Our life can be an experience of desolation and consolation. There are ebbs and flows in which we experience trials and also celebrate joys. The key to living a life of faith is to see God in both experiences. Jesus today provides an opportunity for Peter, James, and John, the inner circle of the Twelve, to experience an expression of his divinity as “he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them” (Mk 9:2-3). Jesus revealed his divine nature to his disciples in a powerful display to prepare them for the Passion that he was about to enter into. The experience is also a foreshadowing of the Resurrection.
Jesus invites us to experience the Transfiguration, the Passion, and the Resurrection in our own lives. We can miss a transfigured moment, when we assume a posture of pride, not acknowledging God’s leading by believing we achieved or arrived at our present station in life on our own merits. We can experience moments of transfiguration when we acknowledge that God breaks into our lives at that moment when we needed him the most and recognize the assistance he has given us, and/or when he has revealed to us the path and direction we were to take. The natural response is to offer prayers of thanksgiving, recognizing that we don’t go it alone, that God and those he sends to help us are a tremendous support.
Jesus does not abandon us but is present in our desolations. Many of us run from our suffering, we are afraid of the cross. But it is through the cross that we come to experience the resurrection. We may not be aware, but when we run away from our suffering we are running away from Jesus who awaits us with arms wide open in our suffering, to comfort us, heal us, and transform us. But to embrace Jesus, we need to be willing to embrace our suffering. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not advocating that we go and look for suffering or bring it upon ourselves. We live in a fallen world, we will experience plenty of suffering.
The older I get, the crucifix becomes more and more a consolation. This icon of Jesus, his body broken, emptied out for us on the cross represents how he entered into and took upon himself the full range of our human condition. He assumed our sin, pride, fear, and selfishness, and transformed the worst of our fallen nature through his love such that we are offered the gift of redemption. Jesus does not define us by our worst mistakes. The crucifix is not a sign of despair, but of hope, reminding us that no matter what we go through Jesus has experienced it also and will be present with us.
Looking at Jesus on the Cross has provided me with moments of hope, that illness or even death does not have the final answer in this life. As he looks down from the cross he was willing to be nailed to, he continues to be willing to draw close to us and love us in our weaknesses, failures, illness, mourning, and pain. His arms are wide open inviting us to bring our heavy burdens to lay them at his feet, so that we may be healed, renewed, and transformed by the love he has for us, shown in his act of giving his life for us. Let us allow Jesus to love us so we may love ourselves and others into and through our consolations and the desolations.
Photo: Crucifix in the main sanctuary of Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Retreat Center, Palm Beach Gardens, FL.
“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father” (Mt 5:43-45). With these words, Jesus continues to raise the bar of discipleship and outlines what the pursuit of love truly is.
For many people, as Bob Dylan wrote and Joan Baez has sung, “love is just a four-letter word.” But the love that Jesus calls us to is not romantic, emotional, or mere sentiment, though this may be healthy in that when we have feelings of infatuation we are drawn out from ourselves to another, but this kind of love has no depth and is based on physical or emotional attraction, and if it is to be real it must mature to the level of friendship.
The bond of friendship and family goes beyond mere attraction and is built through shared interests and experiences. Through sharing our lives with others, working through conflicts, trust is built, and relationships will hopefully grow and deepen. Jesus, though, is calling us to mature in our growth of loving even beyond friendship or familial ties. If we love those who willingly love us in return, greet only our brothers and sisters, only those in our clique, group, tribe, or political party, what is the recompense or satisfaction in that? Agape, in Greek, loving without conditions, with little or no chance of mutual exchange, is what Jesus is calling us to strive for.
Many of us could not conceive of loving our enemy or someone who is persecuting us, because we have, at best only experienced doing no overt harm to others and loved our friends and family. But do we risk going outside of our group, our like-minded safety net? Life is hard enough and it is often safer, we believe, not to take the risk. We continue to operate from a concept of love as an emotion or feeling, because it feels good, even though without something deeper this love does not last.
How can Jesus ask us to love an enemy or pray for someone who persecutes us? St. Thomas Aquinas can be of help. He defines the love that Jesus describes as willing the good of the other as other. We make an act of the will, a free choice to accept the person as they are, to see them, not from our limited finite perspective but as God sees them, as a person with dignity. Can we pray for, embrace thoughts of support for, assume a posture of understanding, visualize positive interactions with, actively offer kind words, and resist reacting toward those who we consider as different than us? Can we resist judging and labeling others?
On our own, we may not even conceive of the possibility, but we can be assured that if Jesus has asked us to strive for this height and depth of love, he will provide the means and support. We love others unconditionally by allowing Jesus to love others through us. We love one person at a time and strive to reach the summit of loving our enemy. Even if we fall short, how much better would our country and the world be if we sought this as our goal? To counter divisiveness, fear, and hatred, we need to choose to engage in an act of the will to love one another as Jesus loves us.
Pope Francis and Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb have modeled the fruit of dialogue and a willingness to engage in mutual brotherhood when they first met at the Vatican in 2016. Since that time they have collaborated to draft the document, “A Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together” which they both presented and signed while meeting together in Abu Dhabi two years ago on February 4. They met again virtually this past February 4 to celebrate the first International Day of Human Fraternity. Pope Francis summed up the importance of their collaboration when he said, “Fraternity is the new frontier for humanity. It is the challenge of our century, the challenge of our times. There is no time for indifference. Either we are brothers and sisters or we will destroy each other…. A world without fraternity is a world of enemies.”
Pope Francis and Grand Imam Dr. Ahmad sign human fraternity document in Adu Dhabi, February 4, 2019. Photo credit: AFP (L’Agence France-Presse)