A couple of people have asked me to reproduce Sunday’s homily on the Christian need for a transfigured vision of life.
To understand the transfiguration we should revisit an incident in the Old Testament, involving the prophet Elisha. It is in 2 Kings. Israel is at war with Aram so Elisha uses prophetic power to reveal the enemy plans. Understandably news of such supernatural meddling irritates the King of Aram who dispatches troops to surround Dotham, where Elisha is residing, in the hope of capturing him. His crack troops surround Elisha’s dwelling in the cover of darkness.
In the morning as Elisha’s servant looks out, he panics, realising they are horribly outnumbered. But the prophet himself is surprisingly calm and says “Don’t be afraid. Those with us are more than with them.” The servant isn’t reassured, the mountain is crawling with troops, so Elisha prays, “Lord, open his eyes”. God grants the servant a vision; in which the hills are seen full of chariots gathered protectively around Elisha. A bit like the ghost army in Lord of the Rings. Not only was the prophet safe but the invading army puny next to the invisible power of God. Depsite external appearances God was very much in control.
The Transfiguration occurs when Jesus’ enemies are closing in. When, from all earthly perspective, Jesus is defeated. So the disciples, like Elisha’s servant, are anxious and losing faith. In the moments leading up to the transfiguration Jesus had asked. ‘Who do people say I am” Peter had given the right answer –God- but then displayed his wavering faith when Jesus warned about his suffering and death. Peter protested; “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Jesus had to repremand Peter for forgetting that the suffering was part of God’s plan. What Peter needed, like Elisha’s servant, was divine vision. An unshakable faith that simply knows, despite everything, God is in control. So Jesus grants the lead apostles a vision of his risen glory, the transfiguration, the only time we see Jesus as he is. And he provided this glimpse of his divine nature to save them from that awful defeatist view we tend to have in life when we lose sight of God’s power and majesty.
Listen hard to scripture today. For- like Elisha’s servant and St. Peter- you and I are being called to keep the faith at a time of crisis, of doubt and confusion. When the friends of God can seem few but the enemies legion. Outside the church our culture has clearly abanonded the Christian faith that formed it; leading to widespread immorality, corruption, worldliness and spiritual and material poverty. That is bad.
What is much worse is that within the Church too there is evidence of crumbling faith in God’s providence. Disagreement arises, Cardinal contradicts Cardinal, why? Because the heresy of liberal modernism attempts to overthrow the true faith of the ages. An attempt that will ultimately fail, for God really is sovereign, but until the crisis is defeated it remains the gravest Christian scandal since the Arian heresy.
And just as the first apostles abandoned Christ at his hour of need, when crisis struck, leaving only a handful at the Cross; so priests and bishops and lay folk today abandon Christ in the face of modernism. Some by being complicit in the attempt to change the faith to suit man’s agenda, others by being cowardly and silent. And so those who should defend the faith instead cave in to the Spirit of the age; to a false ecumenism, to a watering down of doctrinal truth to appease secular thinking. Objective answers to reasonable questions are dodged via subjective appeals to a misguided sense of mercy. God’s truth plays second fiddle to “being nice”. And thus the church becomes luke warm and loses credibility, clarity then unity. Chaos and confusion ensue.
Sadly, this abandonment seems to have reached the highest levels of the Church. For what else could give rise to so many stories of deep corruption and vice in the Vatican and all those truly filthy scandals involving clergy? How dangerous bishops become when they lose zeal for the Gospel and fidelity to Christ! Bad enough that they become secular managers of what should be spiritual and ecclesial institutions, worst still they open themselves to spiritual attack, to the assaults of the devil, to the wrongful thinking of this world. Then hearts turn to vice and political agenda- often both. So beware the modern heretics who twist what was ever taught and known by the faithful. Beware the seductive attempts to justify sin and bypass any need for amendment of life. Beware those who would have you think that grace is not enough for us to live a good and godly life. Do not listen to them.
Listen instead to the Gospel this Sunday in Lent! Which teaches us to stand firm and trust God even when it appears he is defeated. And realise that he never is defeated because God is soveriegn and his truth does not change from one generation to another. But to appreciate this life giving fact you must first learn to look at this world with transfigured vision. With eyes of faith that are able to behold those chariots surrounding Elisha, that Jesus was working out salvation as he hung on a cross. You must learn to see beyond the temptations and agendas of this fallen world to the life of grace and truth.
Lent is for turning away from sin and being faithul to the Gospel. So don’t get hung up on politics, in this world or in the church, we will not be judged on these transitory things which are, in truth, beyond our control. Pray for those who will be. What we will be judged on is this: our response to Jesus and his word. On willingness to choose a transfigured view in life. The sacrifice and love we show to our families, friends and enemies. For such is the fruit of obedience to his eternal Word. Such is the life that a transfigured view demands of us- especially in times when the church is in crisis.
This is the message of scripture for today; keep your head when all around are losing theirs. Keep your faith when all around are losing theirs! Remain faithful even when all around are abondoning Christ. A hard choice certainly. But worth it because it is the narrow road by which every saint and martyr rejected this world, took up across, shone with virtue and inherited the crown of eternity.