February 26, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

More than just giving consolation, Christ offers eternal life

The ordinary picture of Jesus in the New Testament is a human one.

Jesus is the son of the carpenter. He is the Son of Mary. He was a man who tired, a man who lost his patience. He had friends like us, and when his friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept. Jesus was a man who suffered. He was mocked and scourged. He died on the criminal’s cross. But he is also God.

The disciples of Jesus were upset and discouraged to hear from Jesus that he must suffer and die at the hands of the chief priests, elders and scribes. And so to encourage them, Jesus gave them a glimpse of his glory.

Unlike the disciples, our recollection of Christ as a suffering and courageous person is a source of consolation to us. We, in our joys and sorrows, easily identify with him, and we are encouraged to pray to him for help.

Yet it is a good thing for us too that the Church brings to our attention the mystery of the Transfiguration on the second Sunday of Lent. Christ is more than a suffering, patient and brilliant teacher. Like the disciples, we need to know he is divine. We need him to be God.

Pope Benedict XVI makes an important point when he reminds us that more and more we live in a secular culture that prefers to exclude God from ordinary human discourse and public life.

The prevailing culture asserts that faith is not scientific. God belongs in private devotion.

The example the Holy Father cites is the intentional exclusion of God and reference to Europe’s Christian roots in the Constitution of the European Union. Closer to home, in Indiana, in the recent past, we had the court ruling that our state legislature should no longer make reference to Christ in its formal prayer. It is politically incorrect.

The hazard we face is this: The exclusion of God and the absence of Christ from public discourse can affect our daily consciousness of God. There is plenty of historical evidence that a world without God becomes a dangerous one. Besides, it is not truthful.

There is an internal reason why we Catholics and Christians need to restore our understanding that the Christ of our faith is the God man. In recent times, catechetical instruction has overly emphasized the humanity of Jesus in order to have us identify with him more closely.

Yet we need a divine Savior. Christ’s glory must shine through and give us confidence in our prayer. We can be grateful today that, in our times of trouble and need, we have someone who can offer us even more than consolation. We have the Christ to whom all power in heaven and on Earth has been given.

And so it is timely that the mystery of the Transfiguration takes us to the mountain and helps us remember, once more, what is important about life and what is important about death.

As it did for Peter, James and John, the showing of the Lordship of Jesus for one brief, shining moment assures us that the fullness of love indeed wins out over the pain and power of evil.

Day after day, we look at the many faces of evil. Next Sunday, we are dramatically reminded to seek the face of Jesus. We are reminded that we share in the glory and fullness of God’s love. We are reminded that there is much more to life and reality than meets the eye.

But how easy it is for us to become forgetful in our culture. Like Peter, James and John, we can get confused. The face of the Lord Jesus gets lost in the crowd. Pain and suffering and all kinds of painted masks veil the simple glory of God’s face and presence all around us.

Both the Christ of human sorrow and the Christ of joyful power are present to us in this sacrament of the Eucharist. As Christians, we need to contact the human and the powerful Christ.

The Lenten celebration of the Lordship of Jesus in the midst of suffering gives us a chance to renew our faith in the constancy of God’s love. And we have the opportunity to refresh our Christian mission to carry Christ to others—the Christ who suffers and the Christ of joy. What a marvelous Lenten grace—to remember more clearly that we have a God who loves us.

Let’s act on that grace. I add a final recommendation for our reflection during Lent. I encourage us to intentionally express our faith and dependence on the divinity of Christ on a daily basis.

And when given the opportunity, I encourage us to stand up for God in the public forum. †

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