Francis J. Caponi, O.S.A.
Gen 15: 5-12, 17-18
Psalm 27: 1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
Phil 3: 17 - 4: 1
Luke 9: 28-36
“It changed my life.”
Think of those words. Ask yourself, “What would it take to change my life?” A winning lottery ticket? A better job? A surgical procedure? A new set of friends?
If books and the internet are reliable guides, “What would it take to change my life?” is a popular question, because there are a lot of answers out there. If you search online for the phrase “it changed my life” you get many millions of hits. The internet lays before you an imposing smorgasbord of suggestions: getting on anti-depressants or going off anti-depressants; embracing jogging, yoga, veganism, crystals, or vitamin D. Some websites proclaim that your life will be changed by accepting who you are. If you’re a self-indulgent couch potato who loves ice cream and the t.v. remote control more than life itself, accept that! Others advise that you re-think who you really are, and come up with a better answer. If you unleash your inner gardener or rock climber or internet entrepreneur, your life will be turned inside-out. Some websites tout the revolutionizing wonders of cosmetic surgery, a new model of car, or the latest brand of running shoes.
If you search for the phrase “change your life” among Amazon.com’s titles, you get close to 7,000 hits. You can find a book entitled, Your Handwriting Can Change Your Life! Another book is called The Wisdom of Your Face: Change Your Life with Chinese Face Reading! There’s Take a Nap, Change Your Life, which does sound promising. I think my favorite title is The Taco Cleanse: The Tortilla-Based Diet Proven to Change Your Life.
And though you might expect these life-changing prescriptions to take a long time to develop and nurture, many books say this is not the case. There is a book entitled Change Your Life in 30 Days. Too long? Another book is called Change Your Life in Seven Days. Still too long? Maybe you should read Sixty Minutes That Will Change Your Life. Cannot stick with it for even an hour? For you, there is The 45 Second Presentation That Will Change Your Life. And for the truly impatient, there is 10 Seconds Will Change Your Life Forever.
Incidentally, if you search for the phrase “it mildly improved my life,” you will get zero hits. None. Amidst the millions of pages in English on the web which sell products, amidst all the personal blogs and all the sites providing news, amidst all the medical and literary and artistic offerings, no one has yet committed the brief sentence “it mildly improved my life” to the web. Not surprisingly, you will also get no hits for the sentence, “How to slowly change your life over several years.” And, of course, there is no book called “How You Can Mildly Improve Your Life Over Many Months and Years.”
As of today, a paperback book entitled What You Wear Can Change Your Life, is ranked #2043 on Amazon - for some reason, under “Home Repair.” I can’t critique the book since I haven’t read it, but the customer feedback includes some glowing reviews. Now, it is certainly true that dressing differently may make you feel better. My mother was a great advocate of the mood-lifting properties of a well-shined pair of shoes and a pressed pair of pants. But the title doesn’t assert that different clothes will brighten your outlook, cheer you up, or put a lift in your step. The title claims that your life will be changed by what you wear.
I raise all of this because it makes the Transfiguration something of a puzzle. Peter, James, and John have already seen Jesus cure the blind and the deaf and the crippled, exorcize demons, and feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish. They watched him still the stormy seas, and bring the dead daughter of Jairus back to life. Today, they see as much glory as earthly eyes can stand, as much beauty as a frail human mind can bear. They hear the voice of God Himself, pouring forth from the clouds, rolling down the mountain: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
But when Jesus is arrested, they run. When Jesus is whipped, they are gone. While Jesus lays in his tomb, they are hiding.
If all those miracles, if all the grace and beauty, if all that wonder and light failed to change their lives, what could? In today’s first reading, “a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.” But Peter, James, and John are surrounded by glorious light: “his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white,” and “they saw his glory.” But they run, they hide, they deny. They are unchanged. How is this possible? If a healthier diet, a faster car, better clothes, more efficient time management, more effective communication, or a more cheerful outlook can change someone’s life, how can the appearance of divinity itself, blazing with the light which burned before creation, fail to renovate these fishermen?
Here is where Christ springs the trap on us. As soon as we ask that question, Christ turns on us and asks, “Every week you confess the sins of your thought and words, of what you have done and what you have failed to do. Show me your change? Every week you call me ‘God from God, light from light, true God from true God,’ and praise me for coming down from heaven to save you from your sins. Where is your conversion? You hear my word in the Scriptures, share my sacrifice from the altar, pray to my Father that you will be forgiven and that you will forgive. Not once, on a mountaintop, but here, every week. So the question is not why did my apostles fail to change, but why do you?”
Christ comes among us. Prophets, priests, and kings of old longed to see him, but did not. But now he comes among us, and we give God thanks. Are we transformed? Not the change of new clothes or a new haircut or a new house; but do we pray for our enemies? Not the change of whiter teeth, a better job, or stronger muscles; but do we care for the poor, not just at holidays, but now, during Lent? Not the change of a slimmer figure, a better golf swing, or a remodeled kitchen, but the conversion that comes when we help others carry their crosses: relatives in the hospital, neighbors in nursing homes, friends burdened with addiction, families shattered by divorce, the lonely and the grief-stricken.
Today, Jesus asks us this: Hearing what we hear, seeing what we see, receiving what we receive, how are we different? Will our lives be changed, or even mildly improved, by our encounter with Christ at this Mass?