Pope St. Leo the Great is the author of the 2nd Reading from today's Divine Office. He explains the significance of the Transfiguration:
The Law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ
The Lord reveals his glory in the presence of chosen witnesses. His body is like that of the rest of mankind, but he makes it shine with such splendor that his face becomes like the sun in glory, and his garments as white as snow.
The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift: the members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.
A most pleasant encounter and discussion with a group of priests, mostly younger (or am I just getting older), and the reserved though somber coverage by Catholic media in Germany of a parish priest's decision (in resignation and almost desperation) to withdraw to a monastery in Holland for prayer got me to thinking about the way some of us look at our duty toward pastoral ministry. It is no doubt a problem, because there has been too little reflection on the rapport between Christendom and Catholic life in society. It is as if Christendom were not a dynamic concept, involving choice on the part of those who belonged to that society. The ongoing hemorrhage, which has over recent years emptied many seminaries and depleted our Sunday morning pew census, is treated as a phenomenon or development for which we fail or refuse to assume responsibility. Those who try to say that it is our thing or that decisions/choices over the last fifty years just might be to blame for our malaise, well, they end up labelled troglodytes or worse, simply dismissed for conspiracy theory mongering.
If we can't work out that there just might be another point, like a midpoint on this continuum, which neither denies human freedom nor necessarily blames others, who seek to live in freedom and responsibility, of constantly trying to attribute blame to his minions if not to the prince of darkness himself, well, not only are we in trouble, but we're missing the point of the great mystery of the Lord's Transfiguration. While it could very well be that the three chosen disciples missed the point of the Father's revelation to them on Mount Tabor of the Son in glory in as much as only young John stood fast by Mary and the women on Mount Calvary, we need not doubt concerning the dignity God attributes to us as created in His own image and likeness; St. Paul knew what he was saying when he affirmed that we make up what is lacking in the Cross of Christ.
The aimless drift of many nominal Catholics during the last decades sadly documents what happens when like young willow branches we bend even to the slightest breeze. Why don't children today know their basic prayers? Why can't they even identify the principal figures at the foot of the Cross? Negligence on the part of parents of their elemental duties in faith for their children does not constitute a development or an event, but rather a choice by omission, negligence, which does not bespeak the love we owe each other, sublime in its reference to the creative and sacrificial love bestowed upon us in Christ. For some reason I cannot remember the name of the preacher who referred to his broadcast service as "The Hour of Power"; even he was clear on the inadequacy of his title for the exigencies of the Christian life. The Council teaching on Sunday Eucharist as the source and summit of Christian existence taught that our "hour" was not only strengthening for the week ahead, but was celebrative of a prior week lived at one with Christ. The post-conciliar period has been patently a retreat before the demands of the Christian life which were so very evident to previous generations living the culture of Christendom.
Dynamic, evangelical Catholicism was ours when homes were Christ-centered; it can be ours again if parents and priests recover their self-awareness as free agents responding to God's love. I feel sorry for that German priest in his public confession to having lost his way and been going through the motions at the helm of a vessel coming apart at the seams. It all falls apart rather quickly when we fail to feed the next generation through prayer and good example. The hysteria or resignation which wells up from people who cannot perceive themselves as free, however, is reason for our prayers for Christ, risen and present at the shore of the lake, to try again with Peter, who didn't seem to grasp and assimilate the favor done him in his vision of the Transfigured Lord. Ours with Christ is an intense rapport of dialogue and confrontation, to draw us freely out of ourselves to confess Him for Who He is and in His Body the Church.
Part of this exercise involves restoring the discursive and didactic parts of the Christian life to their proper place out in the world, of cleansing the sanctuary, if you will, for that Tabor-like encounter with the glorious Christ. In all freedom, this is my Lenten supplication to Bishops and Priests, to restore reverence and decorum to the "mountain top", to live in company and constant teaching beyond Sunday with those whom Jesus loves. The bright light of the Transfiguration made lots of things clear from the Law and the Prophets; a glorious Sunday might be a good start to freeing people for the natural faith exchanges which should be part of our every day.
PROPERANTES ADVENTUM DIEI DEI