization, Priests for Life. Saint John Vianney, pray for us. Pray for our priests. His eyes are focused on Christ to guide s through turbulent times, no easy task

When Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment, I don’t t think his approach was typical of the modern day environmentalist. While there was the concern for our natural world, the Pope had concern for the environment of our souls. . A cultural sea, a cultural environment. These are only a couple of storms we are pastored through by priests. To the list add migration, human dignity, trafficking, slavery, and concern for the poor, sick, and marginalized. They are our storms, and often what influences our spiritual environment. They bring relevance to the gospel message. In those gospel messages Jesus guides disciples through turbulence and upheaval, just as He guided His Apostles. Jesus guides us often through His priests. Saint John Vianney, pray for us. Pray for our priests.

Clare

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“Clare was a beautiful Italian noblewoman who became the Foundress of an order of nuns now called “Poor Clares.” When she heard St. Francis of Assisi preach, her heart burned with a great desire to imitate Francis and to live a poor humble life for Jesus. So one evening, she ran away from home, and in a little chapel outside Assisi, gave herself to God. St. Francis cut off her hair and gave her a rough brown habit to wear, tied with a plain cord around her waist. Her parents tried in every way to make her return home, but Clare would not.” [-from  Catholic online]

“The nobility is a social class distinguished by high hereditary or honorary rank that possesses privileges, or eminence, and certain rights not granted to members of other classes in a society, such as Commoners. The privileges of the nobility often comprise substantial real advantages, including rights of access, that vary from country to country and era to era. Traditional membership in the nobility is highly regulated by monarchist governments, which grant the ranks and titles to members of the elite. However, the noble class is not a closed order, and throughout history, membership has been perpetually renewed.” [-from Wikipedia]

When Clare decided to follow St. Francis and his little group; she had to renounce,give up, part with certain things; money, wealth, privilege. She left her estate, turned away from a marriage to a nobleman; a marriage that would have guaranteed a continued life of privilege. In life Clare was given quite a bit, yet she renounced her worldly possessions and privileges to live in poverty to follow the way of Francis in following  Jesus Christ. For this inspirational devotion we remember her. While she gave up everything to be a follower of Christ, and her transformation was obvious: is it necessary to “give up” everything to follow Christ? What about those who don’t possess anything to “give up”? Is the only way to renounce earthly possessions to part with them? Many people do not have the privilege that Francis and Claire had, the privilege of making a choice to become poor. They are born poor and have little chance of gaining enough wealth to feed themselves, let alone give enough to the “poor”.Yet many times it is these people do not have faith the size of a mustard seed, they have faith the size of a mountain. Many times it is the faith that these people possess that moves the little mustard seeds of the world, the Claire’s of the world; to sell all they have to possess it. In looking at all that inspires us in St. Clare, what was it that she looked at for inspiration? Was it St. Francis devotion and his preaching that inspired her, or is that what motivated her?  In Francis supposedly it was the sight of a leper, the sight of a crumbling church in the light of an injury that sent him in a new direction and I suppose  through his preaching he could impart his vision on others such as Clare. Perhaps to though what Francis’s preaching did was get Clare to open her own eyes to see those people that possessed  faith the size of a mountain, many times because they possessed little else. Perhaps the inspiration in Clare is not to seek to imitate her, few have that privilege of giving up everything and embracing an austere poverty. The inspiration of Clare might better be realized by actively seeking that which “inspired Clare” to make such a dramatic move; to seek the signs of faith that allow people to move mountains. Many times they are subtle, a quick sign of the cross , quiet prayer or an inconspicuous act of charity; not dramatic but signs that faith is alive in ones life.

During the Olympics, in competition, one such sign was given that I think might have gotten Clare’s approval. It was the 5000 meter women’s track race. At the starting line as the racers prepared for their race one of the runners, an Ethiopian woman quietly made the sign of the cross three times before the gun went off. As the race proceeded this same runner,Meseret Defar ,went about her task of running her race; she is a world class runner who was expected to do well. It was no surprise that Meseret  did indeed win the race, the surprise was what she did immediately after that victory.With her hands still shaking from the race, she tried to undo something from inside her singlet; it was an icon of the Madonna and Child. Thrilled with her victory she held that image up  to the cameras and ran about the track giving thanks for that victory. It seemed that was faith that could move mountains, or at least win a gold medal…