I have many wonderful memories of priesthood, but there is one memory in particular that will always be special. It is not a memory about a beautiful liturgy or retreat or wedding or baptism. One of my fondest memories of priesthood will always be a September afternoon when I was pastor at St. Paul, the Newman Center at IU. In my imagination I can see our community gathered under a tent in the field across 17th Street after our annual Mass in the Meadow. We had all celebrated the Eucharist together and then we sat down to eat. Afterwards there were games and prizes. The final prize was a pair tickets to a Chicago Cubs game, I think. The winning ticket went to Martha Hines, one of the young ladies of our parish. Martha was a very special person; she was born with Downs Syndrome. In the moment that Martha realized she had won she jumped up and shouted with a look of surprised and supreme happiness on her face. That was a wonderful picture, but I remember that we were all so happy for her that we all jumped up and started cheering. For a moment it seemed to me that I was in the Kingdom of God. “This is what it’s like,” I thought, “to be cheering for one another and to be happy for one another.” It was a moment that, if the sun had stopped shining, I wouldn’t have noticed.
I love the gospel today. I think the whole Church loves it, too. We read it twice a year: once during Lent and also on the feast of the Transfiguration, the sixth of August. What must it have been like for Peter, James and John to see Jesus as God the Father saw him – radiant with love! To be lifted up for a moment to see Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the great prophet, there with Jesus the Word of God between them – in conversation no less. Surely none of the disciples would have noticed if the sun had stopped shining that day, for the Lord’s face was radiant and his clothing whiter than lamb’s wool.
Then I wonder, how did they see Jesus the rest of the time? The answer comes pretty quickly – probably the apostles saw Jesus very often the way you and I see so many people most of the time. Only quickly, in passing, vaguely, as St. Paul says, “in a mirror darkly.” We are hardly aware of each other so many times, much less do we see – really see each other. We need God’s help to see one another as God sees us. We need the help of our God to see each other as a father sees his newborn child. Dazzling! Perfect! It was a gift from God, the experience on Mount Tabor. And it was a gift from God that bright summer afternoon when Martha’s face lit up the whole tent.
The Transfiguration in all its sheer luminous joy is preserved in each of the gospels. And Peter kept the vision in his heart even when it was blurred by the tears of Good Friday. He tells us in his letter today that we, too, must keep it shining in our hearts against the times of doubt and sorrow and failure.
You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
What is the lamp moment that has shone in your heart through the years? What is the grace of the Transfiguration that keeps your faith alive and your hope strong and your love new? Is it the memory of your wedding day? The moment you held your first child? The first time someone invited you into their friendship? The blessed moment when somebody forgave you for being petty? Be attentive to it, keep it as a lamp shining in a dark place.