A lot of chatter about Summorum Pontificum, and I ponder writings of two days ago. On that day I did yak-yak about earthly divisions and a fracturing of the good LORD’s creation. Look it up if you care. Today, I wonder of that fracturing of planet earth but today the focus becomes narrow. Today is the anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. That has generated a lot of chatter in the cyber-press that this person reads. For the uninformed Summorum Pontificum is the document that gives permission for priests to return to the Traditional Latin Mass. For them to return to the TLM, by definition leads to abandoning something. There is the fracture, the break. A line is drawn. On one side is the traditionalist, the Tradies. On the other the liberal progressive modernist forward thinkers. Intellectuals and university types.They battle the archaic old farts. Tempers flare, words are spoken. Anger and strife. Opinions and counter opinions. A fracture greater that the crack in the famed liberty bell. There is division among a small part if creation, Christ’s Church. The Holy Church. The one Holy and Apostolic Church. Of course this is not the first fracture. If one has a good memory they will remember the fracture of the orthodox. If one has a good memory they will remember Martin Luther’s exit. If one has a good memory they will remember the departure of some King of England. He sought a divorce. If one has a good memory they will remember the departure of the Calvin and other progressive minds. A simple crack in a rock becomes a pile of gravel, the common task of the incarcerated. But then I remember my conclusion on “fractured Wednesday. ” The LORD will divide whatever the LORD chooses. The LORD will conquer the opponent, The LORD will leave them in rubble. Then the LORD will reassemble, reconstruct what the LORD chooses. My opinion counts for nothing. I can sit by quietly and watch the LORD at work. 800!
The transfiguration is always an interesting reading with many details that each individually tell a subtly different emphasis to that transfiguration of Christ witnessed by those apostles on that mountaintop. It can be the placement of the story within the gospel that gives emphasis to a journey and also a learning curve. It can be the mention of pitching the tents, and the meaning of tents within the Jewish tradition. It can emphasize the epiphany and those words spoken, “this is my beloved Son.” Every detail, and every line of that testament is rich with meaning. Mt 17:1-9
Sometimes it is rewarding to look at that story at its most simple element. It is the Transfiguration of Jesus where the Apostle’s witness Jesus as divine and hear him announced as the Son of God. It is an epiphany. It is interesting to look at that gospel account, and also to look at where that gospel is being proclaimed. It is the gospel reading being proclaimed at Mass during the liturgy of the word. It is also proclaimed half way through the biblical gospel . It is proclaimed on the second Sunday of Lent, a few weeks before the Easter feast. It is proclaimed on a mountain top, after an ascent and before a decent. What makes that interesting is that proclamation can be taken as part of a timeline, it concludes the first half of the liturgy.
Following that part of the liturgy is that liturgy of the Eucharist where bread and wine is transfigured, or more properly the transubstantiation into the body and blood of Christ. In looking at that transfiguration on a mountaintop in the context of the Mass, one can view that event not simply as a historical account but rather as something we also witness within the Mass. We take that journey as the Mass processes from beginning to conclusion, and we can envision those tents through the tabernacle and more importantly within ourselves. We hear those words, “this is my beloved Son” as “behold, the Body of Christ.” This is Jesus who takes away the sins of the world.” Upon reception of communion, we walk with Christ to continue that journey.
In a historical context, the Transfiguration occurs prior to the Passion events. It often is described as an event that builds the faith of the disciples so that they might endure the crucifixion of the LORD. The road they walk is difficult, and it is about to become treacherous. The transfiguration gives them strength, as the transubstantiation of the Eucharist does for us. For an instant they get a glimpse of Christ’s divinity.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah gives the disciples the link to their faith, they serve as witness to this event. It is a reminder of where they have travelled from. The Mass does not simply read from the Gospel of the New Testament, that New Testament is related to the Old. A simple reminder, and the touch of Jesus a reminder that their journey is not yet complete. They have been enlightened and nourished but they must continue their walk. Moses face also glows in the presence of God, he descends with the tablets. Jesus with the Apostles. An important point on a journey, but not the journey’s end.
When the disciples hear “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” they fall prostrate afraid, but Jesus touches them and says “Rise and be not afraid.” And He says tell no one until he is raised from the dead. The touch and the command are common in Jesus healings. Jesus frequently heals those around him, but tells them to tell no one. This time though He tells them to wait until after He is raised from the dead. When do they speak and tell of what they saw? Later Thomas will touch His wounds. Touch is important, it heals.
Lent like Advent is a season of preparation. Both seasons remind us often what we must do to prepare for the LORD. Lent is full of devotionals that we participate in to better prepare ourselves for Easter. Its trio of Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving come quickly to mind. This gospel isn’t so much about what we have to do, but it is about what we have to get through trials. They are the gifts Jesus Christ left us. Like the Apostles and disciples we walk with Christ on a journey, and along that journey Christ has given us gifts to help us along the way. They are his Church, and the successors to the Apostles. They are the scriptures, the gospels. They are the prayers and the sacraments, and they are the Mass. They are the same gifts that guided the Apostles as they walked with the LORD even if they did not always recognize them.
(this is an expanded version of an earlier post)
Second Sunday of Lent
He eats with tax collectors and sinners, that is something the Pharisees do not understand. Pope Francis said you must get among the flock, smell the sheep. The Good Shepherd tells the parable of the prodigal son. That prodigal son did not get among the sheep, he wallowed with the swine, the unclean. The horror of the Pharisee. Emphasize horror and emphasize unclean. Cultural relevance.Exclamation point. That son, covered in the dung of the swine, welcomed by the father yet belittled by his brother. Is that brother the Pharisee, the one who wishes to remain clean?
Jesus got close to the sinner, not to be like them, but to heal. To heal required He draw them in close. The Shepherds crook, that is precisely its purpose. To hook around them so that one might pull a member of the flock close, especially a member that might tend to run the other way. To remove some burs, a splinter, or salve a wound. To shepherd, to walk where they walk, to guide, and to bandage some wounds. A sin is a wound, and often a sinner is lost. That’s why He eats with tax collectors and sinners. Proclamation point. Proclaim the gospel, even to the taxman. Even to the sinner. The Father calls out to the prodigal son . But He does more that call, He sends His Son. The Good Shepherd to gather those wallowing in the swine’s mud.The Pharisees though had a different plan, and they did not care to use that crook. For them they used the other end of the cane. The spiked end designed to prod, poke, protect and also to to drive away. One waddles in mud and the other slings it. Prodigal Sons. Plural. He dines with tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisee was there too.
Saint Francis in some of his conversations with his friars stated that he did not want them to live in monasteries or friaries that many patrons wanted to build for them. He did not want them to become scholars or amass great collections of books, and he did not want them to become priests. In his humble lifestyle he wanted to rebuild the Church which had grown increasingly corrupt. Though Francis did not want his friars to become priests, he did want those friars to be obedient to those priests. Though he might have viewed the priests of the day as arrogant and corrupt, he realized that they alone could offer the sacraments.
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,but do not follow their example.
He understood the gospel reading Mt 23:1-12 well, he understood what the chair of Moses signified. The role and the authority of “the chair” maintained importance, those occupying them could stand some improvement. Francis, like Christ, did not call for an abolishment of the religious institutions; but called for a reform or change of heart. He called for them, those ordained, to return to their mission, and perhaps for their followers,his friars and the commoner sitting in a pew, to lead those in authority by example. Francis understood the importance of authority, but also understood the pitfalls that those in authority often face. By positioning his Friars far from those pitfalls, they then could provide the means to draw those that were in trouble into a different direction. Using his approach, which must have been greatly influenced by this gospel, he restored the Church from within while still remaining faithful to that chair. I think Francis understood this gospel passage very well
“I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” That is the phrase that strikes me this Sunday, that and that God so loved us that He sent his only Son. While God spares Abrahams son from the sacrifice on the altar, Jesus will soon be sacrificed on the cross. Abrahams willingness to sacrifice is son also is something that echoes throughout Jesus gospel, it is that willingness to die unto oneself to obtain eternal life. By Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his inheritance, his heirs , his inheritance is to become as numerous as the stars. So much of that Old Testament account is proclaimed in Jesus gospel. It contains those familiar contradictions of death and life, surrender and victory, loss and gain. In the light of Christ that sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham makes sense.
To tie in that first reading with the second readings account of the transfiguration though takes some effort. The uniting theme at first is when God appears on the mountain of the transfiguration and says “this is my beloved Son.” That statement is an epiphany to those disciples, and in that epiphany I also can see the epiphany of Abraham. That epiphany is that he does not need to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to God. That epiphany, of not having to sacrifice a human life, is one that has so much relevance in today’s society. Again thoughts turn to the terror and slaughter taking place not to far from both these biblical events. It is the terror reigning where people once again kill in the name of God. They too should listen when God tells them to put down their knife.
One of the questions many people ask regarding the Transfiguration is why those three closest disciples were offered that glimpse of Christ’s divine glory. A reason often given is that they needed that divine vision to endure the horrors of the cross.That agony they were to witness required that divine vision of the Transfiguration. They needed to see the beauty of God’s kingdom to nourish them through the horrors of mankind that they were about to witness.As I think of those disciples on that mountaintop and the vision that they witnessed, I also think of how important it is today for people to see the beauty of God and all that God has created for the same reason those disciples needed to witness the transfiguration. As that moment helped them endure and understand the Passion of Christ in the weeks to come, we also need that vision of Gods beauty to carry us through the ugliness of this world.The ugliness of that world two thousand plus years ago still exists today. The horror, and the terror, and torture and disregard for human life that possessed much of ancient society still makes itself known today. It makes itself known through acts of terrorism and murder and torture; but the ugliness is not always through the violence of war.
Even in orderly law abiding societies a culture far removed from that vision the Apostles witnessed can flourish. It can be any instance where a person is degraded, or exploited, or life is not valued. That ugliness can show itself through the neglect of the poor, the elderly, or through the exploitation of youth. It is that same culture of death where abortion thrives, or euthanasia and assisted suicides takes hold; where vulnerable people are manipulated for mere financial considerations, where a dollar valued more than a life. To carry us through the ugliness of even an ordered society we too need to witness that vision of Gods beauty so that we don’t become complacent with the visions of the blind and impaired. We need that beauty of God to recognize much of the ugliness of our own making. Important also in witnessing that beauty is placing an effort in finding it, to reach the top of a mountain one must do some climbing. It takes effort to seek out that beauty, to open ones eyes, and to quietly listen. Abraham after all did hear the command to offer his son as a holocaust, and he also heard the command to stop. He did not close his ears. The Apostles witnessed both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, and ultimately the Resurrection. They did not close their eyes, their ears, or their hearts.