CARDINAL PELL ON THE TRANSFIGURATION
Transfiguration - Second Sunday of Lent
St Mary's Cathedral, SydneyBy + Cardinal George Pell
Gen 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
Gen 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
Archbishop of Sydney
4 March 2012
The first reading about Abraham being prepared to sacrifice his only son Isaac (through whom God's promises about a vast inheritance were to be realised) and the story of the Transfiguration call us, in quite different ways, to a faith in the supernatural.
Even in a few corners of the Catholic Church some yearn for Christianity without the cross, are not keen on crucifixion Christianity. Abraham's willingness is even more difficult for them to fathom as he, rather than evil men, would have been the executioner. We have to grapple with the scriptures as they come to us with the Church's blessing. We are not entitled to reject or set aside a text because we find it unpleasant or too mysterious.
Some too would like to reduce the Transfiguration to an invention of all three Synoptic Gospels to strengthen Jesus' claim to divinity to; a teaching story, or appropriate mythology. Others would not place some such mystical experience on the mountain of Mt. Tabor, the traditional site, or on Mt. Hebron north of Caesarea Philippi after a period in the desert during Jesus' public life, but see it as some ill defined post resurrection experience, a theoretical anticipation of the Parousia.
It seems to be abundantly clear that Mark and the other two synoptic evangelists Matthew and Luke believed they were describing an actual event reported to them by Peter, James and John.
If a person rejects the possibility or reality of miracles, then the transfiguration becomes an edifying variety of a fairy story. My presumption, which is in line with the tradition of the Church, is that we are wrestling with a real historical event and the challenge is to understand what it meant then and means now.
We all need a bit of a morale booster every now and then, especially before or after hard times. I am not talking about perpetual lavish praise or undiminished good news. Even children know that if they are always being praised then something is wrong. But we all like and need good news and relish understanding a situation with new eyes every so often.
Just before last year's Madrid World Youth Day we were on Mt. Sinai waiting for the dawn, many kilometres from any city lights. Thousands of stars were revealed in the strange (to me) northern sky and many shooting stars. In a new way I felt awe and wonder before the immensity of God's creation.
If we multiply that experience many, many times over, we have some idea of what the miracle meant to Peter, James and John. It was incomparably more than looking at the stars through a powerful telescope.
Theirs was an enhanced type of mystical experience, of being in God's presence and recognizing that Jesus was the mysterious Son of Man, shot through with the love, power and majesty of God.
Our Lord had denied a sign to those whom he described as a "wicked and adulterous generation", but gave such a sign to the three apostles. Their lack of understanding, Peter's understandable and ineffectual suggestion for three shelters for these three supernatural personages, are all evidence of truth telling. Why invent evidence of such continuing incomprehension of the resurrection of the Son of Man before the general resurrection?
|The Prophet Elijah|
It is completely understandable that they were frightened, full of religious awe, when confronted with this revelation of God's mighty power. So will we be when we meet God in the next life, - not frightened perhaps, but certainly awestruck.
Then a voice from heaven informs them that Jesus is God's beloved Son and they are to listen to him - and the vision disappeared.
A further mystery was added by Jesus' order, which they obeyed, not to tell anyone until he had risen from the dead. Enormous consequences for faith and morals come from accepting or rejecting the divinity of Jesus. If he is the only Son of God we cannot reject or diminish his teaching, although we can deepen and develop their hidden mysteries. If Jesus is not divine, we would be much freer to work to improve his teachings and "bring them up to date" as some explain.
Initially I was puzzled why Elijah was chosen with Moses to represent what we call the Old Testament or Dispensation. Moses as the liberator, law giver and prophetic leader was easily understandable. But why was Elijah chosen over Abraham, or Jeremiah, Ezekiel or even one of the allegedly different authors of the book of Isaiah?
The first part of the answer was that Elijah was expected to come before the Messiah's appearance and Jesus subsequently explained this had happened as we know through John the Baptist.
I think of Moses representing the law first of all, and Elijah representing the prophets because of his indispensable defence of monotheism against the paganism of Ahab and his even more formidable wife Jezebel. Monotheism is again under attack today, although I do not know how long the noisy intellectual hostility will continue. Probably in Australia at least, the greater threat will be indifference.
Whatever about this, Elijah should be one of our heroes today. As Christians we dissociate ourselves from his violence against the prophets of Baal, but he was one of the mightiest champions of the one true God.
I have an antique icon of Elijah in my study and all of us should take inspiration from him as we pray to strengthen and maintain our personal faith and pass on this precious faith to the young and coming generations.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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