Transfiguration of the Lord
Dan.7:9-10:13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Gospel of Matthew 17:1-9
Transfiguration – The Glory, The Presence, The Cross, The Hope!

Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, on 6th August July 2017

In today’s Gospel of St Matthew, at the scene of the Transfiguration, God our Father’s voice from heaven was heard, as it was heard during Jesus’ Baptism at the River Jordan.  However, at this scene, God our Father not only proclaimed, “This is My Son, the Beloved, He enjoys My favour.”  He also said, “Listen to Him.” 

Through this proclamation, God our Father, gives you and I a very specific instruction to obey faithfully what Jesus has been proclaiming and will continue to proclaim as the Gospel of the Good News of Salvation.  And this Good News of Jesus’ Glory also includes the Truth that Jesus, as the Son of God is destined to Suffer and Die in Jerusalem, and that those who follow Him as His disciples even as we embrace the gift of the resurrection and the presence of God in our daily lives, we must also be prepared to journey along the same divine path of the Cross.  What then does this obedience of the “divine path of the Cross” mean to us in the practice of our faith in our daily living? 

Recently, Michelle, (not her real name), shared with me that her marriage to her non-Catholic husband, David (not his real name) was for the first five years a happy one, until David for one reason or another, began to pressure her and her young son to change their religion; which is to give up the Catholic faith.  Michelle shared, “I tried to persuade David as much as I could for the sake of peace in the family that I could not give up my Catholic faith.  However, after a year or so, it was clear that David was not going to change his mind, and was instead becoming more insistent that I give up my Catholic faith, each time we quarrelled.  As far as I am concerned, my husband has clearly broken the promise he made to me and the Church, to allow me and our children to practice the Catholic faith.

So, even though I knew it will be very painful and traumatic for me, I took my son and left home.  Deep in my heart, I know I love my husband, but my big problem was that he was preventing me from loving God.  For me, if I am to renounce and lose my faith in God, and give up my Catholic faith, all the luxury and wealth that my husband shares with me would be meaningless and empty.  So, when I left my husband, I took hardly anything with me, and went to stay with a good friend of mine who saw my need and took me into her home, until I was able to earn enough to have my own home. 

For several years, David had tried to lure my son, to leave me, by tempting him with luxury cars and other material possessions, but fortunately, my son continues to see the Truth of our decision of never to give up on God and our Catholic faith.  Since then, life has still been very difficult, but I know that in spite of the trials and tribulations of life, Jesus will never fail me, and He will always be there for me and my son.

However, I have to admit that I have on many occasions questioned God, “Lord, why, are my crosses so heavy?  How long do You want me to carry my crosses?  Life is so painful and there does not seem to be any end to the pain and trials in life?  Yet, Lord in saying all this, I know I have to continue to Trust in You.  And, as my Lord and Saviour I know you are also carrying my crosses with me . . . and in the meantime, I will continue to wait in faith that one day, my pain and anxieties of life will dissolve into the Peace and Glory that awaits me . . . a Peace that I so long to have.”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this true story of Michelle, in many ways may mirror the many different challenges we each face in the practice of our faith, and many of us too, like Michelle are tempted to question God why we are called to carry the heavy crosses of our lives . . .  The crosses we are each called to carry are different because each of us are unique individuals, and we each relate to God differently and personally, and thus, all of us are not necessarily expected to bear the same crosses as that of Michelle.  For some of us our crosses may be lighter; for others the crosses may even be heavier.

On Easter Sunday, April 16th this year, our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI celebrated his 90th birthday.  Archbishop Ganswein, who had been his personal secretary since 2003, in a lengthy interview of EWTN TV said the Pope Emeritus Benedict considering his age, he is doing remarkably well.  He is also in good spirits, very clear in his head and still has a good sense of humour.  The only problem seem to be his weak legs, but this is resolved with the walker he uses.

The EWTN interviewer then asked, “Your Grace, Pope Benedict once said that he had learned and understood much of John Paul II when he watched him celebrate Mass.  How very united he was with God during His prayer and Mass was far beyond his philosophical and mental capacities.  But, what do you think when you watch Pope Benedict celebrate Mass?

To this, Archbishop Gänswein answered, “In fact, that is something I see every day.  It is very moving to watch the depths of the Pope’s prayer not only during Mass, but also during the thanksgiving in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament, after Mass.   As far as I am concerned, it draws me to enter the depths of my own prayer too.  I am very blessed and thankful to be given the chance to have such experiences like this.”

My sisters and brothers in Christ, as we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, God our Father is reminding us to “Listen to His Son,” and obey what He proclaims in the Gospel faithfully; as we are to embrace God’s Presence in our lives, we should also know that this includes the carrying of the crosses of our lives, as Michelle in our true story carried hers.  And so, if we are sincere in truly wanting to know Jesus more personally, and grow in the holiness of having the divine Wisdom to be strong and faithful in the challenges we face in our lives, as Jesus’ disciples, then like St John Paul II, and our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, we are each called to take the Eucharist more seriously and celebrate it more fervently.  And, when we prepare our hearts and souls and give ourselves totally to God our Father, we will surely be more fully united with Jesus in the celebration of the Eucharist, and will know Him more personally.  In doing so, we will then be certainly stronger in carrying the crosses that God in His Providence and Wisdom have placed on the shoulders of our lives. 

But, if we take the celebration of our Eucharist lightly, by rushing into Mass, or coming in late and leaving early, and complaining about long and boring homilies . . . how then are we to develop and deepen our relationship with Our Lord; more so for those of us who do not have a healthy and strong prayer life?  How then are we to have the spiritual strength to persevere, and not lose hope when the Eucharist is merely a routine to us, and our distracted minds are waiting for the Mass to end, so that we can then rush off to do the things that interests us more, but are actually often superficial like being on time for lunches, dinners, or a movie or meeting up with a friend, who actually can wait a few minutes longer. 

Two nights ago, our First Friday Mass had a packed church and the Mass ended within an hour.  The Benediction and prayer reflection and consecration to the Sacred Heart that followed lasted some 30 minutes.  Someone from the crowd, asked me at the Entrance, “Father, are your Masses in Singapore always that long?”  From where I come from, our Masses are very short.  I said to her, “When we come for Mass, actually, we are come to thank God and tell Jesus how much we love Him . . .”  “How do you feel if your children were to visit you once a week, and then as soon as they arrive, a few minutes later, they are in a hurry to rush off?”  She paused for a moment and then replied, “Oh yes, your long Masses are very good!”

My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude, let us be reminded that at the scene of the Transfiguration, God our Father not only proclaimed, “This is My Son, the Beloved, He enjoys My favour”; He also said, Listen to Him.”  How are we going to listen to Jesus, let alone, want to develop a personal relationship with Him, if we are rushing in and out of Masses all the time, because we say, we are very busy with other things in life?  And if this continues, without a sound prayer life and Jesus in the Eucharist, we will not survive, if a crisis is to hit us. . . Don’t wait for crises, before we value the Eucharist again . . .

Let us learn from the wisdom of St Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who give their whole heart, soul and attention each time they celebrate the Eucharist.  It is only when we celebrate the Eucharist with great reverence, devotion and participation that we come to know Jesus more deeply and personally, as a community.

But, if the Eucharist is something we take for granted, and is unimportant to us, then we should not be surprised, if we do not have the strength to persevere in the trials and tribulations of our lives, if we are to experience them.  This is unlike Michelle in our true story who indeed said, “Throughout my crises in life, it was the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, and being able to receive Him fervently and faithfully, that gave me the strength to persevere.  I would clearly have given up on life, if I had given up on Jesus in the Eucharist. 

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, on his 90th Birthday, shared that his great concern is that the faith of our believers could evaporate, and that his greatest wish is that every person develop a direct relationship with God, and with Christ our Lord, in the Spirit, and that we might dedicate our time, strength and affection to developing this most precious relationship.  

(ref: extract and adapted from: CAN/EWTN News: Vatican city; April 16, 2017)

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

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