Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Transfiguration of the Lord, Year B
August 6, 2000
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2Pt 1:16-19; Mk 9:2-10
1) There are only three times that we hear God the Father speak in the New Testament. The first is at Jesus’ baptism, when he declares that Jesus is his Son in whom he is well-pleased. The last is during the Last Supper, when Jesus asks him to glorify his name and the Father responds “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The only other time we hear him speak is during the account of the Transfiguration, which we celebrate today. God the Father first repeats what he had said about Jesus at his baptism, “This is my Son, my beloved.” But then this eternal Father of so few words basically zeroes in on Peter, James and John and says something to them that is really quite remarkable when you consider its context: “Listen to him!”
2) Listen to Jesus. What had the apostles been doing for the previous several months but listening to Jesus, listening to his parables, listening spell-bound to his teaching, which they and others were admitting was done with an authority unlike the scribes and the pharisees? Peter had already confessed him as the Messiah. They were obviously paying attention to Jesus. Despite that, God the Father gives one imperative to the three on Mount Tabor and to us today, the only imperative Sacred Scripture records his giving us, and so we have to pause to consider its magnitude: Listen to Jesus!
3) We live in an age when listening has become far less valued, in an age of talk-radio and television talk-shows where everybody talks but few listen; in an age when more and more people are setting up personal web pages to tell their own stories; in an age of “tell-all” journalism; in a marketing age when we’re bombarded with advertising messages that we often receive uncritically. We live in an age of so much talking and so much noise that it is becoming harder and harder to hear the voice of God which often comes, as it did for the Prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel, in the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit, in the whispers of daily events.
4) Faith comes, as St. Paul says so succinctly in his letter to the Romans, ex auditu, from hearing. From listening to God. Listening to him in silent prayer. Listening to him in meditation on Sacred Scripture. Listening to him in the person of the Pope, the bishops and priests whom He sent out to speak autoritatively in His Name with the promise “He who hears you hears me.” Listening to the Lord in what he says to us by daily events, the successes, the Crosses, the persons whom we meet.
5) Faith does not come, on the other hand, from ceaseless banter. Our faith will never grow if we don’t learn how to listen to the voice of the Lord. In order to grow in faith, we need to learn how to tune out so much of the noise of human life at the beginning of the 21st century and learn how to tune into the voice of the Lord. For most of us, that means doing two things. First, it means that we have to make the time to listen to the Lord. We have to turn off the television, or the radio, or the phone, put away the newspaper, close the magazine, and let go of the things of the world — like what we’re going to prepare for dinner, or what we’re going to do on the weekend, etc. — for a little while. This is the first thing. We need to stop being so busy and stop giving our attention to these things for so much of our day. The second thing we need comes later. Once we’ve got some quiet from all of the spiritual noise pollution that comes from this busy-ness, we then have to do something even more difficult. We have to shut up. We have to learn how to be quiet in front of the Lord and listen for his voice. We have to stop for a while giving him our laundry list of prayer intentions. We have to stop complaining to him about how others we live or work with are behaving. We have to stop telling him what’s wrong with his Church, or with the world, or with particular public figures, etc. We have to stop talking and listen to him, so that he can speak to us in this quiet and whisper to us from within.
6) Jesus’ whole earthly life shows us this, as does His mother’s. It’s very interesting that the first time we see Jesus acting for himself in the Gospels, he who is God’s definitive Word in whom the Father said everything is found in the Temple in the midst of the scribes and the Pharisees, not talking, but as Luke tells us, “listening to them and asking them questions.” He was listening! Countless times during his life he went away from the crowds to be alone in prayer, either out on a boat, or out in the desert, or up on the mountain. He had to get away from the crowds, not because he didn’t love those in the crowd, but because their constant clamoring and noise would prevent his hearing His Father clearly enough so that he could serve them better. We see this again in today’s Gospel, when Jesus takes Peter, James and John away to the top of a high mountain to pray. It’s not a coincidence that he was transfigured during a time of prayer, away from the crowds. In transfiguring His Son, God the Father was not only glorifying Jesus, but also teaching the three apostles to pray and pay attention to Jesus. Peter wanted to build three equal booths for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, but that’s when God the Father came in the Cloud, removed Moses and Elijah, and said “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” Prayer, the secret of life, consists in listening to Jesus.
7) We see this also in the life of the Blessed Mother. She listened so attentively to God’s word that it literally became flesh within her. Jesus himself gave her the highest praise saying that she was blessed not because she bore him or nursed him but because she “heard the word of God and kept it.” She listened to that word in every event, treasured it within her heart, and kept it in her daily life.
8 ) We see in our modern day, too, what happens when someone listens in this way. One of the most striking aspects of the most recent biography of the Holy Father, Witness to Hope by George Weigel (which I would highly recommend) was Weigel’s constant theme of how attentive a listener the Pope is. When he was a student and actor. When he was forced to work at the Solvay plant during the Nazi occupation of Poland. When he ran his philosophy seminars as a professor at the Polish University of Lublin. When he got together with one of his groups of young couples for excursions. And still today as Pope. This man with so much to say is, as Weigel describes, the most attentive listener he has ever met and I’m convinced that this listening to God in everything and everyone, is one of the real underlying reasons for the Pope’s greatness. To listen to God, to listen to others, is ultimately the greatest sign of humility, for in doing so, one recognizes that he’s got still so much to learn and every interlocutor is in a certain sense his teacher, that God can speak to him through everyone.
9) Jesus the Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” This weekend we can ask ourselves how well we’re tuning into the voice of Christ and how well we’re following him. When I was making a retreat on a farm this April, I had my first extended contact with sheep and I was able to observe them closely. I thought it was remarkable that when their shepherd came near them and actually began to call out to them, they immediately began to move about with joy and head toward him. So it is meant to be with Christians. We need to seek out the voice of Jesus in our daily lives and when we hear it, receive it with joy and put it into practice by following Jesus. Jesus says that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. We can paraphrase the Lord and say where our ears are, there is our treasure and our heart.
10) During this weekend in which we celebrate the great feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, we can adjust the frequencies of our attention span and hearing. The Transfiguration was a manifestation of the glory of Jesus here on earth, a foretaste of the glory of Christ’s resurrection, and therefore a foretaste of heaven. Heaven, the glory of the resurrection, is the reason why God created us in the first place, so that we might live for ever with him in that eternal kingdom of love which His Son gained for us by his suffering and death on the Cross. The Lord at all times is whispering to us directions how to get there, but the signal sometimes is faint and to hear it, we have to concentrate on it, to find in that signal our real treasure and the frequency for our heart. This weekend, at this Mass, in which we receive the Risen Lord transfigured and appearing not in glory but humbly as if mere bread and mine, we can ask him to transfigure us and our lives so that we may be true antennas of the divine message, receiving God’s signals and broadcasting them out to a world that so desperately needs to hear them.
11) If we keep this imperative that God the Father gave the Apostles on Mount Tabor and gives to us again today this weekend, here and now,, then it is our great hope that we will hear God the Father speak again, saying to us the words for which our very ears were made: “You are my beloved Son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well-pleased. Come inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world.”