A man and a woman had a little daughter that they adored. Audrey was their only child. They lived their whole lives for their little child. When she became chronically ill and her illness resisted the efforts of the best doctors, the parents became totally discouraged and inconsolable.
Soon Audrey did not survive the illness and the parents were completely distressed. They became bitter recluses, shutting themselves off from their family and friends. But, one night the woman had a dream. She dreamt that she was in heaven.
During her dream, she saw a long procession of little children processing like little angels before the throne of God. Every child was dressed in a dazzling white robe and they each held a lit candle. However, when the woman saw her Audrey, she noticed that her candle was not lit.
The mother ran up to Audrey, embraced her in her arms, caressed her tenderly, and then asked her how it was that her candle was the only one that was not lit. Audrey said, “Mother, they often relight it, but your tears always put it out.”
Just at that moment the woman woke from her dream. The lesson was clear, and its effects were immediate. She immediately told the dream to her husband. They decided to embrace their loss with Christian hope and that they would no longer extinguish Audrey’s little candle with their useless tears.
My dear friends, this Sunday’s liturgy provides motivation and inspiration for us to continue our Lenten program. It is not easy to die to self. However, the gospel account of the transfiguration of Jesus tells us that our cross will always lead to the transformation of our lives.
There are three transfigurations or transformations that take place in our journey towards eternity.
The first change begins at Baptism. The immersion into the baptismal waters symbolizes death and rebirth. The Sacrament of Baptism washes away Original Sin and we are re-created. We are transformed into new creatures. The old self dies and the new person in Christ Jesus is born.
Our new life, which begins at Baptism, is carried out through our daily living of the Gospel. This of course, demands a continual dying to self. Through self-denial, the image of Christ is made visible in our lives. The more we die to self, the more sanctifying grace can transform our lives.
The second transformation takes place by our victory over the trials and tribulations of life. Every challenge, every difficulty, every moment of suffering, is an opportunity to grow. Transformation only takes place through suffering.
A young friend of mine was diagnosed with cancer when he was nineteen years old. He died two years later. Nevertheless, his acceptance of this challenge and the manner in which he embraced his daily suffering not only transformed his life, but it transformed the lives of those who were closest to him.
One day after he returned from a long week of treatments at the hospital, his dad suggested that before returning home, they stop by their parish and pray the Stations of the Cross together. The father told his son that contemplating how much Jesus had suffered for them would be important, particularly in their present trial. Both father and son had understood the transforming power of the Cross of Jesus.
The third transformation takes place at death. The suffering that the final moment brings upon us makes way for an amazing transformation. Eternal life in heaven, perhaps after a period of further transformation in purgatory, is granted to those who have been found worthy. The last transformation or transfiguration is completed at the Second Coming when our body is reunited with our soul. What awaits us is beyond anything that we can imagine.
“Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, ‘new heavens and a new earth.’ It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth. The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just, sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1043, 1047).
When we consider the eschatological teachings of the Catholic Church, we can understand why the Easter liturgy cries out “O felix culpa.” “O happy fault, O necessary sin of Adam, which gained for us so great a Redeemer” (Exsúlet – The Easter Proclamation from the Easter Vigil Liturgy).
The transfiguration of the Lord reminds us of the outcome of the cross. Suffering brings about transformation when we carry the cross like true disciples of Jesus.
Each of us has a cross to carry. We must all identify our crosses and carry them with patience, joy and love. Why complain about something which is our means to gain eternal life?
As Thomas a’ Kempis reminds us, “The cross, therefore, is always ready; it awaits you everywhere. No matter where you may go, you cannot escape it, for wherever you go you take yourself with you and shall always find yourself. Turn where you will — above, below, without, or within — you will find a cross in everything, and everywhere you must have patience if you would have peace within and merit an eternal crown.
If you carry the cross willingly, it will carry and lead you to the desired goal where indeed there shall be no more suffering, but here there shall be. If you carry it unwillingly, you create a burden for yourself and increase the load, though still you have to bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will find another and perhaps a heavier one” (The Imitation of Christ, Book II, chapter 12).
The transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor tells us that the glory of the resurrection will only take place through the sufferings of Good Friday. The transfiguration of Jesus teaches us that the experience of the cross is necessary in order for Easter to take place.
However, too many of our contemporaries are like those who stood at the foot of the Cross and cried out to Jesus that he should come down from the Cross.
Many would like to have a Christianity without self-denial, discipline and renunciation. However, Christianity without the Cross is not Christianity at all.
What is your cross? Maybe you have many crosses to carry. How do you carry your cross? Do you complain? Are you discouraged? Do you run away from the cross?
There is only one way to carry your cross. Carry your cross with generosity. Carry your cross with patience, love and joy. See in your cross your sanctification, your eternal salvation. Understand that with your cross, united to the cross of Jesus, you have a continual opportunity to save souls and make reparation for so many sins.
What causes us to suffer? There are many forms of human suffering. We experience so many different forms of physical illnesses.
But, then there is the deep form of suffering that is caused by our human condition. Perhaps some sort of addiction, obsession or a struggle with a particular sin causes us years, even a life-time of suffering.
No matter how much we pray or go to confession, it seems impossible to rid ourselves of the problem.
This kind of suffering is profound.
If we embrace it and journey with it, it reminds us of our constant need for God and it allows us to be deeply compassionate with others.
Whatever causes us to suffer, we must never become discouraged.
We must always remember that the tomb is empty.
Jesus made his way out of the tomb. He is risen!
However, the resurrection did not take away his wounds. The wounds of Jesus are now glorified, but they are still visible as an eternal reminder to all of us that the resurrection can make what was once ugly, beautiful to behold.
My dear friends, I have told this story to you many times over the years, but this story is worth repeating because it carries an important lesson for all of us.
A number of years ago, a young, attractive, successful woman noticed a small lump behind her ear as she was brushing her hair. As the days went on, she noticed that the lump was getting larger, so she decided to see her doctor. Her worst fears were confirmed. The doctor told her that the lump was a large tumor that would require immediate surgery.
When she awoke following the surgery, she found her entire head wrapped like a mummy. She could see herself in a mirror only through two tiny holes cut into the wrapping. Desiring to see what she looked like, she unwound the large bandage from her head and was shocked to see that her once attractive features had become disfigured by a paralysis caused perhaps by damage to facial nerves during the removal of the tumor.
Standing before the mirror, she told herself that she had one choice to make: to laugh or to cry. She decided to laugh. Sadly, the various therapies tried were unsuccessful in alleviating the facial paralysis. However, that decision made to laugh in the face of adversity has allowed this woman to carry on with her life with joy.