“Qui Est Jesus?” – Homily for Transfiguration Sunday

Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration – 6 August 2017

Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

When I was travelling through Luxembourg a couple of years ago,
I was able to have Mass in the Cathedral of Luxembourg City, Notre Dame.
The Mass was celebrated in French, and the priest began his homily with one simple question:
Qui est Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

Today, Jesus climbs the mountain with only his closest friends,
and something truly wonderful happens:
“his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.”

Then, it gets better:
“Behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him.’”

What’s the big deal? Why does Jesus have to keep showing off his divinity?
Alright, alright, we get it already: you’re God and man.
No confusion, no change, no division, no separation.
Totally human, totally divine.

But think:
Peter and the other disciples did not have the advantage
of robust, concise theological explanations of Jesus’ two natures
readily available to them with a quick search through the
Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Despite the accounts of Jesus’ divinity found in the Gospels,
despite the prefigurations and predications
of the coming Messiah found in the Old Testament, like in today’s reading from Daniel,
the clever defenses of the faith found in the epistles of Paul and the Letters of Peter,
there is an awful lot of confusion in our churches surrounding the person of Jesus.

In many ways, our faith has become merely robust theological statements
which are not, for us, connected to a living truth,
a living person.
This kind of “book faith” has led to a crisis for us as Christians;
we have come, in many ways, to “believe without believing.” (Giussani)

In a sense, we become like Peter and James and John who until the moment
of the Transfiguration perhaps thought very little about the divinity and power of Jesus;
here in front of us is a man,
albeit a nice, powerful, holy man
but a man whose power we have underestimated
and whose true identity, if only we knew it,
would blow our minds.

So we return to the question:
Qui est Jesus/ who is Jesus?
Who is he and what does he want to do for us?

Ever since the enlightenment, we’ve been skeptical of spiritual things.
But we don’t necessarily want to give up our faith in Christ,
something so deeply rooted in the origins of our culture and family.
So, it seems, at best we can reduce Jesus to a kind of guru
who wants me to be nice
or, at worst, to a kind of judge who knows very little about me
except my sin.

Both of these are wrong, and we’ve seen time and again
how dangerous these reductions can be.
We all know someone who has left this Church because
they refuse to believe in a God who is out for nothing but punishment;
and we all know people who’ve left because gurus and ideas cannot save;
in either case, the Church and her Christ have become irrelevant, and unconvincing, and boring.

“Something unexpected is the only hope.” (Montale)

This “something” is really a “someone” and is revealed to us
on the mountain in the Gospel today.

The preface, which Father will pray before the Eucharistic prayer today, states:
“For he revealed his glory in the presence of his chosen witnesses
and filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form
which he shares with all humanity…
that he might show
how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled
what so wondrously shone forth first in its Head.”

In other words,
that body that Peter and James and John saw filled with light…
That body “which he shares with all humanity”…
That body, lit up in radiance, “filled with greatest splendor”…
is not meant as only a spectacle for us to behold and walk away from,
but it is a prefiguration of what we have to look forward to with Christ
as we live forever with him in heaven, literally engrossed, enveloped, totally consumed
by the divine life of God, the Holy Trinity.

Jesus, this powerful transfigured Jesus, went to the Cross and died.
Then, as we know, he rose again.
The resurrection is the pivot point of history;
it is the most important historical moment in the history of the world.

The thing that everyone was afraid of, the thing that every civilization has tried to avoid or overcome:
death, was just defeated. “Jesus is a warrior whose ultimate enemy is death.” (Barron)

Furthermore, the resurrection means that Jesus is on the loose.
He is on the loose in this world; he is alive, and he’s coming for you.
Not to punish you, but to heal you.
And he doesn’t want to wait until you’re in heaven to heal you:
he wants to do it right now.

We are all in need of healing; face it.
Healing of body, and mind, and soul.
We all carry hurts in our hearts.

The world is full of crass, and demeaning people. We all know them.
In some situations, we are them.
But in all of my ministry, all over the world, I know very few genuine meanies.
But I know an awful lot of people, myself included, who are broken. Who are hurting.
We all have hurts in our hearts, and we’re all afraid to be open about them with others
lest we be judged, lest we be rejected, lest we be abandoned.

The fact, is, though, that hurt people hurt people.
The fact is, though, that suffering not transformed is transmitted.
The fact is, though, that in Christianity we have a way out.

Again, the faith has been reduced and watered down so many times in so many ways
that have come to see it a mere behavior management program; one among many.
Christianity is not a behavior management program,
but is a complete transformation unto glory.

A complete transformation, of the whole person, from the inside out.
This is what Jesus wants to give to us today
through a real encounter with him in all of his glory.
So that thing you’re hiding from your spouse because it’s too shameful?

Yeah, he wants to heal that.

That thing you’re afraid to bring up in confession?
Yeah, he wants to heal that.
That part of your past that you regret and hate and that no one must ever know?
Yeah, he wants to heal that.
That thing your dad did to you, or didn’t do, when you were little?
Yeah, he wants to heal that.

Those grudges, those wounds, those false and empty self-images you’ve created,
yeah, he wants to heal them.

He is coming to you, and looking at you, and saying to you:
I love you. I’m not mad at you because you do bad things; I love you because you’re in pain.
Stop building walls; stop pushing me away; stop running from love; stop avoiding freedom.
Are you weak enough to just be you?

Jesus, send your Spirit on your people.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

Brothers and sisters, we can doubt the power of God and run from him,
but where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.

And when we have those needs that arise,
those things in our lives and in our hearts that need to be healed, and we choose another way,
it is our freedom that is at stake.
For freedom, Paul says, Christ set us free.
It’s why he came. That we might be free in him,
even now on this earth.

Life is not meant to be merely “coped” with,
but to be lived abundantly.

Where to start this overwhelming process?
After you receive the Eucharist today,
talk to Jesus.
Don’t ask for anything, just talk to Him.
Tell him what you notice about your life and your situation,
and trust him.

Then, finding courage in that trust, begin to take concrete steps
and begin to experience the fruits of the Transfiguration even now:
Talk to a friend; tell your spouse what happened; tell your mom you’re sorry;
call a therapist (if you don’t know any, I’ll give you the name of mine);
talk to a priest; go to confession; forgive those people.

Healing is not on the fringe of life or of the Church’s ministry.
And it is not on the fringe of what we truly desire.
It is the heart of Christ’s desire for us,
and is at the heart of desire for true union with Christ.
Healing remains “on the fringe” of our consciousness, of our subjective experience.
How’d it get there?
Without realizing it, we’ve pushed it there.
We’ve heard the voice, and have believed the lie that
being broken, we’re unfixable;
that hurting and grieving is a waste of time, that we should just move on;
and that if we really lived according to who we are, everyone would leave us.

This is a life of captivity.

On the mountain, exposed finally in his radiance and glory,
Jesus proclaims:

“There is only freedom here.”

It is our freedom that is at stake.

Qui est Jesus?

He is the risen one, the Transfigured one, the living Son
in whom the Father is well pleased.

Listen to him.