Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Transfiguration - The Reflection Continues

"Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

St. Peter's awkward interjection into the glorious scene atop Mt. Tabor has been for me the scriptural moment of this year's Feast of the Transfiguration. It has dominated my thoughts today. Strangely enough it does so in the midst of an ongoing reflection on my part concerning what it is that we as Church need most surely in our day in the face of hostility aimed at us as Catholics, we being those who as a body/communion are most clearly identified with the Lord Jesus and His Truth, whether we like it or not.

While it is possible that Peter's words might have been inspired by good old Middle Eastern hospitality, I would rather suspect as do many others that the prince of apostles was trying to hold onto a moment he didn't rightly understand. We probably do the same in the face of hostility and persecution: Oh, Lord, show us Your Face! Dear Lord, pitch Your tent among us! Cast a glance and put fear into the hearts of our foes! The almost universal popularity of charismatic expressions of faith, the admiration enjoyed by mediatic, mega-church preachers, despite behind-the-scenes intrigues or the simple fact that the Crystal Cathedral of Orange County is up for auction to the highest bidder... prophecy, tongues, signs of power, wonders or miracles seem to be the path. They may seem to be the way, just as Peter's tent strategy seemed good or right to him on the Mount of the Transfiguration.

Let me set another anchor for my reflection with a quote from Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange,OP:

"Sanctifying grace and charity, which unite us to God in His intimate life, are, in fact, very superior to graces gratis datae and extraordinary, such as prophecy and the gift of tongues, which are only signs of the divine intervention and which by themselves do not unite us closely to God. St. Paul affirms this clearly, and St. Thomas explains it quite well.

Infused contemplation, an act of infused faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom, proceeds, as we shall see, from sanctifying grace, called "the grace of the virtues and the gifts," received by all in baptism, and not from graces gratis datae and extraordinary. Theologians commonly concede this. We may, therefore, even now seriously presume that infused contemplation and the union with God resulting from it are not intrinsically extraordinary, like prophecy or the gift of tongues. Since they are not essentially extraordinary, are they not in the normal way of sanctity?

A second and even more striking reason springs immediately from what we have just said: namely, sanctifying grace, being by its very nature ordained to eternal life, is also essentially ordained, in a normal manner, to the proximate perfect disposition to receive the light of glory immediately. This proximate disposition is perfect charity with the keen desire for the beatific vision, an ardent desire which is ordinarily found only in the union with God resulting from the infused contemplation of the mysteries of salvation.

This contemplation is, therefore, not intrinsically extraordinary like prophecy, but something eminent which already appears indeed to be in the normal way of sanctity, although relatively rare like lofty perfection."

On Mount Tabor the Lord Jesus let Peter, James and John hear the Father's voice, they could in an image contemplate the fulfillment in His Person of all that the Law sought and the Prophets longed for. The Transfiguration in and of itself was not the fulfillment:

"As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus charged them, 'Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

The Resurrection, the victory over sin and death, is the event. Our share in His intimate life through love and His gift of sanctifying grace is our share in that victory, foretaste and promise of the world to come. We have here no lasting dwelling place; this is not the time to be setting up tents, if you will. We strive onward with our eyes open and focused on the truth which comes to us from God: the truth about life, about man and his relationships, the truth about our dignity and destiny. We push on with a certain urgency from the vision of Tabor to the reality of Golgotha.

To say seek the higher gifts, strive for virtue in your everyday life, might be to say too little, as people often miss the point as did Peter. It is hard to turn from what Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange tags as "extraordinary" in favor of the eminently "normal" which is at once so terribly profound. Even crystal cathedrals can end up on the auction block!

What about the hard times we are presently facing? Apart from petitioning the Lord to go easy on us His servants, we need to dedicate ourselves to serving Him, God, first and foremost. In his novel Callista: A Tale of the Third Century Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman speculates on the role persecution played in the life and vitality of the Church in North Africa. He looks soberly at persecution and puts real content into the expression "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". Many were lost in the persecutions, but oh so many were refined in the crucible of suffering and became lights not only for their own generation but for the centuries following. 

What should be our hope? We do not and cannot rejoice, for example, in the damage done to our Catholic healthcare and social service systems worldwide by rabid atheists, militant secularists and bigoted relativists. By the same token, as we study and pray, as we, out of a genuine and pure love, refine our arguments and our strategies for service (in the case of healthcare and social services), we draw our hope from the clarity of our witness, (taking a clue from Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity) continually sacrificing ourselves out of love for our neighbor even without all of the sophistication and efficiency which technology and government subsidies can provide. We seek to serve man as he is in God's eyes. Our hope should be to join Christ Who prophesied that lifted up on the Cross He would draw all to himself. 

What do we do in the face of hostility? Maybe we'll know better if we stop balking at accepting our share in the sufferings of Christ, Who gave His life for our salvation.

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