Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Lessons of Light

Father John J. Lombardi

Mountains are monumentally important…

Last week I met George. He lives in the shadow of Mary's Mountain; He is an elderly man and has only one leg--his left leg was amputated last year. He wants to go up the Mountain. He's awaiting a transfiguration--warmer weather, his prosthesis (artificial leg), the opportune movement. I hope he makes it.

Moses went up the Mount of Horeb to encounter God: He asked "Please let me see your beauty" ( Ex. 33:18 ). He later went up the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments, which transformed and transfigured the world. The prophets went up mountains--Elijah and Elisha, up Mt Carmel to battle the gods of paganism.

Then there's Our Lord and Savior. He went up the Mountain as a kind of "New Moses" to give us the New Commandments --the Beatitudes-"Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God" (Mt.5:8). And, of course, in this Sunday's Gospel (Mt 17:1-9), Jesus went up the Mount of Transfiguration (more below). Then Jesus went up the Mount of Olives for a Gethsemane- suffering-experience. Finally, Jesus went up the Mount of Calvary, to die for us sinners.

On Mountains people encounter God and God gives Himself to people. I guess that what is in George's bones--a magnetic, God-gene pull and push to God. It's in the blood. So what are some lessons of Light?

The Mount of Transfiguration….

On the Holy Mountain Christ's "clothes became as white" (Mt 17:2). We may recall the Latin maxim, bonum diffisum est --good is diffusive of itself. Divine irradiates…extends, spreads, overflows. And we are attracted to, entranced by It. But what is outside God's grace and life should come within, inside the soul.

Inward beholding-Q from last wks' bulletin at top here:

How can you first receive this Divine Radiance (within) and then spread it to others?

Transfiguration, from Latin words, trans, to go across, figura, figure or form, thus mean: to go from one figure to another. But God never changes. Jesus wasn't totally man one moment and then God another. He always was and always IS God. In this holy episode of the Transfiguration God is showing us not that HE changes but that He wants to reveal His divinity to us; manifest it; usually it is covered, veiled, disguised, even in the Holy Eucharist. So, Jesus shows His divinity to Peter, James and John to empower them, equip them for hard times to come. Therefore believe He is God. Believe He empowered the apostles to become this Church which continues today.

We must believe that Christ continues to transfigure/empower His Church today, the Catholic Church He continues the Apostolic teaching of St. Peter today thru John Paul II and our Holy Catholic Church.

Recently Fr Roger Haight, a Jesuit theologian, was edited and banned from teaching. Why? This might seem harsh. What was he radically teaching? He was claiming The Catholic Church is not the only possible Church in today's pluralistic world "…one cannot still continue to affirm […] that Christianity is the superior religion or that Christ is the absolute center in relation to which all the other historical mediations are relative."

Regarding the value of the dogmatic formulas, especially those related to Christ, the author affirms that they are not neglected, but neither are they acritically repeated, because "in our culture they do not have the same meaning they did when they were elaborated." However: we know Jesus didn't found many churches, but only one (cf. Mt 16:18-"Upon this rock I build My Church" -one, singular Church; and Eph 5 describes Jesus and His Bride the Church, once again, singular; Jn 17:1ff, where Jesus prays for unity of believers). Despite a multicultural, diverse and evolving world, some things don't change--like God and His Church. Jesus brings the Princes of the Apostles, Peter, James and John to strengthen them for the trials to come--including false accusations and challenges to His Bride, the Church.

"Do not be afraid"= In other words, "perfect love casts out fear" (I Jn. 4:18). When we are with God marvelous and mysterious things may occur, even sufferings, but He will always providentially guide and assist us thru it all. There was a book by Rudolph Otto, common theologian, famous for its phrase describing an encounter with God, msyterium tremdendum et fascinans= the fascinating and tremendous mystery. Sometimes today we may "downsize God" and make Him into our own image, kind of like a pet rock of divinity; or we may impose our human attributes and strip Him of His otherness and mysteriousness. This is what makes God different from all beings and created things--He is the only necessary, totally other and radically self-sufficient Being. There are other beings--from people to penguins--but none are foundational or self subsistent (or "original"--they all have and "borrow" their source being from this First Being, God). In spite of God's total transcendence (as First Being above and beyond all other created beings) He comes down to our level. He meets us on the Mountain, in the Eucharist, in prayer. He is not an aloof impersonal spirit without filial relationship to mankind. How can we re-claim the mystery of God as enthralling us as this Holy mystery of God does.

Encounter Divinity in Creation: Just as the disciples went up the mountain, we can go up Mary's Mountain, the Catoctin Mountains or Rockies, or virtually anywhere--the seacoast or back yard--and encounter God--the Creator of His creation. We can see His signs in His creation, the "footprints" of Him Who made the entire universe. The Mountain in particular is a special place of encounter. Jesus also went out in the desert and sea for special places of prayer and an encounter with His Heavenly Father--how can you?

Fuga mundi: This means-flee the world. Before flinching, and thinking you must be a zealot, remember St James counsel: "Anyone who is a friend of the world is an enemy of God"(Jas 4:4). Yes-Flee the world. We must do this at times. This was a past, popular saying and still is useful today, He understood it the right way. But some modernists rebel against at it --"it's too harsh". Others say, "Vatican II changed all that fleeing the world-stuff" (not really); and, after all, we like comforts of the world and, we Catholics, generally, can be over worldly. Ergo/so: There is a Radical Middle--the world is fallen, it is not our home, and yet we are called to be in the world but not of it. We must reject some of the world, which is without God's grace or friendship. So, just as Peter, James and John had to leave the world, possessions and even past behaviors behind, to climb the Mount of Transfiguration to encounter Jesus, so must we Catholics today. What are the things you must leave behind?

Catholics and Christian believe in transfiguration, and that is what Lent is for--changing the figure of our sinful souls into saintly bearers of light. But, let's admit it, we have competition to Transfiguration. What are the instigators of many troubles today? Frederic Nietchse, the German philosopher, who called for a transvaluation of values. This is the opposite of our Lord's Transfiguration. Nietzsche taught that humans are being repressed (especially by false religion and oppressive morality) and need emphasize, and live off their instincts instead of reason, and change, in his view, wimpy Christianity into a powerful push of the ubermesnh--the superman, the anti-Christ who would replace all previous forms of religion and supremacy .No wonder he became a kind of acolyte for Hitler and Nazis. We are now in a battle of the Transfiguration of the Mountain-between Christ's and the world's…

Where do we see this Trans-valuation of values today?…Homosexuality and its promotion of same-sex unions, fornication and cohabitation ( this as a movement, promoting illicit practices and "rights", as contrasted from individual homosexual persons who are trying to live chastely). This has revolutionized mores in America, some Christian churches, and the world: However, recently, doctors in New York City discovered a new, extremely toxic strain of HIV, which causes AIDS. They found it in a homosexual man who had hundreds of partners and used amphetamines. New York Times front page story covered this and how homosexuals are disusing how to react--some urging task forces to confront active sexual persons others urging contraceptives; while avoiding the term and reality, at almost any cost, of abstinence, while still others fear a possible "new censoring" of their sexual mores. As this depressing story continues to unfold, at least a dialogue is occurring (about aberrational sexual practices and their harm) and so this is a time, not only for the homosexual community, but also heterosexuals, to ask: Why not abstinence, chastity, faithfulness in Christ and His teachings, instead of a transvalutaion of values leading to rebellion and destruction? In order to encounter the Lord and His graces, we must climb mountains and leave some things, behaviors behind.

Culture of Divorce: a recent story described how couples in Arkansas, Arizona and Louisiana are required to make covenant marriages-counseling before marriage, and should couples consider divorce they must receive counseling again before filing for divorce. How remarkable, sensible and needed this is where the divorce rate is so high and adversely affects taxes, schools, courts, children and whole communities. With this positive transfiguration of values from the neitezhean revolt against marriage (which continues today full storm) there is hope. But, once again, how many people, couples are willing to climb the mountain do the tough work and leave junk behind? The Apostles did, how about others?

Abortion, values, religion and political parties: are they changing? Hopefully. Abortion in some politics is a rally cry and chief money maker. Remember Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, -he couldn't speak at a past political convention because he was pro-life. He was, believe it or not…censored. But now some things are transfiguring. Several key democrats have signaled changes in attitude toward abortion, values and religion , showing an openness and dialogic desire for change and diversity. Basically, some are saying: we need to moderate and downscale rhetoric on killing children. We do need God in public life and values do count. We are not against the guy in Peoria/Middle America. How authentic this is, is anyone's guess, but it's a needed start, especially with the party that once championed the "little guy", the oppressed.

The Transfiguration of Our Lord and the lengthy pilgrimage it inspires calls us mortals to purify everything which keeps us

From God. St John of the Cross described the Mystical Ascent of the Soul--and its transfiguration, in very intimate detailed ways, in his famous books, "The Ascent of Mt Carmel" and "Dark Night of the Soul." What are these arcane treatises about? Simple--it's about the soul's journey to God thru purification and illumination. Purification means we must knock the crust off which impedes our souls and then be filled, as were the apostles on the Mt of Transfiguration, with light-Divine Light. We may describe it as both a process of relieving (our souls of all that is bad) and a receiving (All the Lord's goodness and Divinity). What is it that must be purified? St John mentions the following:

Mind-intellect: some of our ideas and theories about God are incorrect, or are limited: we must realize there's not nearly a "big enough mental net" to capture the reality of the Infinite God. So, the Transfiguration and pilgrimage it inspires calls us to purify these necessary but limited ideas. Ideas about God are like bridges across a river .We need the bridge-idea to get to the other side, but the bridge is not the other side (God) nor can we stay on the bridge. We need it but we need to recognize its limitations, its true purpose to propel us to the Reality-God. St John and other mystics call us to leave behind inadequate ideas about God while on the Ascent and seek the reality Itself, God in His Illuminating Light. But the Purification is important, necessary and painful. Think of Peter, James and John-after encountering the Reality-Christ's Illuminating Divinity--they wanted to stay and build booths for refuge. Who wouldn't? So: constantly seek God-the-Triune-reality thru all necessary but finite ideas.

Will and emotions: St John and Transfiguration teach us we have errant passions, internal movements of heart and emotions that adversely affect our thinking, praying and pilgrimage. For instance, -we think we need certain places, people and things, and, because we are fallen sinners, we are swayed by our earthy-chaotic passions for these. So as long as we inordinately rely on these in the spiritual life (or in prayer) as sole sensors to God and holiness, we are doomed--our love may be lustful, our sadness affected by depression, our courage mitigated by fear. Thus the ways we plan to go deeper into spirituality and prayer are affected by these passions and must be purified. How? We must ask Jesus-of-the-Transfiguration to give us pure hearts, emotions and feelings, while ourselves balancing these with our intellect, mind and reason. Love will transfigure into pure love of God and neighbor, even heroically --whereby charity heroically helps others; fear will be transfigured by courage and sadness by joy. The Mountain--physical or metaphysical, will transfigure us, if, like the Apostles, we are willing to make the climb.

He is Memory: like a computer file we can open this power of the soul at will. Or we may see it as a kind of a storehouse of sensory images and past events--our memories. The Devil wants us inordinately to feed off, and rely on, these aberrant images, or plague us by fixating on memories of past abuses or sins. This is not the kind of memory the Lord wants for us. We should rather transfigure it into a mystical multiplex-storehouse of motivational images, and moving memories which always free and spiritualize us, not imprison or withhold us from ascending the Mountain. We need the Transfiguring Light to do this for us--but we must choose and undergo Purification, no matter how painful--leave the past baggage behind after exposure, realizing it is weighing us down. All these Transfigurations are called the Purification of the Spirit, which is, by far, the most arduous, scariest Dark Night, because of our hidden, voluminous attachments and sins which affect the spiritual nature of our being.

St John says the other kind of Dark Night we face is called Night of the Senses, whereby we must also free and purify all our sensual ways of being in the world--of all bad affects, inordinate attachments and wrongful attractions thru smell, taste, sight, feeling and so forth. Once again, Lent is obviously a good time for this Purification. Why not climb the Mountain now?

As long as we try to travel up the Mountain (metaphysical-spiritual) with bad memories, illogical images, errant passions and intellectual instigations, we are bound to fail, or take longer. Our perception of God will always be affected and harmed. God wants to give us, an intimate and unmediated view of Him--and this is what Purification and Transfiguration means: encounter with God. Remember--the Apostles and saints show us the Way of Purification and Illumination, of freedom and ecstasy. What they did we can also do.

A famous mystical treatise, written by an Englishman, called "The Cloud of Unknowing," intimates what the apostles felt--a kinship and intimacy with God on the one hand, a closeness to Divine Presence, but, on the other, one which, because we are like human, finite thimbles trying to receive, understand and worship the Supreme Deity, we can't really fathom all of the Deity. Our senses are in a kind of unknowing, negation, clouding. So, then, let us bow down and worship the Holy Mystery, God.

Lent is a time to make the transfiguration Pilgrimage. Responding:

What do I need to transfigure, change in my life even though arduous, costly?

New Mysteries of light: Meditate on the Decade dedicated to Transfiguration--pray with special fervor.

Worship God: this is, after all, the first act of religion-to Love Him, esp. His Light

Meditation: on attributes of God a= Almighty-only essential Being; B=beauty; C=consubstantial-All Three Divine Persons Inter Dwell with One Another; D=Divinity--His Essence is Divine we can partake of it (II Pt 1:4); E=equanimity--dwelling on the Mountain or in prayer with Him is Pure Delight, bliss, metaphysical equilibrium

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi