Marathon runners are familiar with—and dread hitting the “wall.” The wall is the frightening sensation of running on empty; it occurs when the runner feels that all energies are utterly depleted and, seemingly, there is nothing else to rely on to reach the finish line. Obviously, only those runners that are able to break through the “wall” can finish the marathon. Only those who can reach deep inside their heart and find that extra energy can taste victory.
The Feast of the Transfiguration deals with yet a scarier form of wall. In the Preface of this Holy Mass, such “wall” is called the “scandal of the cross.” It would cause a disciple of Jesus to lose heart, feel discouraged or might even lead to despair.
Successful long distance runners do not reveal their secret that allows them to push through “the wall.” They have each to find what works for them. One thing seems to be certain, though: whatever the secret might call for, I assume, it must involve willpower, resolve, incredible endurance and the ability to create before their eyes as vivid a picture as possible of them raising their hands in victory as they cross the finish line and hearing the roars of the cheering crowds.
I am well into my 46th year of ministry as a priest; and, with every passing day, I get more convinced that a crucial aspect of my ministerial priesthood must be the one of pushing through my wall, my scandal of the cross, and do for my people what Jesus did for his disciples on Mount Tabor so that they, too, can push through their wall.
Undoubtedly, without a single exception, my people, like myself, have each to deal with pain, struggles, crises, incomprehension, criticism, rejection, failure and tears. However, while many shed their tears freely and openly; others let them run silently down to the bottom of their heart. The former, seem to fare better as they are naturally childlike and do not hesitate to bare their soul and ask for prayers to handle their pain and the pain of those dearest to them. The latter, often displaying a quasi serene façade, in reality harbor silently inside prolonged, intense pain and do not let on that they are thoroughly anguished. These are the ones whom, I hope, the Holy Spirit will help me identify first and draw close to so that I could open for them all channels of grace to overcome the scandal of their cross.
The passage from the Gospel of Matthew (17: 1-9) offers valuable clues to help us and others push through the wall created by the cross that each one has to bear. The first clue must be the one of feeling chosen by Jesus, with infinite predilection, as if each one were the only person occupying his mind and perturbing his heart. Three people (Peter, James and John) identified by name and personally selected by Jesus was the “largest crowd” he deemed appropriate for making them experience heaven and the future glory that awaits us in the Father’s Home. The next clue suggests that to endure upcoming challenges, to keep up the good fight for the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Titus 1: 18) we need times to be alone “on a high mountain,” i.e. also physically as close to God as possible. Those scheduled times alone with the Lord should confirm that our battles and drives are for the cause of advancing the Kingdom. Moses and Elijah, i.e. the Law and the Prophets provide us with a vast array of victorious interventions carried out by the mighty arm of the Lord. Recalling them should be for us like reliving them vicariously while charging us with motivation to continue our efforts for the furtherance of the Kingdom. We should be gradually convinced that our humble contribution, given amid hardships and sacrifices, is never in vain.
The Law and the Prophets assure us that God’s promises will be enacted at the time set by him alone and that the global, grandiose plan of salvation will advance without obliterating our individual pain or muffling our cries. The Law and the Prophets guarantee us that we will never be ignored or dwarfed by the size of the Kingdom of God. Rather, our pain, our tears, our anguish are all registered by God and amplified by his detailed knowledge so as to became the common cause of the Kingdom that will be realized at the end of time in the triumph of justice and love. We shall not forget that the one who is gloriously transfigured and displays his magnificence before the incredulous eyes of his friends is the second Person of the Holy Trinity who, as Son of Man, was about to be crushed by the sins and miseries of the whole world.
Hence, I have to remind myself and all of my people that, today, Peter; James and John are talking to us about what they witnessed on Mount Tabor after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. The Son of Man is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity but, in his very real human flesh, he is also and will be forever the first fruits of all of us his people laden with miseries and illnesses yet destined for incorruptibility, incomparable glory and indescribable magnificence.
From time to time, it would be spiritually beneficial for us to dwell on our insignificance and smallness. To this end it would suffice to compare ourselves to the ever-expanding universe. By comparison we are as negligible as the smallest grain of sand in the Sahara desert, yet in the eyes of our heavenly Father we are front and center of his care. Because of Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, our Father who governs all the universes and the most distant galaxies, is the one who keeps accurate count even of all our strands of hair! If the Father sacrificed for us his only beloved Son in whom he is well pleased, will he not give us also everything else besides as he anticipates our cries? (cf. Romans 8: 32)
Today, we are ordered to listen to Jesus. This must be more compelling whenever we hit “the wall;” whenever the weight of our cross causes us to stagger and are about to stumble. The Gospels are filled with his words of light, comfort, encouragement, hope, forgiveness, mercy and power; so are the letters written by the first ones who bore witness to him as the transfigured Risen Lord. He is the template and pattern of our own transfiguration. Those words of life will sustain us up to the glorious end when Jesus will hand over to the Father the Kingdom which we too contributed to build with our sweat and tears and God will be all in all as the Transfiguration will have transformed the whole world. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15: 28)