Posts Tagged ‘the Son of Man had risen from the dead’

Prayer and Meditation for Sunday, February 25, 2018 — Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac — The Transfiguration — What Origen Says About Lent — A paschal faith therefore requires us to take the path of suffering

February 24, 2018

Second Sunday of Lent
Lectionary: 26

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Abraham’s Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio

Reading 1  GN 22:1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he replied.
Then God said:
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a holocaust
on a height that I will point out to you.”When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am!” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing—
all this because you obeyed my command.”

Responsorial Psalm PS 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19

R. (116:9) I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
I believed, even when I said,
“I am greatly afflicted.”
Precious in the eyes of the LORD
is the death of his faithful ones.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your handmaid;
you have loosed my bonds.
To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.
My vows to the LORD I will pay
in the presence of all his people,
In the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
R. I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.

Reading 2 ROM 8:31B-34

Brothers and sisters:
If God is for us, who can be against us?
He who did not spare his own Son
but handed him over for us all,
how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?
It is God who acquits us, who will condemn?
Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—
who also is at the right hand of God,
who indeed intercedes for us.

Verse Before The Gospel CF. MT 17:5

From the shining cloud the Father’s voice is heard:
This is my beloved Son, listen to him.

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Related image
The Transfiguration by Pieter Ykens

Gospel MK 9:2-10

Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
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On the Second Sunday of Lent, the church places together the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah with the story of Jesus and three disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.  Together, these stories teach us the meaning of Lenten sacrifice.

Everyone knows that Lent is about sacrifice. So it’s fitting that the first reading in the second Sunday of Lent recounts one of the most famous sacrifices of all time.

ISAAC – ABRAHAM’S LAST HOPE

Here’s the background. Abraham really only desires one thing–a son who will lead to descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky.

The only problem is that his wife is barren and advanced in years. So he tries to solve the problem in his own way, and produces a son by a slave girl. This does not prove to work out very well. Next God intervenes, works a miracle, and causes the elderly Sarah to conceive and bear a son. Isaac, then, is not only Abraham’s first-born, but also his last hope. There is absolutely nothing more precious to Abraham than his son. Indeed, to give up his son would be to give up himself.

TRUE MEANING OF SACRIFICE

This, by the way, is the true meaning of sacrifice in the ancient world. God deserves everything because he has given us everything. So ancient peoples instinctively knew that authentic sacrifice could never be just a casual nod to God. The sacrifice owed to the Creator must be big and precious enough to represent our entire lives.

That’s why human sacrifice was so prevalent in ancient times–the offering of the firstborn was seen as the only adequate worship of the gods responsible for our very existence. In Genesis 22, God stops Abraham before he slays his son. The command to sacrifice Isaac was a test to see if Abraham was truly devoted to God in faith, obedience, and gratitude. God does not want Isaac’s blood, only Abraham’s heart. So he provides a substitute, a ram, which shows the true meaning of all authentic sacrifice – we give to God something precious that represents our very selves.

THE WOOD, THE RAM & THE LAMB

But the image of Isaac carrying the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Moriah should tip us off that this story points beyond itself to a future sacrifice beyond all comprehension. The ram caught in the thicket is not the true substitute, and the true sacrifice does not take place upon Moriah.

It is the Lamb, not the ram, God’s Son, not Abraham’s, that is offered. Like Isaac, he carried the wood of the sacrifice up the slope of Mt. Calvary. But unlike Isaac, he did so freely, knowing what that sacrifice would cost him. And his sacrifice accomplishes what no animal sacrifice possibly could – the eternal salvation of all willing to accept this free gift of love.

GOD’S SACRIFICE OF LOVE

 

Actually, this is what the whole story is about. From Genesis to Revelation, the theme is the astonishing love of God. The love of the Father for his Incarnate Word: “This is my Son, my Beloved” (Mark 9:7). The love of the Father who sacrifices that beloved Son for us (John 3:16). The love of the Son who leaves behind the glory of heaven and the brilliant cloud of Mt. Tabor for the agony of Calvary.

Though it is we who owe everything to God, it is He who sacrifices everything for us. Our love for Him can only be a faint echo of His generous and unstoppable love for us. “Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?” (Romans 8:32).

OUR SACRIFICE, LISTENING PRAYER

So this is the true meaning of Lenten sacrifice. We renew and deepen our dedication to Him and express that by sacrificing something meaningful to us. But as we go about our fasting and almsgiving, let’s not forget to give him some extra time in prayer. After all, in the story of the Transfiguration, God did not ask us to give up chocolate. But, after identifying Jesus as his beloved Son, he did give us a very clear command. He said “listen to Him!”

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/sacrifice-of-isaac/

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Origen here treats of the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It is a good example of the “spiritual interpretation” of the Old Testament whereby persons, places, and things are recognized as prefiguring Christ and the realities of the New Covenant. This spiritual exegesis sees the ram and Isaac as figures or types of Jesus Christ.  Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father.

Abraham took wood for the burnt offering and placed it upon Isaac his son, and he took fire and a sword in his hands, and together they went off. Isaac himself carries the wood for his own holocaust: this is a figure of Christ. For he bore the burden of the cross, and yet to carry the wood for the holocaust is really the duty of the priest. He is then both victim and priest. This is the meaning of the expression: together they went off. For when Abraham, who was to perform the sacrifice, carried the fire and the knife, Isaac did not walk behind him, but with him. In this way he showed that he exercised the priesthood equally with Abraham.

What happens after this? Isaac said to Abraham his father: Father. This plea from the son was at that instant the voice of temptation. For do you not think the voice of the son who was about to be sacrificed struck a responsive chord in the heart of the father? Although Abraham did not waver because of his faith, he responded with a voice full of affection and asked: What is it, my son? Isaac answered him: Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust? And Abraham replied: God will provide for himself a sheep for the holocaust, my son.

The careful yet loving response of Abraham moves me greatly. I do not know what he saw in spirit, because he did not speak of the present but of the future: God will provide for himself a sheep. His reply concerns the future, yet his son inquires about the present. Indeed the Lord himself provided a sheep for himself in Christ.

Abraham extended his hand to take the sword and slay his son, and the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said: Abraham, Abraham. And he responded: Here ai M. And the angel said: Do not put your hand upon the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God. Compare these words to those of the Apostle when he speaks of God: He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. God emulates man with magnificent generosity. Abraham offered to God his mortal son who did not die, and God gave up his immortal Son who died for all of us.

 lamb-of-god ecce agnus dei

And Abraham, looking about him, saw a ram caught by the horns in a bush. We said before that Isaac is a type of Christ. Yet this also seems true of the ram. To understand how both are figures of Christ–Isaac who was not slain and the ram who was–is well worth our inquiry.

Christ is the Word of God, but the Word became flesh. Christ therefore suffered and died, but in the flesh. In this respect, the ram is the type, just as John said: Behold the lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. The Word, however, remained incorruptible. This is Christ according to the spirit, and Isaac is the type. Therefore, Christ himself is both victim and priest according to the spirit. For he offers the victim to the Father according to the flesh, and he is himself offered on the altar of the cross.

Origen was one of the greatest Christian writers of the third century and is included by many in the ranks of the Early Church Fathers.

This excerpt from a homily on Genesis 22 (Hom. 8,6 8. 9: PG 12, 206-209) by Origen treats of the Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah. It illustrates the spiritual exegesis of the Old Testament whereby the ram and Isaac are seen as s figures or types of Jesus Christ and Abraham is seen as a type of God the Father.  It is used in the Roman Catholic Divine Office of Readings for Tuesday in the Fifth (5th) week of ordinary time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from Galatians 2:11-3:14.

Origen, born into a Christian family from Alexandria Egypt around 185AD, was only a teenager when he witnessed his father, Leonidas, dragged from his home by Roman soldiers and ultimately martyred. He was inspired by his father’s heroic example to dedicate himself to a strict life of prayer, fasting and study. The bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, recognized the talent and holiness of this young man and named him head of the catechetical school of this great center of early Christianity. Origen ultimately became one of the greatest Scripture scholars and preachers of the early Church. Though he began his teaching ministry as a lay catechist, Origen was ultimately ordained a priest and wrote commentaries and homilies that influenced subsequent Early Church Fathers from both East and West. Though he did not receive the grace of martyrdom, Origen was imprisoned and brutally tortured for his faith during the persecution that took place under the emperor Decius. Weakened by his ordeal, he died a few years later in 254 AD. Though several of Origen’s teachings were condemned after his death by Church authorities, it must be remembered that his erroneous opinions were expressed in matters that had not yet been defined by official Church teaching. In his lifetime, Origen was always a loyal son of the Church whose correct opinions far outnumbered his errors. Origen’s writings were profuse indeed, though only a limited number survive. He wrote commentaries on almost every book of the Bible, with his treatise on Song of Songs, Romans, and many homilies on the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) surviving either intact or in large portions. He was the author of one of the earliest attempts at textual criticism of the Old Testament, the Hexapla, and was responsible for the first attempt at systematic theology in his famous De Principiis (On First Principles). His two works of spiritual theology, Exhortation to Martyrdom and On Prayer were widely read in the Early Church and are still read today, with many excerpts used in the Roman Office of Readings.

https://www.crossroadsinitiative.com/media/articles/abrahams-sacrifice-of-isaac-origen/

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Homily From The Abbot

Monastery of Christ in the Desert

My sisters and brothers in Christ,

Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.  That is the invitation of the readings today.  Give all and receive whatever is given back.

Although we want to give all the Lord, we often find that what the Lord wants of us seems more than we can give.  Most of us don’t have the faith that we see in Abraham in the first reading today from the Book of Genesis.  We should recognize that even the early Christian commentators on this passage found it difficult.  Would God actually ask a father to kill his own son?  This is God asking something immoral from a human.  The only answer to this difficulty is that God does not actually, in the end, ask Abraham to kill his own son.

The point of the account in Genesis is not about God asking Abraham to do something immoral, but about Abraham being willing always to do the will of God.  Abraham is called “our father in faith” because of his complete dedication to doing whatever God asks of him.

We may doubt at times what God might ask of us.  We find it difficult to accept the evil that is in our world, the bad things that happen to good people, the atrocities against people that go unpunished, the school shootings.  Always people ask how a good God can allow such evils to happen.  Yet such questions are truly not about God but about us humans with our sinfulness.  We are broken beings who don’t always choose what is right and good.  God gave us this freedom.  And we misuse our freedom.

The real question is this:  why don’t we humans always choose what is good and what is right?  The only answer is that something is broken in us.  What do we do about the brokenness?  All the laws in the world are unable to redeem us and to force us to choose good.  Only salvation from God brings about a true conversion.

And how difficult that is!  The Letter to the Romans, from which is taken the second reading today, speaks to this problem:  “Christ Jesus it is who died–or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.”  The only way of redemption is to embrace the path of God, who gave His own Son for us.

The Gospel today, from Saint Mark, is the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus.  Jesus is changed in front of his own followers, at least some of them, so that they can believe that He is truly God even when they see Him undergo crucifixion.  At the heart of our Christian believing is this deep awareness that Jesus is born for us, that Jesus dies for us and that Jesus has indeed been raised to life for us.  This is not a philosophical argument but an experienced reality of the early Christians that we later Christians have come to see as true because of their testimony.

So our readings today are clear:  seek to do the will of God in all things, believe that Christ died and was raised from the dead for us and see in the Transfiguration of Christ that we also can be transfigured by our complete belief in Him.  Let us give all to the Lord and receive from the Lord whatever He sends us.

Your brother in the Lord,

Abbot Philip

https://christdesert.org/

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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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25 FEBRUARY, 2018, Sunday, 2nd Week, Lent

A PASCHAL FAITH ENABLES US TO CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE RESURRECTION

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [GN 22:1-29-1315-18ROM 8:31-34MK 9:2-10 ]

This life is a mystery.  Life is full of ambiguities and paradoxes.  On one hand, we are blessed with many gifts, successes and happiness.  On the other hand, we know we have so many problems yet unresolved.  We live in sin and yet we know that we are not that bad to be classified as a condemned sinner. Yes, we are not perfect.  In our frustration and anxiety to put things straight, we become impatient and dissatisfied.  How are we to learn to accept such bi-polarities in life without feeling discouraged or complacent?  Indeed, we are invited today to walk by faith, not by sight; to see life dimly as though through a glass.

How are we to live our life in the face of so many dilemmas?  The answer that pervades all the readings is faith.  We are called to share the faith of Abraham, the faith of Paul and that of Jesus.  But what kind of faith is a saving faith?  It is the faith of the paschal mystery.  It is the faith that through sufferings, we come to the resurrection.  Only a paschal faith can help us to walk through the paradoxes of life.  This faith proclaims that as we walk through the journey of life, we will catch a glimpse of the resurrection.  Indeed, if the disciples were told not to tell anyone what they saw until after the resurrection, it was simply because the power of the resurrection cannot be known or experienced without the prior need of carrying our cross and embracing the sufferings of life.

A paschal faith therefore requires us to take the path of suffering.  The gospel of Mark is against an epiphany Christology.  In other words, St Mark is weary of Christians who focus too much on the glory and miracles of Jesus.  Noticeably, St Mark, unlike Luke and Matthew, did not mention the transformed face of Jesus at the Transfiguration, but only emphasized the whiteness of Jesus’ garments.  So in Mark’s understanding, the divine manifestation of Jesus can only be found at the end of that journey.  This explains why the disciples were bewildered when Jesus predicted His death and why they were instructed to keep silent about the incident until after the resurrection.

To disclose the Transfiguration before the death and resurrection of Jesus would be a wrong expression of Christology, involving glory without the cross.  The blatant truth is simply this:  No cross, no crown!  The full and final disclosure of the glory of Jesus could come only after His death and resurrection.  Hence, there is a kind of spirituality that we must avoid, a spirituality that only speaks of miracles, healings and blessings.  It is a spirituality that promotes an easy life, a life of comfort without suffering. This is false spirituality. For the passion and death of Jesus reminds us that no one can escape the path of suffering and death if he or she truly wants to find the fullness of life.

How then can we cultivate this paschal faith so that we can go through life bearing our cross and sufferings cheerfully and with certain hope that we will be victorious in the final outcome?

Firstly, the faith that is required from us is a discerning faith.  Abraham thought in his naivety that God wanted the life of His son. However, God is not a sadistic God. Of course, the intuitive faith of Abraham, even if he had perceived wrongly, was still exercised in good faith.  God does not judge our actions but our intentions.  Of course, faith today requires us to discern properly the Lord’s call.  Indeed, the story of Abraham sacrificing his son was an implicit disapproval of a primitive practice of human sacrifice.

Secondly, a paschal faith must be a trusting and obedient faith.  This is the faith of Abraham.  One would think that Abraham’s faith was great already, because he was willing to leave his homeland for a far distant country.  But to sacrifice Isaac, his only son whom he loved so dearly, which ironically was also the reward for his faith and obedience, is certainly the extreme test of faith.  Hence, Abraham is praised not so much because he was willing to sacrifice his only son but because of his total trust and obedience in God.  Abraham trusted God totally, regardless whether he understood His plan for him or not.

It is this trust that gave Abraham the courage to submit in obedience to His word.  Without trust, there can be no real obedience.  That is why obedience is not simply a blind obedience or irrational decision, but an obedience of the heart because one believes from the depth of one’s being.  Disobedience is always due to the lack of trust.  So it is Abraham’s deep intuitive trust in God’s providence and love that rendered him to submit in obedience to His divine plan.

Thirdly, the paschal faith entails a Christocentric faith.  This is the faith of St Paul.  In the face of persecutions and trials, St Paul was certain of the hope that lay before him.  He did not succumb to the sufferings in his ministry.  For he knew that in spite of his sinfulness and weaknesses, he has been reconciled to God in Christ, liberated from sin and death, empowered by the Spirit and is destined for glory.  The basis for this assurance of salvation and victory in Christ is founded on the gift from God of His only Son.  Stating his case, he said, “with God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.”

Indeed, so great is the love of God in Christ that He sacrificed His son to save us. It clearly means that God cannot be outdone in love and generosity.  When we think that we have given a lot to God or have suffered so much in this world, then stop again to think that God has suffered even much more than any of us.   When we realize this, resting on the love of God in Christ, we can be sure of a triumphant end to our sufferings in this life.

To arrive at a paschal faith, which is a discerning, trusting, obedient and Christocentric faith, we need to follow Jesus in acquiring an affective and contemplative faith.  If Jesus could follow through His mission, it was because of His absolute trust in His Father, which came from His intimacy with Him.  It is the experience of the Father’s unconditional love that empowered Jesus to go through the passion and death.

That is why the Father invites us to listen to His beloved Son.  Listening is the first step in creating trust and obedience.  We need to listen anew to what God is saying about the gift of Jesus, His only Son to us.    But we cannot listen unless we go to the mountain where, in our aloneness, God is present.  To listen is a necessary stage to prayer and contemplation.  Only in prayer, can we be enlightened and bask in the presence of God and His love, like Jesus.

When we listen and contemplate, we will be empowered. Empowerment comes from a deep encounter with God, an encounter that assures us personally that God loves us and is with us.  Only such an encounter can enable us to give ourselves to God and His will in total trust and confidence because we have a glimpse of the resurrection, so to speak, because we have experienced the overwhelming love of Jesus in our hearts and the enlightenment He has given to us to in our lives.

It is through prayer and contemplation that, like the disciples, we will behold the glory of God, not in its glory now, but the glory of God in the face of the crucified Christ.  Only because we have faced the cross with Jesus, can we proclaim to the world that the earthly life of Jesus in the world is the epiphany of the glory of God.  This we do by courageously enduring the struggles in our own lives without losing faith in sufferings.  When others see us as people of faith, not because we are successful but because we remain faithful and confident in sufferings, they will see the glory of God in our goodness, weaknesses and sinfulness.  For in us, they can see God’s strength in our weakness; and that when sin increases, grace abounds all the more.  Yes, God manifests Himself in human weakness and imperfection. By perceiving His glory in this state, we are encouraged to live our lives with great fidelity, strength and hope.

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Prayer and Meditation for Saturday, February 18, 2017 — The Essential Role of Faith For Man — “Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.”

February 17, 2017

Saturday of the Sixth Week in Ordinary Time
Lectionary: 340

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The Transfiguration Jesus by James Tissot

Reading 1 HEB 11:1-7

Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.
By faith we understand that the universe was ordered by the word of God,
so that what is visible came into being through the invisible.
By faith Abel offered to God a sacrifice greater than Cain’s.
Through this, he was attested to be righteous,
God bearing witness to his gifts,
and through this, though dead, he still speaks.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death,
and he was found no more because God had taken him.
Before he was taken up, he was attested to have pleased God.
But without faith it is impossible to please him,
for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists
and that he rewards those who seek him.
By faith Noah, warned about what was not yet seen,
with reverence built an ark for the salvation of his household.
Through this, he condemned the world
and inherited the righteousness that comes through faith.

Responsorial Psalm PS 145:2-3, 4-5, 10-11

R. (see 1) I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Every day will I bless you,
and I will praise your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD and highly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Generation after generation praises your works
and proclaims your might.
They speak of the splendor of your glorious majesty
and tell of your wondrous works.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.
Let all your works give you thanks, O LORD,
and let your faithful ones bless you.
Let them discourse of the glory of your Kingdom
and speak of your might.
R. I will praise your name for ever, Lord.

AlleluiaMK 9:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
The heavens were opened and the voice of the Father thundered:
This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel MK 9:2-13

Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents:
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
then from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, the disciples no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain,
he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone,
except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
Then they asked him,
“Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?”
He told them, “Elijah will indeed come first and restore all things,
yet how is it written regarding the Son of Man
that he must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt?
But I tell you that Elijah has come
and they did to him whatever they pleased,
as it is written of him.”

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Transfiguration of Jesus. Source – Orthodox Metropolitanate Of Singapore And South Asia
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Why Peters, James and John were Chosen Witnesses of the Transfiguration
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According to the explanation of St. John of Damascus, “the Lord took Peter in order to show that His testimony truly given to him will be affirmed by the testimony of the Father and that one should believe him in His words, that the heavenly Father revealed this testimony to him (Mt. 16:17). He took James as the one who before all the Apostles would die for Christ, to drink His cup and be baptized with His baptism (Acts 12:2). Finally, He took John, as the virgin and purest organ of Theology so that he, after having beheld the eternal glory of the Son of God, has thundered these words: ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (Jn. 1:1). Besides this on the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter who hadn’t yet spread the ideas about the suffering and death of his Teacher and Lord (Mt. 16:22), might mature in the truth of His glory, which forever remains inviolable despite all hostile efforts; James and John, awaiting the opening of the earthly kingdom of the Messiah and pursued the first places in this kingdom (Mk. 10:37), might behold the true majesty of Christ the Savior, surpassing every terrestrial power. The three disciples were under the law (Deut. 19:15) sufficient witnesses of the revelation of the glory of God and, according to the expression of St. Proclus, ‘in spirit personally represented all the others’.”
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Reflection by The Most Rev Msgr William Goh Archbishop of Singapore
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18 FEBRUARY, 2017, Saturday, 6th Week, Ordinary Time
FAITH AND VISIONS

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEBREWS 11:1-7; MARK 9:2 -13  ]

If you have paid attention to the scripture readings, you would wonder why after taking a break from the letter to the Hebrews to focus on the Book of Genesis, we return to  the Letter to the Hebrews.  This is because this chapter sums up the faith of those characters mentioned in the book of Genesis.  Why is faith critical in the Christian Religion?  This is because faith entails trust in God’s love, fidelity to His promises and His omnipotence. “Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.”  Without total trust in God, our human ego will become an obstacle for God to work in and through us.   Accordingly, the author declares that “only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.”

And he added, “It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.”  Then he went about to describe the necessary faith in the creation of the world by God who brought all things into existence; the faith of Abel who “offered God a better sacrifice than Cain”; the faith of Enoch who “was taken up and did not have to experience death”; and the faith of Noah who was asked by God to build an Ark outside his house.  All of these who placed their faith in God were counted as righteous before God and were well rewarded.

But then this call to faith in God seems to be in conflict with the visions that God also gives to man, as in today’s story of the transfiguration or the vision given to the unbelieving St Thomas after the resurrection of Jesus.  Hence the question is: does it mean that Jesus and the disciples were dispensed from faith, since faith implies believing without seeing?  On the surface it appears to be this way.  Yet, in truth, faith is presupposed before visions, and greater faith is required after visions.  How is this so?

Faith is a pre-requisite to being receptive to the signs that God gives to us.  Signs are not proofs.  There is no pure naked faith that is not supplied by some signs.  Otherwise we can fall into the danger of fideism, which is to believe without a reasonable basis for doing so.  Credulity is as dangerous as rationalism, the latter which demands that things must be proven beyond doubt before one would believe.  Credulity is not faith, but sloth and irresponsibility.  Rationalism is against faith, because one trusts only in one’s knowledge and wisdom.  One reduces the power and wisdom of God to his limited knowledge and wisdom.  Fideism is against faith because it fails to respect the gift of intellect given to man.

Truly, all the visions found in the Bible and our own visions remain at best signs to point us to a greater mystery, namely, God Himself.  At Jesus’ baptism, and once again at the Transfiguration, faith is required to perceive that what they saw and heard is from God.  It could be their imagination or even a hallucination and mass hypnotism.  So without faith, we can try to explain away any marvelous events that happen in this life.  And when confronted with the totally inexplicable, without faith, we can respond like many atheists do, that we will find the scientific answer one day.  But with faith, like the disciples, we will view these visions or works of wonders as means by which God elicits our response in faith and love.  With faith, we begin to see and hear more than what the person without faith could.

Nevertheless, visions cannot be substituted for faith. Vision presupposes faith, and once perceived, it calls for a greater contemplation on the mystery experience.  We can be sure that for Jesus and the disciples, after the revelation of the Father at Jesus’ baptism and at the Transfiguration, they continued to contemplate and draw out the deeper meaning of the vision that took place.  It is significant that Jesus purposely began His public mission after His baptism when He was anointed by the Holy Spirit, having experienced in a radical manner, Himself as the Son of the Father and the Suffering Servant of Yahweh in the Book of Isaiah.  In the same manner, it was after the Transfiguration that Jesus again resolutely took the road to Jerusalem, the place of His suffering and glory.

In truth, visions invite us to a deeper faith.  More often than not, after encountering a vision, things become even more confused.  That visions invite us to grow in faith can also be glimpsed from the reaction of the disciples.  “As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah has to come first?’”  Indeed, understanding one’s vision takes time.

Vision does not clarify everything all at once, and clearly.  It is only a vehicle to make us deepen our faith further by ongoing study, contemplation and prayer.  One begins to ask more questions and seek clarification. Quite often, understanding the full significance of the vision might take years, if not a lifetime.  And if a vision commands us to act, it is even more daunting, as one is called to act by faith, not by sight.  Only because they asked and inquired further, seeking to understand their vision and grow in faith, did Jesus instruct them that “Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’”  Even then, they could not understand what Jesus told them.  Otherwise, how do we explain the disciples’ abandonment of Jesus when He was arrested by the soldiers, or their disbelief when told of Jesus’ resurrection?   Similarly, Jesus, too, in spite of the Father’s affirmation of His Sonship and mission, had to endure the agony in the garden of Gethsemane and surrender in faith to the Father’s will.

Finally, those who have received visions are expected to have a greater faith by surrendering their lives to God. This was true of Abraham and all the prophets of the Old Testament when, after being called, they were asked to prophesy to the people of God at the risk of death.  So, too, the apostles, after encountering the Lord, were sent out to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth.  One can say that no one receives a vision just for himself or herself, but it is at the service of a mission which requires much faith, perseverance and endurance, because the mission entails suffering and even martyrdom.  Indeed, one can be certain that one has a real vision when the vision inspires him to give his life entirely to God who gave that message to him.  Unless vision is followed by action, that vision is placed in doubt.  In a nutshell, an authentic vision must manifest the fruits and actions of the Holy Spirit at work in his or her life.

How should we be disposed to vision?  A vision cannot be engineered by us.  That would be hallucination, as it lacks objective reality.  Vision, if ever given, is the sheer grace of God at work in us.  We can of course be disposed to vision by being docile to the Lord.  Of course, not all have great visions.  In many ways, all of us have our mini-transfiguration experiences, especially in prayer.  Through our intimacy with God, in listening and dialogue, we can encounter Him speaking to us, directing and through inspiration.  That is what the Father says to us when He told us, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.”  Like the Psalmist, if we ponder the wonders of God in our lives, we will encounter the majesty and glory of God.

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Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore 
 

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Lectio Divina From The Carmelites

Gospel Reading – Mark 9,2-13
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Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain on their own by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became brilliantly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking to Jesus.
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Then Peter spoke to Jesus, ‘Rabbi,’ he said, ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say; they were so frightened.
And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus.
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As they were coming down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what ‘rising from the dead’ could mean. And they put this question to him, ‘Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?’
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He said to them, ‘Elijah is indeed first coming to set everything right again; yet how is it that the scriptures say about the Son of man that he must suffer grievously and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the scriptures say about him.’
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Reflection
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• Today’s Gospel speaks about two facts linked between them: the Transfiguration of Jesus and the question of the return of the Prophet Elijah. At that time people were waiting for the return of the Prophet Elijah.
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Today many people are waiting for the return of Jesus and write on the walls of the city: Jesus will return! They are not aware that Jesus has returned already and is present in our life. Some times as a sudden lightening, this presence of Jesus bursts into our life and enlightens it, transfiguring it.
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• The Transfiguration of Jesus takes place after the first announcement of the death of Jesus (Mk 8, 27-30). This announcement had disturbed or upset the mind of the disciples, especially of Peter (Mk 8, 31-33). They were among the poor, but their mind was lost in the ideology of government and of the religion of the time (Mk 8, 15). The Cross was an obstacle to believe in Jesus. The Transfiguration of Jesus will help the disciples to overcome the trauma of the Cross.
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• In the years 70’s when Mark wrote, the Cross continued to be a great impediment for the Jews, to accept Jesus as Messiah. They said: “The Cross is a scandal!” (1 Co 1, 23). One of the greatest efforts of the first Christians consisted in helping persons to perceive that the cross was neither a scandal, nor madness, but rather the expression of the power and the wisdom of God (1 Co 1, 22-31). Mark contributes to this. He uses the texts and the figure of the Old Testament to describe the Transfiguration. In this way he indicates that Jesus sees the realization of the prophecies and the Cross was a way toward Glory.
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• Mark 9, 2-4: Jesus changes appearance. Jesus goes up a high mountain. Luke says that he goes up to pray (Lk 9, 28). Up there, Jesus appears in the glory before Peter, James and John. Together with him appear Moses and Elijah. The high mountain evokes Mount Sinai, where in the past, God had manifested his will to the people, handing them the Law. The white clothes remind us of Moses with a radiant face when he spoke with God on the Mountain and received the Law (cfr. Ex 43, 29-35) Elijah and Moses, the two greatest authorities of the Old Testament, speak with Jesus. Moses represents the Law, Elijah, the prophecy. Luke informs on the conversation concerning the “exodus of Jesus”, that is, the Death of Jesus in Jerusalem (Lk 9, 31). It is then clear that the Old Testament, both the Law as well as the prophecy, already taught that for the Messiah Servant the way to glory had to go through the Cross!
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• Mark 9, 5-6: Peter is pleased, likes this, but he does not understand. Peter is pleased and he wants to keep this pleasant moment on the Mountain. He offers to build three tents. Mark says that Peter was afraid, without knowing what he was saying, and Luke adds that the disciples were sleepy (Lk 9, 32). They were like us: they had difficulty to understand the Cross!
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• Mark 9, 7-9: The voice from Heaven clarifies the facts. When Jesus was covered by the glory, a voice came from the cloud and said: This is my Son the Beloved! Listen to him! The expression: “Beloved Son” reminds us of the figure of the Messiah Servant, announced by the prophet Isaiah (cfr. Is 42, 1). The expression: “Listen to him!” reminds us of the prophecy which promised the coming of a new Moses (cf. Dt 18, 15). In Jesus, the prophecies of the Old Testament are being fulfilled. The disciples can no longer doubt. Jesus is truly the glorious Messiah whom they desired, but the way to the glory passes through the cross, according to what was announced by the prophecy of the Servant (Is 53, 3-9). The glory of the Transfiguration proves this. Moses and Elijah confirm it. The Father guarantees it. Jesus accepts it. At the end, Mark says that, after the vision, the disciples saw only Jesus and nobody else. From now on, Jesus is the only revelation of God for us! Jesus is alone, the key to understand all of the Old Testament.
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• Mark 9, 9-10: To know how to keep silence. Jesus asked the disciples to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of man had risen from the dead, but the disciples did not understand. In fact, they did not understand the meaning of the cross which links suffering to the resurrection. The Cross of Jesus is the proof that life is stronger than death.
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• Mark 9, 11-13: The return of the Prophet Elijah. The Prophet Malachi had announced that Elijah would return to prepare the path for the Messiah (Ml 3, 23-24): this same announcement is found in the Book of Ecclesiasticus/Ben Sira (Si 48, 10). And then, how could Jesus be the Messiah if Elijah had not yet returned? This is why the disciples asked: Why do the Scribes say that before Elijah has to come?” (9, 111). The response of Jesus is clear: “But I tell you Elijah has come and they have treated him as they pleased, just as the Scriptures say about him” (9, 13). Jesus was speaking about John the Baptist who was killed by Herod (Mt 17, 13).
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Personal questions
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• Has your faith in Jesus given you some moment of transfiguration and of intense joy? How do these moments of joy give you strength in times of difficulty?
• How can we transfigure today, our personal and family life as well as our community life?
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Concluding Prayer
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All goes well for one who lends generously,
who is honest in all his dealing;
for all time to come he will not stumble,
for all time to come the upright will be remembered. (Ps 112,5-6)
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