Saturday, March 19, 2011

"He led them up": the journeys of life and the pilgrimage to Eternity

As the weather becomes warm again and invites us outdoors we begin to think of the journeys we might take to new places or old familiar and favorite retreats during the Easter vacation and summer months. The movement from one place to another made necessary by the goal of a vacation is filled with anticipation. I am now in my final days of training for a journey by foot of 26.2 miles in next week's National Marathon. The path that leads me to that event has taken the form of a series of smaller outings by foot up hills and down to prepare the body and mind for the daunting physical challenge ahead.

Many of our journeys promise adventure and entice us with the promise of new people to meet and new experiences to enjoy. And when we finally arrive at our destination we are sometimes tempted to leave our ordinary existence behind and to say with Peter: "this is very good; let's pitch our tents and stay a while". But, as is true of everything in this world, even the most beautiful and happiest moments of our lives are short and fleeting. Our mountaintops of joy are set off from each other by the valleys of everyday life and even sometimes by sorrow.

Some journeys take on this aspect of sorrow or can inspire fear, causing as they can a certain foreboding with their mystery of the unknown and even the potential for danger along the road ahead. When this happens we may even begin to fear the future itself. Our nation is now deploying military assets in support of the Libyan people in their journey from oppression under a murderous tyrant to a new freedom. Those involved in this mission face dangerous and even life-threatening prospects. Japanese technicians, firefighters and other emergency personnel are involved at this moment in dangerous efforts to stop a nuclear meltdown at the stricken reactors in that country. They and many of the Japanese people are on their own pilgrimage to a future that is unknown at this moment with dangers along the way which may possibly result in death or disease for many. They must combat the spectre of fear and fight to remain courageous in the days and years ahead so that their journey as a nation into the future will be a positive and tranquil one.

Our young people are on an exciting journey from youth to adulthood. Along the way they learn with their parents' help, example and prayers to more and more exercise their freedom responsibly. Sometimes they make mistakes along the way and will need help to get back up again, led upward by those who love them to greater maturity in their faith and life until that day comes when they step out into the great unknown, facing the future serenely as adults.

In these and in many other ways the Lord leads us up, just as He did for the disciples in today's Gospel, and from that high place He gives them and us a vision of Himself, transfigured by His divine glory. But, as is usual with the Lord Jesus, this moment in His life together with the disciples was not about Him. The transfiguration was about and for the disciples he had chosen and had "led up" onto the mountain, it was for them a gift and a grace to strengthen them in courage, to reinforce their Faith in preparation to face undaunted the as yet unknown temptations and the pain of the Cross, which remains a constant in the Christian life, which would arise along the path of their journey from here to eternity.

Each of you present here, families and individuals, make a very important journey every week, one that is meant to "lead you up". You leave behind the familiarity of your home, and sometimes also family members who choose not to accompany you, and you come here, away from the world for a while, to listen to the Lord and to be with Him. He "leads you up" so that you too can see His glory. He does this not for His own sake but for yours, that you may be strengthened for the journey of Faith, sometimes made more difficult by your crosses. These may include your worry about those family members who refuse to join you, who shrink from the challenge, who rely solely upon the false comforts of the many things that will one day be taken away from all of us in this world and neglect the Lord Jesus, the "one thing necessary".

Yes, you come here on a pilgrimage, and with what you gain here in Word and Sacrament through Christ you face the future with courage, even in Faith able to see beyond right here and right now, as from a mountaintop, so that you can live with serenity the everyday challenges that will last only for a time, with the contentment that comes from the Lord and His power as God, who remains and who can never be taken away from us.

"Christ's Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles' faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the "high mountain" prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: 'the hope of glory' (Col 1:27; cf.: St. Leo the Great, Sermo 51, 3: PL 54, 310C)." (CCC 568)

Your "hope of glory" must be built on the solid foundation you find together with the Body of Christ, His people, worshiping here together every week. This is the Eucharist, the real Body of the Risen Lord Jesus, given to you and transfiguring you, body and soul, mind and heart. How does this change take place?

"This 'how' exceeds our imagination and understanding; it is accessible only to faith. Yet our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies:

Just as bread that comes from the earth, after God's blessing has been invoked upon it, is no longer ordinary bread, but Eucharist, formed of two things, the one earthly and the other heavenly: so too our bodies, which partake of the Eucharist, are no longer corruptible, but possess the hope of resurrection." (CCC 1000)

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