Often times, we can read a story in the bible and believe it would be great if we could have lived it. Wouldn’t it be great if we saw Jesus walk on water, or if we saw the Him feed the five thousand. However, we also have to look at the bigger picture and ask ourselves, are we ready to be an apostle to the level of the 11. Are we ready to be a disciple of Jesus no matter what the cost? The answer may be an immediate yes, but when things get real tough, we may not be so happy with that yes.
That is a principle that needs to be at the base of our thinking when we look at today’s gospel. Here we look at the glorious moment of the Transfiguration. Peter, James and John stand before the Jesus and watch him become transfigured right before their eyes. They also look at Moses and Elijah the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament, outside of John the Baptist. Moses who led the Jews out of Egypt and Elijah who freed the Jews from the Idolatry and religious abuse at the hands of false prophets. They stand with Jesus who liberated us from sin. Peter makes those powerful words; “it is good for us to be here.” Yet, two thousand years later, we need to ask the question, is it?
Ultimately, the answer is yes, but, like I said at the opening of my homily, as things get tough we may not be so happy with that yes. That is because there is a kind of a formula that is presented here. After Jesus is transfigured and He goes down the mountain with the three disciples, He enters Jerusalem and begins his last week of existence. It is a tough and powerful week. However, the climax is in the death of Jesus after He institutes the Eucharist. They begin the week on the mountain in joy, they end the week in a valley of sorrows. Two of the three will have abandoned Jesus and one of those two will have denied him. They thought they had the strength to follow him everywhere, but ultimately they learn they did not. This is a principle of spirituality: Great intimate experiences with God usually precede terrible trials and deep valleys of suffering. Yet, the two are not to be seen separately but as a whole. They go to together.
However, do not stop there in understanding this story. There is something deeper and more profound that touches each and every one of us every day. Notice what is really going on. This is a profound experience for the three Apostles, whose faith will be severely tried within a week. We could almost say that as great as the spiritual mountain was, so deep was the spiritual valley. Yet, they persevered and stayed with it. This seems to imply that Jesus knew all along of his suffering, which He predicts at the end of the passage, but that the Apostles did not. He is giving them an experience that will sustain them throughout the upcoming trials and the trials they will suffer throughout their lives as Apostles. The great joy of this experience helped them survive the great pain of Jesus’ death. That is until such time as they could finally come to embrace Jesus’ resurrection. Peter himself describes this moment in his 2nd letter Chapter 1:17-18. This is how profound this moment was upon Peter.
The saints often talked about these powerful experiences, but warned not to be jealous of them, for as powerful an experience they lived, so equally were there trials. I can even tell you of a modern example of this principle. There is a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston, who does not want to be named, who experienced a profound sense of the presence of God while on retreat. This profound sense stayed with him for several weeks beginning with an intense incident on the retreat. He could not describe that incident and could not put it in words until many weeks later when he found his type experience described in a spiritual book he was reading. It was exactly what he too had undergone. The book gave that experience a name: The Prayer of Quiet. What is interesting is the book was The Way of Perfect by St. Teresa of Avila, which is four hundred years old. This too added to the intense experience that he had. Now, as in the case of the transfiguration, it is only half the story. The other half can be summed up in one sentence. He had this experience in March of 2001. Six months later was September 11th which changed the world and nine months later was Epiphany 2002 the first day of the Priest abuse Crisis in Boston. The intense spiritual experience brought him through severe pain that touched each and everyone of us.
Yet, the true lesson of this is not about him or the three Apostles. It is about you. Jesus can see our future, we cannot. We can sometimes look at the concept that God is omniscient in an almost Santa Claus kind of way.
He knows when we are sleeping, he knows when we awake, he knows when we are bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake.
This, however, misses the point. Jesus knew not only that He would suffer in his work to free us from sin, He also know that the Apostles would suffer a spiritual pain that would run to the core of their souls. This experience given to three of the leaders of the Apostles would help them deal with this spiritual trial and help them make it through it. He knew and He gave them the tools to survive. So too with you. He knows what you do not know, your tomorrow and He gives us the tools to survive. Notice, He cannot prevent the suffering that the Apostles’ will experience, in order to do that, He would have to disobey the Father. So it is with us.
How many times have you been through suffering and asked if God even knows what you are going through. Yet, Jesus tells us that every hair of our head is counted. The tools are there to persevere and He is fully aware. You can rest assured that He gave you the ability to survive your spiritual pain long before you even knew that you would suffer. The important lesson of the transfiguration is not that Peter, James and John experience Jesus in all his glory. It is that He knows our pain long before we suffer it, He knows what He can and cannot prevent and He gives us the tools to survive prior to the arrival of the pain. Therefore, when you go through a great trial, do not ask yourself where is God. You may not experience Him, but He is there. Instead, look at what preceded your pain that will give you’re the strength to survive and look at what is giving you the strength to keep going now. We often look to the glorious moment, but God also works through the little things that give us the strength to go on even in our most painful moments.
Even in your most painful moments God is with you, you may not recognize it, but the next time you are in a deep spiritual valley, look for what God did to prepare you and you will understand that He is with you. If you ever go through an intense sense of the presence of God, like the prayer of Quiet, then beware, you will have a great spiritual valley to experience. But have no fear, God was preparing you, before you even knew you had to be prepared, because He is closer to you than you can even imagine. That is why God is not Santa Claus, but the loving God who is beyond our ability to comprehend, but we are not beyond His ability to sustain us, ever.
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