In today’s Gospel, when the Apostles, Peter, James and John saw Jesus’ face and clothing being transformed and became bright and brilliant as lightning, they saw the divine nature of Jesus. The apostles were so moved spiritually by the experience that Peter wanted to remain in it all the times. So he suggested to Jesus, “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.
We are each created in the image and likeness of God; we belong to Him. Deep within each of us, we yearn to be united with God. This yearning for God is our natural longings as sons and daughters of God. This belonging and relationship with God defines our deepest and most authentic identity of who we are as human beings in this world. And, it is this identity that Peter glimpsed and was connected to at the Transfiguration that moved him to experience deep spiritual consolations.
When we talk of our identities, many are confused because we are not very conscious that we have created two other identities that are different from our deepest identities as sons and daughters of God. The first identity that we have formed for ourselves is our “false identity” where we have traded our true identity as sons and daughters of God with a secular self-image. In today’s secular society, our self-image is very much dominated and determined by how we look, what we dress, what position we hold in society and the like. Our feel good factor and a sense of self-worth is very closely associated with the brand of handbag that we carry, the latest Blackberry IT gadgets, the car we drive and fashion that we have, the youthfulness of our appearances and the like are all the different secular images that the world has churned out for us to uphold as our ideals and dreams in life. The psychology behind this “false identity” is what we have, wear, eat and look like are what we are in life.
The second type of identity is human relationship based. This identity is generally positive and good as it is an identity that goes beyond the self to that of our close association with our family. Many people live solely for their family; outside their own family needs the reality of life and what really happens to the suffering people in the world e.g. the beggars in the street or the poor in Haiti does not really affect them. While providing for our family needs is good, it is not the identity that Jesus preached and taught.
The third type of identity is what Jesus in the Gospel preaches and teaches. In this identity we are more than what we have and possess; we are precious sons and daughters of God the Father. In this identity we live our lives for God, in God and through God. My Novice Master, Fr Geoffrey Murphy was such a person. When he returned home to Ireland to visit his family, he fell very ill and was diagnosed to have 3 rd stage cancer of the liver. Even as he was very ill, he frequently asked about how his novices were doing and even tried to persuade his doctors to allow him to return to Malaysia where he wished to die and be buried. His request was rejected by his doctors as he was too weak to travel.
In this illustration, we see how Fr Murphy’s identity is beyond his national identity. As an Irish national, he was in his own country of birth in Ireland, yet his heart’s desires was to die in Malaysia, the country in which he had served apostolically and given much of his life to. Fr Murphy has identified himself more fully with the people he served, than with his national identity. His love for God was deeper than his love for his country.
Late Fr Geoffrey Murphy, S.J. (1922 - 1985)
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we can understand why Peter wanted to remain on the mountain. If we were to experience God in such an intense manner, we too would naturally not want the spiritual consolation to come to an end. This is because when God gives us the gift of experiencing Him in a deep personal way, our hearts would be filled with great joy, happiness and love for Him. We would be so fired up by the Holy Spirit that we would literally be willing to do anything for Him, give up anything because of Him and go anywhere just to serve Him.
During moments of deep spiritual consolations, nothing seems to matter except wanting to give our whole life to God and desiring to love and serve Him for all eternity. And even as we know that concretely such commitment to God also means embracing the sacrifices and crosses that come our way, the Spirit would still give us the great courage and the immense zeal and joy“to listen to Jesus” and to say “yes” and follow Him where ever He goes and however He wants us to love and serve Him.
Thus, it is my belief that when Jesus told Peter that they should not remain on the mountain of spiritual consolation, but leave and descend to the reality of the crowds and serve them in the daily drudgeries and difficulties of life, Peter would have accepted it willingly, even though he did not see the logical sense of why they could not remain in the blissful state of peace of the presence of God in the Transfiguration.
Thus, when Peter was asked to be the “rock” on which the Church is to be built, he obeyed out of love for God even though he could not comprehend its meaning. When Mary was called to be the mother of the Son of God, she too could not comprehend its meaning, but accepted God’s Will willingly, out of love for God. When all the saints and martyrs of our Church, when our late Pope John Paul II, Blessed Mother Teresa and even our present Archbishop was asked to accept God’s Will to serve Him, they all did not fully comprehend the meaning of God’s Will, but accepted it out of love for God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, it is my belief that today, as you and I hear the Gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus proclaimed to us, God too is asking you and I; young or old, all of us without exception, to reflect on our lives and get in touch with ourselves once again and ask ourselves, “What are our identity based on?” Do we draw happiness and meaning in life from our possessions, positions and prestige in life and thus live by the first type of the secular and false identity?
Or do we live primarily and solely by associating ourselves closely to what we are doing for our families and have basically cut off the rest of the reality of the world in our lives?
Or are we willingly to say “yes” to God’s invitation to renew our relationship with Him as His precious son and daughter? Do we love Him enough to say “yes” like Peter and the thousands of believers like our Mother Teresa, our Archbishop and the like who said “yes” to live in God’s ways? If we are truly able to accept God’s invitation then we can be sure that we are encountering our deepest and most authentic self.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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