Monday, August 07, 2006

The Transfiguration (In a culture in search of "Meaning")

Moses sees God in the Face:

“Moses said, `I pray thee, show me thy glory.’ And he said, `I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name “The Lord;” and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will how mercy. But,’ he said, `you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.’ And the Lord said, `Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand upon the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”[1]

Comment: Moses asks for a more intimate knowledge of God – to see his glory, that is, to see him as he really is. But…it is not possible for man, given his creaturely limitations, to fully comprehend God. The Bible frequently refers to the fact that `no one can see the face of God and live’ (cf. 20; Gen 32, 30; Ex. 1921; Deut. 4, 33; Judg. 6, 22-23). To show the sublime greatness of God, Scripture says that even the Seraphim hide their face in the presence of the Lord (cf. Is. 6, 2).

“The vision of God described so mysteriously here is a work of special for to Moses, his special friend (cf. Num. 12, 7-8; Deut. 34, 10). But not even he is allowed to see God directly; he will see only the back of him, as if to say that man can only manage to see God in the tracks he leaves behind. This vision was a very special privilege, and it is one which will also be given to Elijah[2] (cf. 1 [3] Kings 19, 9-13). And it is in fact these two men who appear in the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor (cf. Mt. 17, 1-7), where Christ’s divinity is revealed. Only Christ has seen God and has made him known (cf. Jn. 1, 18). The blessed in heaven will attain the fullest vision of God (cf. 1 Cor. 31, 12; 1 Jn. 3, 2) (Navarre Bible, Pentateuch, 386, 392).

The Brilliance of the Face of One Who Has Seen God: The Apostolate!

“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. And when Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the people of Israel came near and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone; and Moses would put the veil upon his face again, until he went into speak with him.”[3]

Ratzinger on Who is Jesus Christ, and How is He Known:

“According to Luke, Jesus had spent the night which preceded this event [the calling of the twelve] at prayer on the mountain: the calling of the Twelve proceeds from prayer, from the Son’s converse with the Father. The Church is born in that prayer in which Jesus gives himself back into the Father’s hands and the Father commits everything to the Son. This most profound communication of Son and Father conceals the Church’s true and ever-new origin, which is also her firm foundation (Lk. 6, 12-17).”

“Again it is Luke who shows that Jesus put the crucial question of how the disciples stood toward him at the very moment when they had begun to share in the hiddenness of his prayer. In this way the Evangelist makes it clear that Peter had grasped and expressed the most fundamental reality of the person of Jesus as a result of having seen him praying, in fellowship with the Father. According to Luke, we see who Jesus is if we see him at prayer. The Christian confession of faith comes from participating in the prayer of Jesus, from being drawn into his payer and being privileged to behold it; it interprets the experience of Jesus’ prayer, and its interpretation of Jesus is correct because it springs from a sharing in what is most personal and intimate to him.

“Thus we have arrived at both the very basis and the abiding precondition of the Christian confession of faith: only by entering into Jesus’ solitude
[4], only by participating in what is most personal to him, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity. This is the only way to understand him and to grasp what `following Jesus’ means. The Christian confession is not a neutral proposition; it is prayer, only yielding its meaning within prayer. The person who has beheld Jesus’ intimacy with his Father and has come to understand him from within is called to be a `rock’ of the Church. The Church arises out of participation in the prayer of Jesus (cf. Lk. 9, 18-20; Mt. 16, 13-20).”

The Transfiguration:

“My third example is the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration `on the mountain.’ In the Gospels, `the mountain is always the realm of prayer, of being with the Father. It was to this `mountain’ that Jesus had taken the Three who formed the core of the community of the Twelve: Peter, James and John. `As he was praying, the appearance of his countenance was altered,’ Luke tells us (9, 29). Thus he makes it plain that the Transfiguration only renders visible what is actually taking place in Jesus’ prayer: he is sharing in God’s radiance and hence in the manner in which the true meaning of the Old Testament – and of all history – is being made visible, i.e., revelation. Jesus’ proclamation proceeds from this participation in God’s radiance, God’s glory, which also involves a seeing with the eyes of God – and therefore an unfolding of what was hidden. So Luke also shows the unity of revelation and prayer in the person of Jesus: both are rooted in the mystery of Sonship… Thus Luke suggests that the whole of Christology – our speaking of Christ – is nothing other than the interpretation of his prayer: the entire person of Jesus is contained in his prayer.”

Ratzinger now reaches his climax by explaining the theological epistemology that is at the heart of his thought:

“Thesis 3: Since the center of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.”

“Let us begin here with a very general matter of epistemology. By nature, knowledge depends on a certain similarity between the knower and the known. The old axiom is that like is known by like. In matters of the mind and where persons are concerned, this means that knowledge calls for a certain degree of empathy, by which we enter, so to speak, into the person or intellectual reality concerned, become one with him or it, and thus become able to understand (intellegere = ab intus legere).

[This is a “new” logic differs from our “ordinary” logic built on sensation, the formation of symbols (concepts) and syllogisms whereby we think “objectively.” It is the same kind of conclusion that Karol Wojtyla came to in his thesis on Faith According to St. John of the Cross: “only through charity and the gifts is infused faith the proportionate means of intimate union with God”[5]. St. John talked of the dark night of the soul because the whole self as gift was the “proportionate likeness” to the revealing Person of Christ who was self-gift from the Father as Word-Likeness, or Revelation of Himself. Therefore, Cardinal Ratzinger explained (1993) why a “universal catechism” was published at this time: “The reason is that today we are in a situation exactly like that at the time of the Council of Trent, which, held in the middle of the 16th century, marked the dawn of modern times.
"Now we are close to the end of a millennium and in an entirely new historical period, indicated by schemas of thought, science, technology, culture and civilization, breaking completely with all that we knew previously.
This is why it was necessary to reformulate the logic and the sum total of the Christian faith. This is the fruit of a reflection, over some years, by the universal Church to rethink, re-articulate and bring up-to-date her doctrine”

“We can illustrate this with a couple of examples. Philosophy can only be acquired if we philosophize, if we carry through the process of philosophical thought; mathematics can only be appropriated if we think mathematically; medicine can only be learned in the practice of healing, never merely by means of books and reflection. Similarly, religion can only be understood through religion – an undisputed axiom in more recent philosophy of religion. The fundamental actof religion is prayer, which in Christian religion acquires a very specific character: it is the act of self-surrender by which we enter the Body of Christ. Thus it is an act of love. As love, in and with the Body of Christ, it is always both love of God love of neighbor, knowing and fulfilling itself as love for the members of this Body.

“In Thesis 1 we saw that prayer was the central act of the person of Jesus and indeed, that this person is constituted by the act of prayer, of unbroken communication with the one he calls `Father.’ If this is the case, it is only possible really to understand this person by entering into this act of prayer, by participating in it. This is suggested by Jesus’ saying that no one can come to him unless the Father draws him (Jn. 6, 44). Where there is not Father, there is no Son. Where there is no relationship with God, there can be no understanding of him who, in his innermost self, is nothing but relationship with God, the Father – although one can doubtless establish plenty of details about him. Therefore a participation in the mind of Jesus, i.e., in his prayer, which (as we have seen) is an act of love, of self-giving and self-expropriation to men, is not some kind of pious supplement to reading the Gospels, adding nothing to knowledge of him or even being an obstacle to the rigorous purity of critical knowing. On the contrary, it is the basic precondition if real understanding, in the sense of modern hermeneutics – i.e., the entering-in to the same time and the same meaning – is to take place.
“The New Testament continually reveals this state of affairs and thus provides the foundation for a theological epistemology. Here is simply one example: when Ananias was sent to Paul to receive him into the Church, he was reluctant and suspicious of Paul; the reason given to him was this: go to him `for he is praying’ (Acts 9. 11). In prayer, Paul is moving toward the moment when he will be freed from blindness and will begin to see, not only exteriorly, but interiorly as well. The person who prays begins to see; praying and seeing go together because – as Richard of St. Victor says - `Love is the faculty of seeing.’ Real advances in Christology, therefore, can never come merely as the result of the theology of the schools, and that includes the modern theology as we find it in critical exegesis, in the history of doctrine and in an anthropology oriented toward the human sciences, etc. All this is important, as important as schools are. But it is insufficient. It must be complemented by the theology of the saints, which is theology from experience. All real progress in theological understanding has it origin in the eye of love and in its faculty of beholding.”[7]

The above found a central place in the major document of John Paul II – Novo Millennio Ineunte (19-20):

“ Engaging in a kind of first evaluation of his mission, Jesus asks his disciples what "people" think of him, and they answer him: "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets" (Mt 16:14). A lofty response to be sure, but still a long way — by far — from the truth. The crowds are able to sense a definitely exceptional religious dimension to this rabbi who speaks in such a spellbinding way, but they are not able to put him above those men of God who had distinguished the history of Israel. Jesus is really far different! It is precisely this further step of awareness, concerning as it does the deeper level of his being, which he expects from those who are close to him: "But who do you say that I am?" (Mt 16:15). Only the faith proclaimed by Peter, and with him by the Church in every age, truly goes to the heart, and touches the depth of the mystery: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16).
20. How had Peter come to this faith? And what is asked of us, if we wish to follow in his footsteps with ever greater conviction? Matthew gives us an enlightening insight in the words with which Jesus accepts Peter's confession: "Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (16:17). The expression "flesh and blood" is a reference to man and the common way of understanding things. In the case of Jesus, this common way is not enough. A grace of "revelation" is needed, which comes from the Father (cf. ibid.). Luke gives us an indication which points in the same direction when he notes that this dialogue with the disciples took place when Jesus "was praying alone" (Lk 9:18). Both indications converge to make it clear that we cannot come to the fullness of contemplation of the Lord's face by our own efforts alone, but by allowing grace to take us by the hand. Only the experience of silence and prayer offers the proper setting for the growth and development of a true, faithful and consistent knowledge of that mystery which finds its culminating expression in the solemn proclamation by the Evangelist Saint John: "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father (1:14).”

Prime Example of this Epistemology in the Fathers of the Church:

St. Gregory of Nyssa:

“In our human life bodily health is a good thing, but this blessing consists not merely in knowing the causes of good health but in actually enjoying it. If a man eulogies good health and then eats food that has unhealthy effects, what good is his praise of health when he finds himself on a sickbed? Similarly, from the Lord’s saying: Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God, we are to learn that blessedness does not lie in knowing something about God, but rather in possessing God within oneself.

"I do not think these words meant that God will be seen face to face by the man who purifies the eye of his soul. Their sublime import is brought out more clearly perhaps in that other saying of the Lord’s: The kingdom of God is within you. This teaches us that the man who cleanses his heart of every created thing and every evil desire will see the image of the divine nature in the beauty of his own soul. I believe the lesson summed up by the Word in that short sentence was this: You men have within you a desire to behold the supreme good. Now when you are told that the majesty of God is exalted above the heavens, that his glory is inexpressible, his beauty indescribable, and his nature transcendent, do not despair because you cannot behold the object of your desire. If by a diligent life of virtue you wash away the film of dirt that covers your heart, then the divine beauty will shine forth in you.

“Take a piece of iron as an illustration. Although it might have been black before, once the rust has been scraped off with a whetstone, it will begin to shine brilliantly and to reflect the rays of the sun. So it is with the interior man, which is what the Lord means by the heart. Once a man removes from his soul the coating of filth that has formed on it through his sinful neglect, he will regain his likeness to his Archetype, and be good. For what resembles the supreme Good is itself good. If he then looks into himself, he will see the vision he has longed for. This is the blessedness of the pure of heart: in seeing their own purity they see the divine Archetype mirrored in themselves.

“Those who look at the sun in a mirror, even if they do not look directly at the sky, see its radiance in the reflection just as truly as do those who look directly at the sun’s orb. It is the same, says the Lord, with you. Even though you are unable to contemplate and see the inaccessible light, you will find what you seek within yourself, provided you return to the beauty and grace of that image which was originally placed in you. For God is purity; gee is free from sin and a stranger to all evil. If your mind is untainted by any evil, free from sin, and purified from all stain, then indeed are you blessed, because your sight is keen and clear. Once purified, you see things that others cannot see. When the mists of sin no longer cloud the eye of your soul, you see that blessed vision clearly in the peace and purity of your own heart. That vision is nothing else than the holiness, the purity, the simplicity and all the other glorious reflections of God’s nature, through which God himself is seen.”[8]

To Find the Face of Christ in Ordinary Life = To Find “Meaning” of Life’s Events

Contemplative Life in the Street: “Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it” (St. Josemaria Escriva, "Passionately Loving the World")

That “something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations” is the ontological experience of self-transcendence, of going out of self in the performance of ordinary secular work. And this “going out” takes place by learning how to live a plan of life that involves mental prayer, Holy Mass, reading of Scripture, rosary and the attempt to “pray the work. St. Josemaria Escriva says: “We start with vocal prayers which many of us have been saying since we were children. They are made up of simple, ardent phrases addressed to God and to his Mother, who is our Mother as well. I still renew, morning and evening, and not just occasionally but habitually, the offering I learned from my parents: `O my Lady, my Mother! I offer myself entirely to you, and in proof of my filial love, I consecrate to you this day my eyes, my ears, my tongue, my heart…’ Is this not, in some way, a beginning of contemplation, an evident expression of trusting self-abandonment? What do lovers say when they meet? How do they behave? They sacrifice themselves and all their possessions for the person they love.

“First, one brief aspiration, then another, and another… till our fervor seems insufficient, because words are too poor…: the this gives way to intimacy with God, looking at God without needing rest or feeling tired. We begin to live as captives, as prisoners. And while we carry out as perfectly as we can (with all our mistakes and limitations) the tasks allotted to us by our situation and duties, our souls long to escape. It is drawn towards God like iron drawn by magneto. One begins to love Jesus, in a more effective way, with the sweet and gently surprise of his encounter.”

[1] Exodus, 33, 18-33.
[2] The speaks to Elijah directly: “`Elijah, why are you here!’ He replied, `I have been most zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. But the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life.’ `Go, take the reload back to the desert near Damascus,’ the Lord said to him. `When you arrive, you shall anoint Hazel as king of Aram…”
[3] Exodus, 34, 29-35.
[4] Take note of the use of this notion in anticipation of the “original solitude” that we will see in Adam on the occasion of naming the animals.
[5] Karol Wojtyla, “Faith According to St. John of the Cross,” Ignatius (1981) 268.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “And Marxism Gave Birth to… NIHILISM,” Catholic World Report, January 1993 52.
[7] J. Ratzinger, Behold the Pierced One, Ignatius (1986) 15-27.
[8] De Beatitudinibus: PG 44, 1270-1271.
[9] Josemaria Escriva, “Towards Holiness,” Friends of God, Scepter (1989) #296, 458-459.

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