One day, a Samurai warrior went to a Zen master for instruction. "Please," the huge man asked in a thundering voice that was used to instant obedience, "teach me about heaven and hell."
The master scowled at the swordsman, then broke into mocking laughter. "Me, teach you about heaven and hell? I wouldn't waste a moment trying to instruct the brain of an overweight ignoramus like you! How dare you ask me for such a lofty insight?"
Well, upon hearing these words, the Samurai grew furious. No one could insult him like this and get away with it. Enraged, his face flushed and he drew his sword to chop off the teacher's head. Just as he was about to strike, the master raised his hand and calmly said "That, sir, is hell."
Upon hearing this, the samurai suddenly realized the profound lesson the master had just taught him – that we make our own hell by indulging in anger and resentment. The warrior was so grateful for this teaching that he dropped his sword and fell to his knees in front of the Master, bowing in humility and gratitude. When he looked up, the old man was smiling.
"And that, sir," the teacher noted, "is Heaven.
"You risked your very life to teach me in this way?", the Samurai couldn't help asking the master.
"I figured that there was no other way you would have learnt!", the master calmly explained.
A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?
The parrot couldn't explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Scholars over the years have tried to explain what in the world Peter meant by this suggestion. But, I think trying to find meaning to these words is pointless. It's simply the way Matthew explains: Peter was frightened and he just said the first thing that came to into his head. He simply could not comprehend what was happening
In life, moments occur that are incomprehensible. The birth of one's own child is one of those moments. The loss of a loved one is one of those moments. September 11 was one of those moments. There are mountaintop and valley moments throughout life. We are never ready for them. They arrive unannounced changing us in irreversible ways. But there is one thing they all have in common. They demand that we be silent and listen. These moments have something to say to us, to teach us.
But too often our response is like that of Peter, babbling absurdities because we cannot understand the significant, the meaningful moment...
___________________________When parents are trying to teach their very young children basic social skills one of the first big lessons is "Use your words." Instead of grabbing, hitting, screaming, or crying, we teach our children to communicate their needs and desires through the use of words. Instead of snatching a toy away from another child we teach our kids to say "May I please play with that for a while?" Instead of screaming and throwing a tantrum, we teach our children to say, "I'm really mad," or "He was mean to me," or "She hit me!"
The power of our voices, the power of words, is the first power we want our children to tap into. Verbal communication is uniquely human and is a uniquely empowering gift.
Despite all the image-based advances in technology, "The Voice" is still the driving force in electronic developments. Voice power is still the ultimate power. Every new, successful emerging technology - for the past seventy-five years -- knows that voice power means market power.
Remember RCA? RCA famously advertised its first record player, the "Victrola," by showing the family dog with its head cocked in curiosity as it listened to a record player. The advertising tag line was, "His Master's Voice."
The "next best thing" in the past few years has almost always been a voice-based development. We now all routinely talk to our cars...
**************Nowadays the cost of a dinner and a movie keeps going up, and a vacation can be especially expensive, but if I really want to go somewhere I just take the change out of my pocket and lay it on the desk. It's like a time machine. Each coin has a year stamped on it, and just thinking about the year helps me travel back in my memory.
1979 is the year my first son was born and the year I started in ministry. 1981 and 1983 are the years my daughter and second son were born. 1988 is the last time the Dodgers won the pennant. 1990 was when I moved to Indiana from Los Angeles. 1994 and 2004 were the years I turned forty and fifty. 2002 was when I moved to Pennsylvania. And it's getting harder to find, but any coin with 1954 is my birth year.
I enjoy laying out the change in my pocket and just glancing at the dates. It's nice to carry these little reminders of important events, good and bad. But they're just one kind of reminder. We carry all sorts of reminders around. One of the most obvious is our date book, which we use to remind us of important events that are not in the past but in the future. We especially need a reminder for Ash Wednesday. It comes in the middle of nowhere. It's not like Christmas or Independence Day that fall on the same dates every year. Ash Wednesday is all over the map, from early February to sometime in March. What usually happens is that we notice someone with a smudge on their forehead and suddenly realize: was that today? Really, it's not very convenient. The least Ash Wednesday could do is fall on a Sunday.
It is an interruption. And it's an unwelcome reminder of an unpleasant fact. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. The grass withers and the flower fades....
IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG
I remember a time when I had misplaced my good pen and I was looking for it everywhere. I looked in drawers. I looked under things, behind things and in things. I looked on the floor, but it was nowhere. And then I found it. I was holding it in my mouth the whole time.
That is the way that life often is. We miss things that have been there the whole time. It is like when I was in college and my wife was on campus the whole year, but I never really saw her. Then one day, I SAW her. She had been there the whole time, but one day I actually saw her in my world. And she has been in my world ever since.
That is the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus showed his disciples a part of the world that had been there all along, but it had not really been a part of their world. They were bewildered, astonished and trembling with fear when they saw and understood that heaven was already here in their world and that Jesus was the King of heaven.
*************Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection:
1: “Lord, give me the grace for transformation.”
The word transfiguration means a change in form or appearance. Biologists call it metamorphosis (derived from the Greek word metamorphoomai used in Matthew’s Gospel), to describe the change that occurs when a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. As children we might have curiously watched the process of the caterpillar turning into a chrysalis and then bursting into a beautiful Monarch butterfly. Fr. Anthony De Mello tells the story of such a metamorphosis in the prayer life of an old man. “I was a revolutionary when I was young and all my prayer to God was: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change the world.’ As I approached middle age and realized that half of my life was gone without changing a single soul, I changed my prayer to: ‘Lord, give me the grace to change all those who come in contact with me; just my family and friends and I shall be satisfied.’ Now that I am old and my days are numbered, I have begun to see how foolish I have been. My one prayer now is: ’Lord, give me the grace to change myself.’ If I had prayed for this right from the start, I should not have wasted my life.”
2: Missing the point:
Once upon a time, a man took his new hunting dog on a trial hunt. After a while, he managed to shoot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water, picked up the duck and brought it to his master. The man was stunned. He didn’t know what to think. He shot another duck and again it fell into the lake and, again, the dog walked on the water and brought it back to him. What a fantastic dog – he can walk on water and get nothing but his paws wet. The next day he asked his neighbor to go hunting with him so that he could show off his hunting dog, but he didn’t tell his neighbor anything about the dog’s ability to walk on water. As on the previous day, he shot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water and got it. His neighbor didn’t say a word. Several more ducks were shot that day and each time the dog walked over the water to retrieve them and each time the neighbor said nothing and neither did the owner of the dog. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, the owner asked his neighbor, "Have you noticed anything strange, anything different about my dog?" "Yes," replied the neighbor, " come to think of it, I do. Your dog doesn’t know how to swim." The neighbor missed the point completely. He couldn’t see the wonder of a dog that could walk on water; he could only see that the dog didn’t do what other hunting dogs do to retrieve ducks – that is to swim. The disciple, Peter, was good at missing the point at the theophany of transfiguration as it is clear from his declaration: “ I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
3: “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.”
There is a mysterious story in 2 Kings that can help us understand what is happening in the transfiguration. Israel is at war with Aram, and Elisha the man of God is using his prophetic powers to reveal the strategic plans of the Aramean army to the Israelites. At first the King of Aram thinks that one of his officers is playing the spy, but when he learns the truth he dispatches troops to go and capture Elisha who is residing in Dothan. The Aramean troops move in under cover of darkness and surround the city. In the morning Elisha’s servant is the first to discover that they are surrounded and fears for his master’s safety. He runs to Elisha and says, “Oh, my lord, what shall we do?” The prophet answers “Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” But who would believe that when the surrounding mountainside is covered with advancing enemy troops? So Elisha prays, “O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.” Then the Lord opens the servant's eyes, and he looks and sees the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Kings 6:8-23). This vision was all that Elisha’s disciple needed to reassure him. At the end of the story, not only was the prophet of God safe but the invading army was totally humiliated. (Fr. Munacci)
In the first reading from the Book of Genesis we have the inspiring story of the call of Abraham. At the age of seventy-five, when most aged people have retired or are written off, Abraham sets out on a journey of faith, moving from the familiar, secure and well-ordered routine in his native place to an unknown destination, literally to ‘God knows where’! All he can rely on is the promise of God. In obedience to God’s call he sets off. Abraham is blessed and in turn becomes a blessing to his people. It is never too late to change, to respond to God’s call.
Transformed by love
“Picture an old lamp covered with layers of dust and dirt. How wretched and useless it looks. Then someone comes along, cleans off the layers of dirt, and polishes it until it begins to sparkle, and then lights it. Suddenly the lamp is transformed. It positively glows, radiating light and beauty to every corner of the room. Whereas prior to this it was disfigured with dust and dirt, now it is transfigured with beauty by the light. Yet, it is the same lamp. When an object (or a person) is loved and cared for, it is redeemed, and rendered brighter and worthier.”Flor McCarthy in “New Sundays and Holy Day Liturgies”
Today’s gospel reminds us, first of all, that transformations take place in the context of prayer. Jesus led his disciples up a high mountain, where they could be alone. The mountain, in the Israelite tradition, symbolized the meeting place with God. Moses had witnessed Yahweh on the mountain and each time he encountered Him his face glowed with the presence of God. Jesus was transfigured in their presence and ‘his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as light.’ Secondly, Jesus appears transfigured in the context of his relationship with his Father, symbolized by the presence of the cloud and the heavenly voice. The cloud symbolized Yahweh, who in the form of a cloud accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert to the Promise Land. Thirdly, this transfiguration is not only a blessing and an affirmation for Jesus, proclaimed by the voice from heaven, “This is my Son, the beloved; He enjoys my favour. Listen to him”, but it is also a blessing for the three disciples, who are witnesses of the transfiguration. They have a privileged viewpoint on salvation history as they witness Jesus in conversation with the father-figures of the Law and the prophets, Moses and Elijah. This vision will reassure them when they hear other voices later opposing Jesus, rejecting his mission, and seeking to destroy him. The transfiguration would be only for a moment. But Peter wanted to capture it and prolong it and make it permanent by building tents or tabernacles to contain this experience. We too want the good experiences, the peak moments of life to last forever. We are afraid to let go and move on, we want to be in the past rather than move on to where the Lord wants us to go. But the reality is that we have to come down from the mountain.” Our transfiguration can happen in the strangest of ways when we let Jesus into our lives.
Van Gogh was not noted for his physical beauty. In fact his face was described by some as being repulsive. Yet as soon as he began to speak about art, his melancholy expression would disappear, his eyes would sparkle, and his features would make a deep impression on those around him. It wasn’t his face any longer; it had become beautiful. It seemed he was breathing in beauty. At times all of us can feel down and depressed, a prey to feelings of failure and worthlessness. But then suddenly something nice happens to us – a friend calls, or we get a letter with some good news in it – and suddenly everything is changed. The truth of course is that nothing has changed. It is just that a spark of joy or hope or love has been kindled in our hearts, and we suddenly see ourselves in a new and better light.
Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies’Transfiguration –A change of attitudes?Rabbi Abraham Twersky tells a story about his great-grandfather who was sitting with other rabbinical scholars studying the Talmud when it was decided to take a break for refreshments. One of the groups offered to pay for refreshments, but there was no one who volunteered to go for them. According to Twersky, in his book Generation to Generation, his great-grandfather said, “Just hand me the money, I have a young boy who will be glad to go.” After a rather extended period, he finally returned with the refreshments, and it became obvious to all that the rabbi himself had gone and performed the errand. Noticing their discomfort, the rabbi explained: “I didn’t mislead you at all. You see, many people outgrow their youth and become old men. I have never let the spirit of my youth depart. And as I grew older, I always took along with me that young boy I had been. It was that young boy in me that did the errand.” –Our transformation, our transfiguration begins in our change of attitude.Gerard Fuller in ‘Stories for all Seasons’Finding God on the mountain?The 17th century English poet, John Donne, tells of a man searching for God. He is convinced that God lives on the top of a mountain at the end of the earth. After a journey of many days, the man arrives at the foot of the mountain and begins to climb it. At the same time God says to the angels: “What can I do to show my people how much I love them?” He decides to descend the mountain and live among the people as one of them. As the man is going up one side of the mountain, God is descending the other side. They don’t see each other because they are on opposite sides of the mountain. On reaching the summit, the man discovers an empty mountaintop. Heartbroken, the man concludes that God does not exist. Despite speculation to the contrary, God does not live on mountaintops, deserts, or at the end of the earth, or even in some heaven, - God dwells among human beings and in the person of Jesus. – Staying on the safety of the mountain is what Peter would prefer. During the transfiguration Peter and his companions got a glimpse of the future glory of Jesus’ resurrection. They want nothing more. However after they come down the mountain they are told by Jesus that the glory they witnessed would be real only after he had gone through suffering and death. We too will share in his glory, only by sharing in his suffering and death.Simon K. in ‘The Sunday Liturgy’Healing SolitudeOne Sunday morning in summer when I was twelve, I was waiting for my friend Juanita to come over. We had planned a morning together and she was quite late. I was fretting and complaining and generally making a nuisance of myself. In fact I was becoming rather obnoxious to everyone else in the house. Finally, my father said to me, “Get a book, a blanket and an apple, and get into the car.” I wanted to know why, but he only repeated the order. So I obeyed. My father drove me about eight miles from home to a canyon area, and said, “Now get out. We cannot stand you any longer at home. You aren’t fit to live with us. Just stay out here by yourself today until you understand better how to act. I’ll come back for you this evening.” I got out, frustrated, and defiant and angry. The nerve of him! I thought immediately of walking back home; eight miles was no distance at all for me. Then the thought of meeting my father when I got there took hold, and I changed my mind. I cried and threw the book, apple and blanket over the canyon ledge. I had been dumped and I was furious. But it is hard to keep up a good rebellion cry with no audience and so finally there was nothing to do but face up to the day alone. I sat on the rim kicking up dirt and trying to get control of myself. After a couple of hours as noon approached, I began to get hungry. I located the apple and climbed down to retrieve it- as well as the book and blanket. I climbed back up and as I came over the top I noticed a tree. It was lovely and full. As I spread the blanket and began to eat the apple, I noticed a change of attitude. As I looked through the branches into the sky, a great sense of peace and beauty came upon me. I began to see my behaviour in a new light. I found myself thinking of God. It began to be prayer time; I wanted to be a better person. I just lay there in silence. By the time my father returned I was restored. I was different and he knew it.
Victim or Victor
Charles Rayburn has been a victim of cerebral palsy since his birth. His only means of communication was an electric typewriter which he strikes with a stylus attached to a band around his head. In spite of his palsy, Charles Rayburn has published 37 articles in national magazines. One of his articles appeared in America magazine and dealt with the Stations of the Cross. Charles Rayburn is a living example of today’s reading about Isaac and Jesus. These three figures and the three readings are tied together by a triple theme –the theme of Sonship, death and deliverance.
- Albert Cylwicki in ‘His Word Resounds’
In today’s gospel the account of the transfiguration gives us some insight into the mystery of Jesus, Son of God, the new Moses to whom we must listen. The transfiguration is an epiphany story. Epiphany stories were common in ancient writings about holy people. This is the earliest epiphany story about Jesus, where the veil is lifted and his apostles were given a glimpse of his future glory. The chief significance of this event was for Jesus himself. It was meant to confirm him in the course he had undertaken. But it also benefited the apostles, and it is this that Mark emphasizes. On the mountain Elijah and Moses appeared to them representing the prophets and the law respectively. Thus Jesus is seen as bringing the law and the prophets to fulfillment. We do not know what exactly happened on that mountain but it seems Jesus had an intense experience of the presence of God. He heard those marvelous words: “You are my beloved son.” On Tabor Jesus felt comforted and affirmed. He knew that the Father was pleased with him and would give him all the strength he would need to face whatever lay ahead. With God on his side he could face anything. At times life could be dark for us and we too need to hear those reassuring words: “You are my son the beloved, my favour rests on you!” People from time to time do affirm us, but their affirmation is conditional. “You are good but you need to change this behaviour…. You are good but only if you live up to my expectations!” Only God affirms us exactly as he affirmed his son Jesus. With him there are no terms and conditions, even if we are sinners and have failed him. We will always remain the well beloved sons and daughters of God. Jean Vanier has set up communities for the mentally handicapped. He tells how in one of these communities there is a man called Pierre who has a mental handicap. One day somebody asked Pierre, “Do you like praying?” “Yes”, he answered. “And what do you do when you pray?” the questionnaire asked. “I listen,” Pierre answered. “And what does God say to you? “He says, “Pierre, you are my beloved son.” Though we know and believe that God loves us, yet from time to time we need his assurance, we need the transfiguration experience. As Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem, he knew what was in store for him. He met with a lot of opposition from the religious leaders and ultimately they would put him to death. Naturally he would recoil from such a harsh experience. He needed to be affirmed and he ascended the mountain in the company of his disciples to pray and commune with His Father about the fearful future. Instead of giving up in fear he ascends the mountain to be closer to God. On that mountain the Father affirmed him. That same Father is waiting for us to come to him to be affirmed as his well beloved sons and daughters. Our problem is that as soon as we run into trouble our faith fails us. We think that God has abandoned us. But if we pray we will realize that God has not abandoned us, He is always with us. Like Jesus on Tabor we too can experience being affirmed by God, we too can be transformed by the power of his spirit, if only we let Him into our lives.
John Updike wrote a short story called “Pigeon Feathers.” It’s about a young boy, David, who begins to have doubts about his faith. One night in bed David is thinking about his problem. Suddenly he decides upon a bold experiment. He takes his hands from under the covers, lifts them above his head, and asks Jesus to touch them. As David waits breathlessly, he thinks he feels something touch his hands; not sure if they have been touched or not. We can all relate to David in this scene. We too experience times when our faith seems to disappear or go behind a cloud. When this happens, we long desperately for a sign that God is real and that Jesus is the Son of God. Or to put it in another way, we long for a sign of Jesus’ glory, like the one Peter, James and John received in today’s gospel.
- Mark Link in ‘Sunday Homilies’
Fr. Tony Kadavil: Additional Anecdotes:1) "You don't really know how it works, do you, Mom?" A little boy asked his mother, "Marriage makes you have babies, doesn't it, Mom?" The mother reluctantly answered her son, "Well, not exactly. Just because you are married does not mean that you have a baby." The boy continued his inquiry: "Then how do you have babies?" His mother, not very enthusiastic about continuing, answered, "It's kind of hard to explain." The boy paused and thought for a moment. He then moved closer to Mom, looked her right in eye, and carefully said, "You don't really know how it works, do you, Mom?" Believe it our not, today’s Gospel passage on theophany on a mountain is one of those "What does that mean, and how am I supposed to explain that?" sort of passages. It's difficult because, as the little boy told his mother, we "don't really know how it works." And when you don't know how something works, it's hard to explain.
2) Missing the point:
Once upon a time, a man took his new hunting dog on a trial hunt. After a while, he managed to shoot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water, picked up the duck and brought it to his master. The man was stunned. He didn’t know what to think. He shot another duck and again it fell into the lake and, again, the dog walked on the water and brought it back to him. What a fantastic dog – he can walk on water and get nothing but his paws wet. The next day he asked his neighbor to go hunting with him so that he could show off his hunting dog, but he didn’t tell his neighbor anything about the dog’s ability to walk on water. As on the previous day, he shot a duck and it fell into the lake. The dog walked on the water and got it. His neighbor didn’t say a word. Several more ducks were shot that day and each time the dog walked over the water to retrieve them and each time the neighbor said nothing and neither did the owner of the dog. Finally, unable to contain himself any longer, the owner asked his neighbor, "Have you noticed anything strange, anything different about my dog?" "Yes," replied the neighbor, “Your dog doesn’t know how to swim." The neighbor missed the point completely. He couldn’t see the wonder of a dog that could walk on water; he could only see that the dog didn’t do what other hunting dogs do to retrieve ducks – that is to swim. The disciple, Peter, was good at missing the point at the theophany of Transfiguration as is clear from his declaration: “I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”
3) Edmund Hillary’s mountain-top experience on Mount Everest.
The seniors among us certainly recall that amazing story 64 years ago, May 29, 1953. A New Zealand beekeeper named Edmund Hillary and a Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay, were the first ever to reach Everest's summit. Here was a mountain - unreachable, tantalizing, fearsome, deadly - that had defeated 15 previous expeditions. Some of the planet's strongest climbers had perished on its slopes. For many, Everest represented the last of the earth's great challenges. The North Pole had been reached in 1909; the South Pole in 1911. But Everest, often called the Third Pole, had defied all human efforts - reaching its summit seemed beyond mere mortals. Now success! And heightening the impact even further was the delicious coincidence of their arrival just before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and the dramatic announcement of their triumph on the morning of the coronation. It was literally a "mountaintop experience." The mountaintop experience of which we read in today’s Gospel a moment ago has Jesus and His three closest Apostles - Peter, James, and John - going up on a high mountain and the miraculous Transfiguration undergone by Jesus making His Heavenly glory visible to His disciples.
4) “I just want you to know that I love you.”
Did you hear the story about an inattentive, workaholic husband who suddenly decided to surprise his wife with a night to remember? He went down to the department store and bought her the expensive dress she had been admiring. He bought her a large bottle of perfume to go with it. He ordered tickets to the Broadway play she had been wanting to see and made reservations at their favorite restaurant. On his way home he stopped by the florist and bought two dozen red roses which he carried home under his arm. Upon arriving home, he exploded through the door, hugged his wife affectionately and told her what he had done. “I just want you to know that I love you; I appreciate you; I adore you.” Instead of melting in the man’s arms his wife started screaming at the top of her voice. “This has been the worst day of my life,” she said. “It was awful at the office. We lost our biggest account; co-workers were obnoxious; clients were unreasonable. I came home to find the kids had broken my favorite lamp; the baby sitter is quitting; and the water heater is out; and now surprise of surprises, my normally sober husband comes home drunk!” When today’s Gospel starts talking about a Transfiguration with radiant faces and glowing garments and visitors from the dead, we become more than a little suspicious. What is going on here? All along the question remains: Are we willing to let ourselves be engulfed in mystery, inspired by glory, transformed by encounters of a Divine kind? That’s what the Transfiguration of Jesus is all about.
5) The new prioress is turning monastic life into "one big party."
A most unusual protest took place in a convent in New Jersey. Four nuns locked themselves in a tiny second floor infirmary and took a vow of "near silence." They were protesting new rules established by their new prioress, Mother Theresa Hewitt. It seems that Mother Theresa had introduced television, secular videos, recorded music, bright lights, and (horror of horrors) daily "sweets" into the convent. The sweets consisted of a tin of candy which was passed around each day and each nun was supposed to indulge. In the words of one of the protesting nuns (who were among the younger nuns in the order, by the way) the new prioress was turning monastic life into "one big party." In order to express their revulsion at these ungodly changes, the four sisters locked themselves away. We can sympathize. There is much in our brave new world from which I would like to withdraw. I can sympathize with Simon Peter who wanted to build three booths and stay on the mountaintop of the Transfiguration in the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Unfortunately he was not given that option, and neither are we. We must live in this world of strident, discordant noise. There is no retreat.
6) Movie preview:
You go into the movie theatre, find a seat that's suitable. You find a place for your coat, sit down, and get ready to watch the movie. The house lights dim; the speakers crackle as the dust and scratches on the soundtrack are translated into static, and an image appears on the screen. It is not the film you came to see. It is the preview of coming attractions, a brief glimpse of the highlights of a film opening soon. The moviemakers and theater owners hope the preview will pique your interest enough to make you want to come back and see the whole film. On the Mount of the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John, the inner circle of Jesus' disciples, were given a preview of coming attractions. Today’s Gospel gives us a splendid preview of Jesus radiant in Divine glory, his mortal nature brilliantly, though only momentarily, transfigured; a dazzling preview of His Divinity, unalloyed and perfectly pure, shining in glory like the very sun. A sneak preview, in other words, of Easter and of His final coming in Glory to take us Home, the triumphant climax of the epic love story between God and humanity.
7) “I had an hour of glory on a windswept hill.”
Dr. William Stidger once told of a lovely little 90-year-old lady named Mrs. Sampson. Mrs. Sampson was frail, feeble, even sickly. But Dr. Stidger said that when he was discouraged he always went to visit Mrs. Sampson. She had a radiant spirit that was contagious. One day he asked this 90-year-young woman, “What is the secret of your power? What keeps you happy, contented and cheerful through your sickness?” She answered with a line from a poem, “I had an hour of glory on a windswept hill.” Bill Stidger said, recounting this experience, “I knew she had been in touch with God and that was the whole reason for her cheerfulness.” Listen again to her words: “an hour of glory on a windswept hill.” It sounds very much like the experience Peter, James and John had on the Mount of Transfiguration.
8) “What did you do with the ship?"
A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?" The parrot couldn't explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter was like that parrot after witnessing the Transfiguration scene. He said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three tents-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."
9) The Mountain Top.
John A. Redhead, Jr. tells of a father and son who have a really good relationship. Among their many good times together, one stood out above all the rest: It was a hike up a particular mountain where they seemed to reach the height of a beautiful friendship. After they returned home, there came a day when things did not seem to run as smoothly. The father rebuked the son, and the son spoke sharply in return. An hour later, the air had cleared. “Dad,” said the son, “whenever it starts to get like that again, let’s one of us say ‘The Mountain Top.’” So it was agreed. In a few weeks another misunderstanding occurred. The boy was sent to his room in tears. After a while, the father decided to go up and see the boy. He was still angry until he saw a piece of paper pinned to the door. The boy had penciled three words in large letters: “The Mountain Top.” That symbol was powerful enough to restore the relationship of father and son. (Harry Emerson Fosdick, Riverside Sermons (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1958).) Come with me to the mountain. It is there that relationships can be made right. Come with me to the mountain. See who Jesus is. See what, by his grace, you and I can yet become.
10) The Church of Transfiguration:
The traditional site for the Transfiguration is Mount Tabor, a high mountain in the north country of Israel. Over the years, the Church has gone where Peter could not go, and we have built what he could not build. Helena, mother of Constantine, built a sanctuary in the top of Mount Tabor in 326 A.D. By the end of the sixth century, three churches stood on the mountaintop, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. More shrines were built there over the next 400 years, and Saladin destroyed them all in 1187. A fortress built in 1212 was destroyed by the end of the thirteenth century. The summit was abandoned for another six hundred years, until a Greek Orthodox community built a monastery there. Some time later, the Franciscans built a Latin basilica on the highest point of the summit, where they now maintain worship services and a website. The site can be reached at http://www.christusrex.org/www1/ofm/san/tab00mn/html)
11) "Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours."
Winston Churchill knew the difference between celebrities and heroes. In the summer of 1941, Sergeant James Allen Ward was awarded the Victoria Cross for climbing out onto the wing of his Wellington bomber at 13,000 feet above ground to extinguish a fire in the starboard engine. Secured only by a rope around his waist, he managed to smother the fire and return along the wing to the aircraft's cabin. Churchill, an admirer as well as a performer of swashbuckling exploits, summoned the shy New Zealander to 10 Downing Street. Ward, struck dumb with awe in Churchill's presence, was unable to answer the Prime Minister's questions. Churchill surveyed the unhappy hero with some compassion. "You must feel very humble and awkward in my presence," he said, "Yes, Sir," managed Ward. "Then you can imagine how humble and awkward I feel in yours," returned Churchill. [Max Anders, Jesus (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 24.] Churchill knew he was in the presence of a real hero. So did the disciples. In fact, they knew they were in the presence of Someone whose significance went beyond celebrity, even beyond heroic. He was their Lord, their Master, their King. If we are wise, he will be our Lord, our Master, our King. If we are wise, Christ will be our Hero, too.
12) "Let me build three booths here"
Do you remember how President Reagan insisted he had done the right thing after he visited the cemetery in Bitburg, West Germany, despite the fact that it contained the bodies of at least twenty-nine Nazi SS soldiers, and later, as if to offset the visit to Bitburg, made a pilgrimage to one of the concentration camps? His argument, supporting his contention that he had done a good deed, was based on what he learned about the manner in which the German people actually make pilgrimages to some of the death camps to keep alive the terrible memory in adults and make children realize how awful those camps were. Graphic and gruesome photographs and news stories of the atrocities, uncovered after the Allies liberated them, are posted in prominent places so no one will ever forget. "Let me build three booths here" was Peter's way of marking the spot of Jesus' Transfiguration so no one would ever forget.
13) The shepherd's pipe once played by Moses:
John Killinger tells the legend about "the simple shepherd's pipe once played by Moses when he kept his father-in-law's flocks. When the pipe was discovered, many years after Moses' death, it was decided that it should be put on display for the benefit of his admirers. But it looked far too common for such an important purpose, so someone suggested that it be embellished by an artist. A few centuries later, when the pipe was given a new home in an upscale museum, a committee said it needed improving yet again. So another artist was employed to overlay it in fine gold and silver filigree. The result, in the end, was a breathtaking piece of art, a marvelous sight indeed. It was so beautiful, in fact, that no one ever noticed that it was no longer capable of the clear, seductive notes once played upon it by Moses." [God, the Devil, and Harry Potter (New York: Thomas Dunne, 2002), 162-3]. How do we tell what voices to listen to, whose advice to take, what directives are important, and what we should just let fall on deaf ears? In today's Gospel text, the Divine Voice from the enshrouding Cloud offered Peter, James, and John simple, straightforward words: "This is my Beloved Son, listen to him."
14) Into Thin Air:
A few years ago a book was published that described a different kind of mountaintop experience. It was Jon Krakauer’s book Into Thin Air. It was his description of a disastrous expedition in which he took part – a climb up Mount Everest. Mount Everest is the highest point on earth, rising 29,029 feet above sea level. Hundreds of people have died trying to scale its slopes. On May 10, 1996, climbers from three different expeditions attempting to reach the summit of Everest found themselves in a traffic jam as they approached the final ascent. An unexpected storm suddenly came up, claiming the lives of eight of the climbers. Jon Krakauer was in one of those three groups. The title of his book, Into Thin Air, comes partially from an experience he had on top of the mountain. As he was beginning his slow descent back down the mountain, Krakauer became concerned about his oxygen supply. He was going to stop and rest for a few moments while he waited on others who were still making it to the top. So he asked Andy Harris, a guide with another team with whom he had become close friends, to turn down his oxygen supply, so as to conserve it for the trip back. Harris turned the knob on the back of his pack, and Krakauer sat, to wait for the rest of his team. There atop Everest, Krakauer says he had this moment of absolute clarity as he gazed out over the craggy peaks of the Himalayan Mountains. After a difficult journey up, he felt in control for the first time on the trip. And then . . . his oxygen ran out. You see, his friend Andy Harris had turned the knob in the wrong direction: he hadn’t turned it down, he’d turned it up. The moment of absolute clarity that Krakauer experienced was the result of an oversupply of oxygen‑rich air. His feeling of control was an illusion. [Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air (Villard Books, 1997)]. That moment of terror for Jon Krakauer is comparable to what Peter, James and John felt as the mountain on which they stood suddenly became enveloped by a Cloud, and they heard a Voice from that Cloud. They were terrified. Jesus said to them, as he often had to say to them, “Don’t be afraid.”
15) “I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can.”
Some of you baseball fans remember former major league catcher and TV personality Joe Garagiola. Garagiola is a great story-teller. He tells a story about baseball legend Stan Musial. Musial came to the plate in a critical game. The opposing pitcher in the game was young and nervous. Garagiola was catching, and he called for a fastball to be pitched to Musial. The pitcher shook his head. He didn’t want to throw that pitch. Joe signaled for a curve, and again the pitcher shook him off. Then he signaled for a change-up. Still the pitcher hesitated. Garagiola went out to the mound to talk to his young pitcher. He said, “I’ve called for every pitch in the book; what do you want to throw?” “Nothing,” was the pitcher’s reply. “I just want to hold on to the ball as long as I can.” Well, who can blame him? Musial was a legendary hitter. And that’s the way many of us are living -- holding on as long as we can to our grudges, holding onto our resentments, holding onto our fears. Why? Because we’re afraid to let go. Listen, friend. Jesus is here today, and he is saying to you, “Don’t be afraid.” Don’t be afraid. Listen to his voice. This day can mean the beginning of a new you.
16) Metamorphosis of a Grub into a Dragonfly:
At the bottom of a pond some little grub worms (larvae of dragonflies) are crawling around in the mud. They wonder what happens to their members who climb up the stem of the water lily and never come back. They agree among themselves that the next one who is called to the surface will come back and tell them what happened. The next grub worm (nymph) that finds itself drawn to the surface by nature, crawls out on a lily leaf and emerges from its last molting skin as a beautiful adult dragonfly. It has been dark and murky down below, but the dragonfly sees that everything is bright and sunny in the upper world. Suddenly something begins to happen. The transformed grub spreads out two huge beautiful colored wings and flies back and forth across the pond to convey the glad tiding of its transfiguration to its friends. It can see the other grubs in the pond below, but they can’t see him. He also realizes that he cannot dive into the pond to convey the glad tidings of his great transformation. This metamorphosis is nothing in comparison to the glorious transformation awaiting us after our death.
17) The Transfiguration:
Rabbi Abraham Twersky tells a story about his great-grandfather who was sitting with other rabbinical scholars studying the Talmud when it was decided to take a break for refreshments. One of the groups offered to pay for the refreshments, but there was no one who volunteered to go for them. According to Twersky, in his book Generation to Generation, his great-grandfather said, “Just hand me the money, I have a young boy who will be glad to go.” After a rather extended period, he finally returned with the refreshments, and it became obvious to all that the rabbi himself had gone and performed the errand. Noticing their discomfort, the rabbi explained: “I didn’t mislead you at all. You see, many people outgrow their youth and become old men. I have never let the spirit of my youth depart. And as I grew older, I always took along with me that young boy I had been. It was that young boy in me that did the errand. (Gerard Fuller in Stories for all Seasons)
18) Film: Phenomenon –Transforming Light:
In the film, George Malley is a simple, pleasant, and popular man who lives in a small town where he fixes cars and experiments in growing vegetables in his garden. He turns 37 and after his birthday celebration, he is knocked unconscious by a bright light in the sky that falls towards him and explodes. When he comes to, he has been transformed. His I.Q has soared, and he develops telekinetic powers. He begins to speed-read and is able to translate for the local doctor when he is treating a non-English speaking patient. The townspeople are puzzled because George has always been so ordinary. A scientist interviews and tests him. George is apprehended by the FBI who are suspicious about his amazing knowledge and contacts. Meanwhile, his friends support him; so does Lace, a furniture maker with two small children whom George begins to court. Eventually his physical condition deteriorates and the FBI keeps him in custody in a hospital. He escapes and returns to Lace, and we discover the reasons for his extraordinary intelligence before he dies. Lace mourns for George. A year later the whole town and his friends gather to celebrate his birthday as his memory and spirit live on. (Peter Malone in ‘Lights, Camera… Faith!’) As we journey in life, may we be transformed by touches of His presence! (Fr. Botelho)
19) Finding God on the mountain?
The 17th century English poet, John Donne, tells of a man searching for God. He is convinced that God lives on the top of a mountain at the end of the earth. After a journey of many days, the man arrives at the foot of the mountain and begins to climb it. At the same time God says to the angels: “What can I do to show my people how much I love them?” He decides to descend the mountain and live among the people as one of them. As the man is going up one side of the mountain, God is descending the other side. They don’t see each other because they are on opposite sides of the mountain. On reaching the summit, the man discovers an empty mountaintop. Heartbroken, the man concludes that God does not exist. Despite speculation to the contrary, God does not live on mountaintops, deserts, or at the end of the earth, or even in some Heaven, - God dwells among human beings and in the person of Jesus. – Staying on in the safety of the mountain is what Peter would prefer. During the Transfiguration, Peter and his companions got a glimpse of the future glory of Jesus’ Resurrection. They want nothing more. However, after they come down the mountain, they are told by Jesus that the glory they witnessed would be real only after he had gone through suffering and death. We too will share in his glory, only by sharing in his suffering and death. (Simon K. in The Sunday Liturgy; quoted by Fr. Botelho). L/17