We’ve all learned some useful things sitting in a classroom. How to read and write, add and subtract, name the 50 states, and random facts about the history of our country and the world. If we went to a Catholic school, we also memorized prayers, lists of sacraments, and definitions of heavy mysteries like the Trinity and the Virgin Birth. You can learn a lot in a classroom. But there are some things we’ll never learn from a book, teacher, or memorized fact. Some things have to hit us right between the eyes, or bull’s-eye straight into our hearts. We have to experience these things to know them – like falling in love, being forgiven, or receiving grace in a perilous hour. People can tell us what those things are like. Poets describe the delirious feeling of seeing a loved one’s face. In confession you are told by the priest that you are ritually forgiven by God. The definition of grace in the Catechism states: “the gift of the Spirit who justifies and sanctifies.” But we still don’t know what any of those words mean until we have the personal, visceral, soul-shaking experience of love, forgiveness, and grace.
It’s the same with knowing Jesus. Everybody knows Jesus right? We know He’s the Son of God, and Mary’s boy, and that He was born in Bethlehem and died in Jerusalem and rose in glory and ascended to heaven. But what does all that tell us? Maybe not as much as we think it does. Actually nowhere near enough!! There’s a difference between the classroom lesson about Jesus and the actual encounter of Him. Even the disciples, who hung around with Jesus all the time, didn’t really know Him.
That’s why the Transfiguration (today’s gospel) comes as such a surprise, a shock really. The three friends who knew Jesus best – Peter, James, John – literally “wake up” to the knowledge of who Jesus really is. He’s the fulfillment of every story from the law of Moses to the prophecies of Israel! He’s God’s every promise come to earth and in the flesh! He’s the one they’ve been waiting for! He is the light of the world, shinning dazzling white be- fore their own eyes!!
One minute they see Jesus this way. The next minute they don’t. Is it be- cause they fall back asleep? Is that why they remain the ignorant disciples who run from Jesus and deny Him in his hour of greatest need? If so, we can’t blame them. Most of us only see Jesus in little flashes of light, tiny glimmers of understanding that come and go.
Lent is an opportune time to stay awake and open ourselves to those trans- figuration moments. Some will have that moment in or after an ALPHA session. Some will experience that moment during Eucharistic Adoration. Some, during or after a pilgrimage to a religious site. Some in a stunning display of nature. So, the most important thing is to realize that all we “learned” about Jesus isn’t enough. Pray for a “transfiguration moment” this Lent and be open to however that may come!
Happy St. Patrick’s Day from your Irish pastor