Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sunday Gospel Reflection: March 3, 2013 ~ Thus am I to be remembered...

When Moses encounters God in the form of a burning bush on Mt. Horeb, he has no doubts about what he is experiencing, and hides his face for he [is] afraid to look at God.  In this Sunday’s reading from Exodus, when Moses asks for clarification of God’s name, God responds, I am who am.  The present tense verb am is telling:  God is offering the Israelites a new understanding of God as a constant, active presence in their lives, capable of reaching into human difficulty and changing it:  I have come down to rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians, God says. God is always with them, a living presence, active in their lives, merciful and gracious, abounding in kindness (Psalm 103) – effective if they are aware of it, and embrace His call to relationship.  

Although we don't always have "burning bush moments" to spur us on, our own response to God’s call to relationship can’t be selective, as Jesus tells the people in our reading from Luke.  Timing is important!  The people killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them could not have known the moment of their demise; the fig tree gets a reprieve only through the intervention of the gardener, who promises to tend it and help it bear fruit.  Whoever thinks he is standing secure should take care not to fall, Paul tells the people of Corinth.

While God may always be active in our lives, it is up to us to recognize God’s presence, to be actively faithful to relationship, blessing the Lord with our whole soul and being.  Jesus is our spiritual rock, our spiritual food and drink, it is true; but he is a life-giving source only if we are open to it, if we are willing to accept the life he gives us, a life in which he is alive within us, and among us.  We are called to reject passivity and actively receive Christ in our lives, daily, ever anew.  It is a radical notion of dynamic relationship:  to choose to actively grow in God’s presence, living our faith, embracing the Christ we find among us every day.

This reflection is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Photo source

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

A Different View of the Transfiguration

Apse mosaic: S. Apollinare in Classe, the port town of Ravenna, 6th century.
The Transfiguration

Cameo of Christ at the center of the cross

The Hand of God

     This image from the 6th century is a powerful translation of the Gospel passage from last Sunday, choosing what appears to us as an unusual depiction of Jesus transfigured.  
     The lower part of the mosaic depicts St. Apollinaris (notice the spelling in the mosaic is different "Apolenaris") with twelve sheep.  Apollinaris, by tradition, was the first bishop of Ravenna, assigned by St. Peter.  He is depicted leading his flock (the same number as the disciples of Jesus).  He was finally martyred (5th or 6th attempt) at Classe, a suburb and port to Ravenna.
     The three sheep in the upper part of the apse represent Peter (alone), James, and John.  In the early Church the disciples were often depicted as sheep (followers), sometimes joined by the Lamb of God (see Sta. Maria in Trastevere and SS. Cosma e Damiano in Rome).  Moses and Elijah are identified with captions above them.  It is interesting for us as who have had our image of Moses set by Charleton Heston in "The Ten Commandments" to have Moses depicted as such a young man (no beard).  Our Gospel reading from Luke tells us that "his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white."  Clearly the artist(s) did not have in mind a literal rendering of the story.  In fact the depiction is of the meaning.  The early Church was still not entirely comfortable with depicting Jesus crucified.  The image of the jeweled cross focused on the glory that came through death in resurrection, which was the point of the Transfiguration: to show the disciples where the death he spoke about (and they had difficulty accepting).  Moses and Elijah speak to him of the exodus (like that of the Jews from Egypt) that will end in glory, but not without suffering. It is interesting that in an Old English poem "The Dream of the Rood," from the 8th century, the True Cross is spoken of in its reliquary of gold, silver and precious stones.  Here we see the Cross glorified.  Note from the enlargement that there is a bust of Jesus in the center of the Cross, just in case you were not sure.  Jesus will be transformed through his death on the Cross, just as we are called to endure our own crosses and exodus so that we might be transformed.  The Gospel says "they entered the cloud."  The mosaicist(s) interpreted it to mean Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, even though it sounds as though it includes the three disciples.  The hand of God reaches from the heavens to identify his chosen Son, instructing the disciples to listen to him, just as they have listened to the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah).  Jesus will lead them where they need to go, Apollinaris led his flock through death to life, and Jesus continues to show us the way.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Your "Tabor" Moments?

Your "Tabor" moments?

Have you recently had a “Tabor” moment?

In the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration on (tradition has it) Mt. Tabor, Jesus’ three disciples experience a theophany, a visible manifestation of the presence of God before them.  Although their progress is halting (Luke tells us they were frightened and silent), the experience does offer the disciples a glimpse of Jesus’ identity and his divine mission, giving them some perspective, and, perhaps also, strength for the journey.

Consider the last year, or maybe even the last few months.  Have you had a “Tabor” moment, a moment when  you felt God’s presence distinctly, clearly?  Did you listen to him?  Were you frightened and silent, or giddy and enthusiastic?  Were you alone, or with friends?  What happened once you came down from the mountain, so to speak, and how were you transformed by the experience?  How has God’s presence in your life touched you, moved you, renewed you?

Jesus’ disciples witness Jesus himself transformed, his face and clothes altered as outward signs of the divinity within -- and then everything ostensibly returned to normal.  Or did it?  Our radiance at any encounter with God is a sign of our penetration by the Spirit, a moment that touches us at our core.  Let us welcome the "Tabor" moments, allowing them to open us, to transform us, so that we can be that light for the world that Jesus intended.

This short reflection was inspired by a longer reflection by Basilian Father Thomas Rosica.
Photo source: Transfiguration Church, Mt. Tabor, Israel  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Sunday Gospel Reflection: February 24, 2013 ~ Listen to him...

Listen to him...

Lent is about choosing a path, the right path to God.

In this Sunday’s reading from the book of Genesis, Abram puts his faith in the Lord, trusting God to follow through on the amazing promises He is making in His unilateral covenant with Abram. Abram prepares the sacrifice God prescribes and waits in the insecurity of darkness.  And then, in the midst of this darkness, light comes, passing through and focusing everything in one place, clearly showing Abram the path he is to follow.  Abram chooses a direction, not just for himself, but for his descendants, and trusts in a promise that will not be fulfilled in his lifetime; his belief in the relationship allows him an open connection to God that will guide him throughout his days.

Like Abram, the psalmist in this Sunday’s reading chooses the path of faith and trust in God.  Hide not your face from me, he sings – he himself is calling upon God to be ever-present, to be light, salvation and refuge, to be life itself. 

Luke’s account of Jesus’ Transfiguration is also a significant marker on the disciples’ journey.  Ascending the mountain with Peter, John, and James, Jesus is transformed before their eyes – his face changed in appearance, and his clothing became dazzling white – and joined by Moses and Elijah.  When God’s voice comes from the cloud that surrounds them, saying This is my chosen Son; listen to him, the disciples don’t quite understand the path they are to follow.  Yet this experience of God’s presence is a critical part of their own journey, and their path is the path to the Cross, which Jesus has already predicted.  They must choose to trust in Jesus’ Way, following him to death and, ultimately, resurrection.

St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to the very same; post-Crucifixion, theirs is the choice of salvation through the Cross, a choice for life, defined by the the love revealed by Christ’s death and resurrection, and culminating in their own transformation on the path to salvation.  It is the path we are all called to follow, as we strive to move through the season of Lent, ever mindful of the need for our own faith and trust in God’s path for us.

This reflection is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.

Monday, February 18, 2013

 Victory Stele of Naram Sin: Akkad c. 2454 B.C.

6th Century Mosaic,                                                   13th to 14th Century Sculpture (19th c. copy)
Archbishop's Chapel, Ravenna                                   Central Trumeau, Notre Dame, Paris

Okay, so here are the three images. Lets begin with the victory stele of Naram Sin: The first verse of Psalm 110 states "I will make your enemies your footstool." The stele illustrates this graphically (2454 B.C.) long before the Psalm is written. We have also understood Psalm 110 to be about Jesus as the Messiah when he sits at the right hand of God (the hand of mercy). It establishes a way of understanding something in the next two images.
What do the next two images have in common? They are both images of Jesus, both figures are holding books (The Word), both figures are standing on a lion (secular/human power, exercised by taking) with the right foot and a serpent/dragon (sin) with the left, and what you may not know is that both are connected with the main entrance (the mosaic is over the door on your way out of the chapel in the Archbishop's palace and the statue is between the two front doors as you enter Notre Dame). Human power and sin are both under the feet of Jesus, and therefore not only illustrating Psalm 91 from this Sunday's readings, but also Psalm 110 as his enemies are his footstool. Their placements at the doorways in interesting. The mosaic, with the book open to the passage from John 14, "I am the way, the truth, and the life" (EGO SUM VIA VERITAS ET VITA), wearing the armor of a Roman Legionary (the Church was the New Rome, victorious over secular power, under Christ's rule), it is the reminder as you go out into the world that you are to trust in his victory over evil. The sculpture, called "Christ the Teacher," reminds you that he has been victorious over the powers of this world, so leave them behind as you enter.
One final note: Most of the quotations in the Gospel this week in the Temptation are from Deuteronomy, and most especially the final temptation which quotes Psalm 91. Jesus who reverses the sin of Adam (original sin, which was a bid for control over our own existence) and the sins of the people of Israel in the desert, is ultimately victorious. When we are grateful for all God has done for us (reading from Deuteronomy), we can trust in God no matter where we are (Psalm 91 begins by mentioning the Temple as a safe haven, but moves to a call to trust God even when the Temple is destroyed), which can only increase our faith in his promise of the victory of his love (the Gospel in Paul), and help us, with him, to be victorious over the sin in our lives (our own and that of others, as we see in the Gospel).

Trusting the Catcher

Trusting the Catcher

From this past Sunday's homily:  Gratitude - Trust - Faith - Victory over sin

“Trust is the basis of life. Without trust,  no human being can live.  Trapeze artists offer a beautiful image of this.  Flyers have to trust their catchers.  They can do the most spectacular doubles, triples, or quadruples, but what finally makes their performance spectacular are the catchers who are there for them at the right time in the right place.  Much of our life is flying.  It is wonderful to fly in the air free as a bird, but when God isn’t there to catch us, all our flying comes to nothing.  Let’s trust in the Great Catcher.”   --- Henri Nouwen

Jesus trusted the Great Catcher.  Do you?