Posted by: Fr Chris | August 6, 2018

Faith and the Transfiguration of Christ

A Large Antique Russian Icon Depicting the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ For Sale

When priests meet, we usually talk about our parishes. Never do we ask each other, “How intense if the faith of  your parishioners?” Rather we talk about Sunday and holy day attendance, mortgages, is the hall adequate, youth programs, young adult programs, family programs, budget and Sunday collections. But we never ask, “How intense is the faith of your worshippers? How intense is your  own faith?”

Six days earlier, in Matthew chapter 16, Peter had answered Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” with his proclamation of faith: You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.  Jesus makes him the rock on which He will build the Church, but Peter messes up pretty quickly by arguing against Jesus’ prophecy of the passion, death, and resurrection. Out of love, he is horrified that this should come to Jesus, but Jesus firmly tell him “get behind me, Satan, for you are  not on the side of God, but of men. Then Jesus goes on to tell them about the importance of the cross, accepting crosses, and carrying them,  “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”

It is after all of this that Jesus withdraws to the top of Mount Tabor with Peter, who is both the rock on which the Church will be built and the one who will betray Jesus three times in His passion;  and the two brothers James and John, who had to both struggle with pride and anger. These three are the ones who see Jesus revealed in full glory, in full majesty, blinding them.

In icons, only Peter can look at the vision, and he is the only one who can speak – James and John are overwhelmed. Moses and Elijah are there to represent the Law and the Prophets and the message is clear: the Law, the Prophets and all the Writings all point to, culminate in and magnify Christ. In fact, every book of the Hebrew Bible either prefigures, foreshadows or points to Jesus in some manner. The history of Israel often foreshadows Christ’s difficult relationship with his sometimes idolatrous and wayward Church – a Church where right now we have seen bishops repeatedly circle the wagons for decades to save institutions and reputations rather than rescue laity, seminarians, and priests from predatory bishops and priests whose sexual abuse has destroyed lives and wrecked families. A bitter harvest has been the result: even more souls walking away from the holy sacraments which are the instruments of salvation, an entire society questioning whether or not Catholic bishops even have the right anymore to speak to the world about morals.

How intense is the faith of your people; how intense is your own faith? Jesus knew Peter’s weaknesses, his emotionalism, his fear but Jesus also knew that Peter would step up in the end and become the rock, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus knew James and John aspired to greatness, and he knew their tempers were so bad that he nicknamed them the sons of thunder! But James is the first apostle to be martyred for his faith in Christ as the Son of God as is recorded in chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles. John of course outlives everyone, being the youngest, and also was the one who loved Jesus so much that he is still called the Beloved Disciple, and who produces the magnificent passages in his Gospel, which begins with the affirmation that Jesus is the Eternal Word of God.

How is intense is the faith of your people? how intense is your own faith? My father asked me once, “Do you believe that the Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ?” I answered, “Of course I do, don’t you?” And he said in reply, “It has to be … anything else run like this would have folded in the first fifty years.” He’s right! It is proof of the divine foundation of the Catholic Church.

The three apostles behold the two natures of Jesus: His full humanity, which they knew well, and His full divinity, the promise of their future, which they were still learning about. The Church has been through many trials, and will be again. People leave in droves at different times, and people enter in huge crowds at other times. The job of we who stay is to indeed have an intense faith, confidence in God’s saving power through the holy sacraments, above all the Holy Eucharist. We are here to grow in faith, no matter who the pastor is, or what the bishop does, or if the pope is a good man or a bad man. Our faith is in Christ and the Church he founded: the great Catholic writer Frank Sheed wrote that “we are not baptized into the hierarchy; we do not receive the cardinals sacramentally; we will not spend eternity looking on the pope’s face. Christ is the point.” And he was right – we are baptized into the Holy Trinity; we receive God’s living grace in the sacraments, and we will spend eternity unpacking the wonderful mystery of God in His awesome glory accompanied by the saints and angels. This feast day celebrates the fullness of Who Jesus is, and Peter, James and John ended up slowly being transformed by their experience until Pentecost and their proclamation of Jesus as the Son of the living God.

It is up to us to live out the mystery of this feast: to be willing to go forward in confidence and trust in our personal relationships with Almighty God, to look at ourselves in the bright light of the Transfiguration and confront our failings like those three apostles had to and root out sin from our lives and replace sin with God’s healing grace. How intense is the faith of our parish? Faith must grow steadily, constantly, and be watered by the power of the Holy Spirit, strengthened in the sacraments which we receive. Tonight, we must answer that question for each of us who has taken the time to come here: How intense is my faith?  Christ is among us.

Russian painted icon, Transfiguration 1

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