- Genesis 12:1-4. Abraham is promised to be a great nation and a model of blessings for all nations if he obediently goes forth “to a land that I will show you.”
- 2 Timothy 1:8-10. Not by our own merits but by the grace in Christ Jesus has God saved us. Therefore, we ought to bear our share of the hardships which the gospel entails.
- Matthew 17:1-9. Jesus, wondrously transfigured, is joined by Moses and Elijah; a voice out of the clouds says: “This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.”
Thoughts for your consideration:
The Good News of Jesus Christ is to spread the love that God has for all humanity. Jesus demonstrated God’s love in word and deed to all who suffered every malady and hardship. In accepting God’s love we are also invited to share that same love to all of God’s people. By word and deed we must also offer the radical love that Jesus had in feeding the hungry, healing the sick, preaching peace, and forgiving all who sin against us. This is the “hardship for the gospel” that St. Paul describes in the second reading for this weekend. The hardship can seem unbearable and indeed it is but for “the strength that comes from God.” In the second reading St. Paul shares his own witness of the risen Christ as a glorious reminder that through Christ comes the promise that death is defeated and immortality is achieved. This is the promise that gives fuel for the early Christians to live a countercultural lifestyle and to face the persecution that so many of them faced.
The first reading and the gospel passage both offer an epiphany moment to Abraham and the disciples of Jesus that gives them great hope in a divine promise that will bring fulfillment to a hardship that they must bear. For Abraham he is being asked to uproot himself in his old age to a foreign land with the unlikely promise that he will be a great nation. In the gospel passage Jesus just predicts his passion and death and then goes on to tell his disciples that they too must carry their own cross. The disciples may have had second thoughts with regards to the messianic mission of Christ so he takes the three leaders of the early church and offers them a secret epiphany moment through the transfiguration.
Our Christian duty is to continue this tradition of demonstrating God’s great love to all people by word and deed. We face different challenges than either Abraham or the Apostles but the gospel message is as countercultural today as it was back then and our prophetic message will still create amazing hardships for many of us. Preaching social policies that address life, hunger and healthcare to a highly individualistic and competitive market society will not bring us social popularity. We may not be persecuted outright but many of us can feel marginalized or even ridiculed when we preach a policy of peace and nonviolence. Just like Abraham and the Apostle we need these epiphany moments that God gives us to give us strength and fortitude to continue the mission of Jesus as we dare to share God’s great love with one another.
Many of us can attest to having either visions or inspirational moments where we become aware of God’s presence in our lives and experience a sense of recollection. They may not be cosmic events such what the Apostles witnessed but they are moments, sometimes fleeting, where we feel a sense of peace and purpose. These moments will come to us periodically through moments of prayer and reflection. Some have shared with me personal visions that they have had, for my part I can attest to inspirations that usually accompany a spiritual reading or a fervent prayer. The point is not to get hung up on these moments, like Peter tried to do in the gospel passage, but to allow ourselves to be transfigured during those moments so that our own faith in God is nourished as we face the hardships that we are called to. In this way we will collaborate with God in fulfilling a divine purpose and not our own self-interest. For that reason it is often suggested that we have a spiritual director who can help us with counsel and resources to have a balanced spiritual life and to help us discern these inspirations or visions such as they are. The founder of the Passionist community, St. Paul of the Cross, offered spiritual direction to many lay men and women as well as clergy and religious. In one letter written in 1735 he gave this important counsel regarding the difference between holy and unholy inspirations.
“The things of God, his gifts, bring a great knowledge of his Infinite Majesty and a great knowledge of one’s own nothingness… The things of God cause a great detachment from everything, a great love of the cross and of suffering, a great acceptance of everything that is not sin, and exact obedience. They cause a great peace and heavenly understanding. They bring on a great inclination to holy prayer…
The work of the devil, on the contrary, at the beginning may bring some peace and devotion, but it does not last. They principally generate a secret presumption and opinion that one is important, and bring on, if not immediately, at least after a time, perturbation of spirit, arousal of the passions, stubbornness of mind and one’s opinions.”
God gives us moments of transfigurations where he offers us a sense of the divine mystery and a purpose for the countercultural hardship that we will face in preaching the Good News. St. Paul of the Cross suggests that we should be humbled by such an experience and open towards offering a compassionate love to a suffering world. But if our inspirations drive us to opinionated stubbornness and a false sense of preeminence then we need to keep those self-inflating desires in check. We cannot hope to demonstrate God’s great love to the world if we do not allow ourselves to be open to His own transforming influence in our own lives.