Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Fourth Luminous Mystery

The Transfiguration

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew (17:1-8)
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.


The book of Proverbs tells us that "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov 1:7). So often today, however, it seems that we've traded holy fear for an almost inappropriate familiarity with God. From the ridiculous "Buddy Christ" of Kevin Smith's Dogma to t-shirts declaring that "Jesus is my Homeboy", to a more accurate, though still somewhat unbalanced sense within Christianity of a merciful Lord who is always and only forgiving, closer than a brother, etc., we can tend to forget that the flipside of the coin of mercy is God's absolute justice. We can sometimes emphasise the friendship of Jesus and minimise the Kingship of Jesus.

As I reflected on in the last Mystery, Jesus is indeed forgiving and merciful. He is full of compassion for sinners, and will always welcome the repentant back into His loving Heart. We must never lose sight of that fact. Yet on the other hand, we must never lose sight of Jesus' absolute Holiness, either. The story in the Gospels of the Transfiguration remains as a helpful check and balance to "Jesus the Homeboy."

Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain in order to pray, as was Jesus' usual custom to get away from the crowds and spend time alone with His Father. But this time, with these three disciples present, Jesus gives them a revelation of His true glory. It seems to me that the more truly intimate and personal and "friendly" we are with our Lord, the more of His radiant holiness we will behold, and the more reverent awe we will have for Him. It is a sign of a facile and flippant Christianity to speak of Jesus the "personal saviour" without Jesus the Holy Lord.

When Jesus and His disciples go up the mountain, Jesus is transfigured, becoming radiant and shining like the sun. While there, Moses and Elijah appear to Him and talk with Him. In Luke's account, what they discuss is Jesus' upcoming Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension, which Luke describes as His "Exodus" (Luke 9:30-31), an allusion, obviously, to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. In fact, the entire setting of this story brings us back to that event, as even their presence on the Mountain suggests Moses' ascent of Mt. Sinai to receive the Law (Exodus 19ff). Peter's offer to build tents for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus recalls the tents which the Israelites lived in during the wanderings in the wilderness, commemorated in the Feast of Tabernacles, and when, at this suggestion, a great cloud descends upon the group, and they hear the Voice of God speak, we remember the Lord's words to Moses in Exodus 19:9, "I am coming to you in a dense cloud, so that when the people hear Me speaking with you, they may always have faith in you, also."

As Jesus reveals the resplendence of His divinity, Moses and Elijah come to speak to Him of His impending Passion. There is never Glory without the Cross, and even as Jesus' followers, we must remember that unless we follow Christ in His crucifixion, we will never partake of His glory. Moses' and Elijah's presence also symbolically represent the Law and the Prophets, demonstrating that all of the Old Testament up until now had been pointing to Jesus as Messiah and Lord, and now, in a vivid illustration of the Communion of the Saints, Moses and Elijah encourage Jesus in His Mission to fulfil those Scriptures.

Peter then offers to build the tents; as St. Mark's Gospel tells us, "He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified" (Mark 9:6). The proper response--indeed, the only response--to the revelation of God's glory, is reverential fear. Peter speaks, though, seemingly out of a desire to involve himself in the event, and at that, the bright cloud descends, barring from them the majestic vision. And out of the cloud, the Voice of God is heard, saying "This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him" (Matt. 17:5). The Father reaffirms His approval of the Son which He had voiced at Jesus' Baptism, and then adds the command to listen to Jesus. Of what purpose is intimacy with the Lord if we refuse to follow His commands?

As though Peter, James, and John were not scared enough, at the Voice, they fell prostrate on the ground from fear. Then Jesus, full of love and compassion, touched them and told them not to be afraid. When they got up, mercifully, the intense vision had vanished from their eyes--but never from their hearts, as Peter himself would remark, "We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honour and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to Him from the majestic glory, 'This is My Son, My beloved, with whom I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with Him on the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1:16-18).

The vision remained, making sure that "when the people hear Me speaking with You, they may always have faith in You, also" (Ex. 19:9--applied to Christ).

May we always grow in the reverential fear of the Lord and in piety, those gifts of the Holy Spirit which we received through the laying on of hands.
Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

8 comments:

Christopher said...

"...a more accurate, though still somewhat unbalanced sense within Christianity of a merciful Lord who is always and only forgiving, closer than a brother, etc., we can tend to forget that the flipside of the coin of mercy is God's absolute justice. We can sometimes emphasise the friendship of Jesus and minimise the Kingship of Jesus."

Gregory,

Your use of the parallels merciful, forgiving, closer than a brother <---> friendship of Jesus and absolute justice <---> Kingship of Jesus has me a little unnerved, or concerned, to be more exact.

Can you explain to me why these aspects of God need separate treatment in our practical, devotional lives? Do these facets of Our Lord not co-inhere with one another? And if so, what does a perfect friend who is the king above all kings look like? Is he interested in emphasizing our faults in perception by acting as a friend when we take his kingship too seriously? Does he weigh to the other side and slam his sceptre down when we get too friendly, forcing us to consider his kingship again?

Is there not a more wholistic way to view Our Lord than to have to concern ourselves with whether we're being too friendly or too groveling? And isn't friendship the most absolute justice proffered by a true King to a loyal follower?

Where does our adopted place as sons and daughters of God come into your view? Aren't we much more than simply friends, or facile servants? Aren't we actually God's children? And if so, do you think that God is weighing our intentions and activities so much in the balance that He'd consider the way we best relate to Him, on an individual level, lacking because either friendship or kingship is de-emphasized by our life under God?

God bless you,
Christopher

p.s. You're still allowed to call me, you know. ;)

Gregory said...

I believe, Chris, my thought was made clear in the statement with the words "always and only."

Obviously there is nothing wrong with remembering that Jesus is Mercy and Compassion, our Brother who truly makes us the sons and daughters of God. It is only right and proper and good and healthy to have such a loving, intimate friendship with Our Lord.

But the very gist of my post seems to be lost on you when you accuse me of making the dichotomy, and offering a holistic alternative. The very thesis here is that holistic alternative of which you write. However, the focus of the post is on the holiness and sovereignty of Christ, not because it is the more important aspect, but because, in my experience, it is the too often neglected aspect, of our relationships with Jesus.

In my experience, when we leave out fear of the Lord in our Christian life, and only ever think of Jesus as our friend, even His friendship becomes something taken for granted, and regarded as less and less relevant to our lives. When we fail to recognise His holiness as having any claim on our lives, we can fail even to acknowledge that His friendship comes with demands as well. Or, as I said in my post itself: "Of what purpose is intimacy with the Lord if we refuse to follow His commands?"

Yes, we can all use a reminder of Jesus' intimate closeness, compassion, and intimate Love. That is, I believe, what the Eucharist is all about, and will be the focus of my next meditation (which I'll be posting hopefully tomorrow).

I hope that alleviates your concerns.

As for calling you, I haven't been home at Yukon-appropriate hours. Not that you've called me recently, either. :)

God bless
Gregory

Christopher said...

Gregory,

I think your response to me was somewhat abrasive, as if you were offended. Is that true?

In any case, let's continue to discuss this a little more.

Yes, the thrust of your article was to emphasize a wholistic relationship with God. My purpose in writing that was to flesh out your perspective on that a little more; not only for the intellectual/spiritual exercise, but also for your readership. If, as you suggest, an emphasis is commonly placed on either end of the spectrum of friendship <---> kingship, then we do well to deal with nature of a wholistic relation to God a little more in these responsorials, don't we?

Given that, you said the following:

"In my experience, when we leave out fear of the Lord in our Christian life, and only ever think of Jesus as our friend, even His friendship becomes something taken for granted, and regarded as less and less relevant to our lives."

In discussing this with Sarah, she asked a good question: "what does Gregory mean by taking advantage of Christ? Does he mean people who pay lip service to His offer of salvation? People who only go to Him to get something they want? Shouldn't Christ be the One whom we take full advantage of?"

So perhaps we need some more definition surrounding this idea before we go further into this discussion.

For myself, if I see an apparent dichotomy, I will call a person on it if necessary. Hence my concern: I didn't know from the measure of your article if you were proposing an emphasis of kingship over friendship, even though you state that friendship is fine. The fact that you have noted you were not trying to pose a dichotomy is helpful to me as I continue to follow your blog. Also, consider that we both have differing theologies in non-essentials, so it is a matter of course for me to draw you out for the purpose of clear communication and understanding. If this doesn't suit you, let me know.

More, have you considered the typical psychological effects of emphasizing Christ's kingship? That is, that it often creates a feeling of distance from God, or the 'distant king' syndrome as some have called it?

Gregory said...

Wow, I was in a pissy mood when I wrote that reply to you, wasn't I? Sorry about that, man. It's not you, it's me ;) I've been overly melancholy and sensitive to things a lot lately.

I agree with what you said in both your posts above, and I'll just respond by saying, first of all, that the next post, on Jesus' Institution of the Eucharist, will be a balance to this one, emphasising the utter intimacy with Christ that He gives us in that sacrament and beyond. As such I hope to avoid contributing to the equal and opposite error in the two extreme views of Christ--which you correctly identify as being a "distant King" mentality.

Further, though, in response to Sarah's question, I'm not sure I used the phrase "take advantage of" with regard to Christ or His friendship. Rather, I used the phrase, "take for granted", which to my mind means something different.

First, I don't think we should "take advantage of" Christ if by that we mean that we're using Him as some sort of cosmic vending machine, and not giving a thought to Him beyond that. If we take "taking advantage of" in that sense, then yeah, I'm opposed to it. I don't think Jesus likes it much either.

Second, when I say "take[ Christ's friendship] for granted", I mean that many times we can get into a mentality that "I've been baptised/said the sinner's prayer/go to church/accepted Christ as my personal saviour, therefore I have a 'personal relationship' with Jesus," meanwhile we do not pray, we do not live according to His laws, and we do not have any sense of the holiness or awesomeness of His Person. We very truly may have had a genuine experience of His love and His closeness--of a real friendship with Jesus--in the past, but when our "having a personal relationship with Jesus" is devoid of any call to change, any sense of religion or obedience, then yes, I believe we take it for granted, and end up without having even that.

So yes, essentially I do mean those who only pay lip service to their faith. Obviously such people are not more common on this end of the spectrum than on the other, but again, it's why I believe such a holistic balance is needed.

I hope that's helpful.
God bless
Gregory

Christopher said...

Gregory,

No harm done on the pissy front! ;) I just wanted to be sure we were level with each other.

As for "take advantage" that was simply a product of my boorish memory. Sarah never said, "take advantage". She used your phrase, "take for granted", and I, in a brazen moment of mental collapse, substituted her words with "take advantage". Forgive my lapse, please. The devil made me do it. ;) Heh.

Okay, I think we agree then, so far. I look forward to your next installment. And I hope I'm not making your time at your blog unenjoyable by picking at things.

Cheers! And I hope you push through your melancholy soon.

Christopher

Christopher said...

I'm tapping my fingers waiting for your next installment... *sigh*

Hidden One said...

Only took him five months last time. ;)

Christopher said...

H1,

Might just take him 5 months this time, too, it seems.