Feast of the Transfiguration
August 6, 2017
How’s your prayer life? Mine has been consistent but I have never found myself in that mystical place like Daniel did in his prayer, seeing the Ancient one on a throne of flames and wheels of burning fire. Nor have I ever had a mountaintop moment like Peter and James and John, hearing God’s voice coming from the clouds. As I said, my prayer is, at best, (but not always) consistent. It mostly sustains me, gets me by, helps me to do what I have to do. But like most of you, I suspect, I always hunger for a deeper level, a more consistent practice, a more fruitful experience in my prayer life.
It was in that mindset that I was praying the Gospel account from today’s feast and realized that while it has abundant layers of meaning, one of those layers teaches a whole lot about prayer, our personal prayer and even our communal prayer.
Jesus went up the mountain to pray. That’s what he did. When he prayed he went to an out of the way place: the mountain, the desert, the garden. He needed his space. Good prayer requires us to find that space. It doesn’t have to be a mountain; it could be at the side of your bed, or a particular chair, or the familiar walk around the neighborhood. It could be in your garden or in the deer stand or even in the bathtub. But we need that space, space that is dedicated, at least for a certain time, for nothing but prayer. The need for that space of prayer is also why we build and maintain our churches; it’s why we put chapels in hospitals and prisons; we need to create that space to pray- alone and for our community.
While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. The goal of prayer is to be transformed, to be changed. We may never achieve the level of transfiguration that Jesus did in prayer, but the intention of all prayer is that we change, and in changing, we become, in a sense, an illumination for others to change. If prayer is to accomplish what God wants prayer to accomplish, it means that something should happen to us; in small, personal, maybe undetectable ways, but we change. And that change allows us to be the illumination, the inspiration that others need to also change. That happens on a person-to-person level in families and among friends when we are around other prayerful, holy people. It happens on a community level, too. The presence of a community gathering in prayer says something to others passing by. And how often, when a small group of people gathers to pray at the site of some tragedy, it can bring a nation to its knees? It’s what prayer is meant to do. It changes us and it changes others.
He spoke with Moses and Elijah. We must always remember that we are never alone in our prayer. When the church gathers, we don’t gather alone; we gather in union with all the Saints. It is an undeniable tenant of our faith. When we lift up our prayers – when we gather as a community and when we pray by ourselves, others are always joining with us. In my prayer room, hanging on one wall are icons of saints, and on the wall over my shoulder are photos of my grandparents, and on the shelf in the corner are photos of priests and others that have been a part of my life: Fr. Bernie, Fr. Mike and Fr. John, Frank McMorran, holy men that I know join me in prayer. They all help me to remember that when I pray I am not alone. To unite our prayers with those like Moses and Elijah and all the holy men and women of the past, the saints, is to remind us that that we are never alone in our prayer.
This is my beloved Son; listen to him. This is probably the most important thing the Feast of the Transfiguration has to teach us about prayer: prayer is about listening. Listen, before all else, for that voice of God that reminds us that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God. Listen to God’s voice that echoes in the most shallow and sinful chambers of our bodies, and listen in the shouts of joy that can hardly be contained within our bodies. Listen to the voice of God say, “You are my beloved. I love you.”
And finally: Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. There were some pretty cool things going on up on that mountain that day and Peter thought they should just stay a while. But, like Jesus always did after praying, he came down the mountain. There was more to do. Prayer that does not lead into action is self-serving and if I can be so bold, pretty selfish. Jesus went to the desert to pray and when he came back he began his ministry; he went up the mountain to pray and when he came back he chose his disciples; he went off to an alone place to pray and when he came back he found the strength to continue healing the sick and suffering. He prayed at the Passover Meal so that he could face the suffering that awaited him; his prayer in the garden led him to face and forgive his accusers; his prayer on the altar of the cross gave him the courage to die, to be the sacrifice of humankind. Prayer, real prayer, will always lead us into action, to do what needs to be done.
At the end of every Mass is the dismissal: “The Mass has ended- …go now in peace…go and announce the Gospel…go glorifying the Lord by your life…go to love and serve the Lord and one another. It’s what we do; we pray and then go - and do what needs to be done.