DIVINE MERCY CONFERENCE 2019
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
RDS Dublin, 23 February 2019 February 2013
“The Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration is unique. We find Jesus in a lonely place on a high mountain. Now to our surprise and the surprise of the three disciples who are with Jesus, his appearance changes and we see him mirroring the radiant glory of his Father.
It is one of the very rare occasions in his earthly life in which we see the glory of Jesus appear directly. Normally the Gospel narratives tell us of Jesus journeying from village to village, preaching and mercifully healing, but outwardly always in human form. Jesus was always reluctant to make direct reference to his identity. He forbade the evil spirits who knew his identity from revealing it. Even in today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals himself to the disciples in all his glory, but tells them not to tell others. Modern media experts and spin-doctors would not be impressed!
Perhaps the best way to describe this event of the Transfiguration and the experience of the disciples is to look on it as a sort of icon. Icons are very common in the Eastern Christian traditions where the contemplative tradition is strong.
Icons are a form of religious painting that are not like photographs that everyone can immediately see and understand. Icons present a message that has to be drawn out or rather into which we are drawn. We can go back repeatedly to the same icon and day by day, deepen our understanding of it in the light of faith, and begin to identify the meaning of different aspects of it and the different figures that appear in it.
Let us look at some aspects of this “icon” of today’s Gospel. The first thing to note – and we will come back to this – is that this revelation, this transfiguration of Jesus, takes place when Jesus is at prayer.
The event is linked to Old Testament images. Peter recognises Elijah and Moses, who represent in Jewish tradition the prophets and the law. He suggests that they build three tents: God in the Old Testament appeared in a tent. The cloud that overwhelms them reminds them of the way in which God appeared to his people in a cloud. What is different are the words used. In the Old Testament, as God presented the commandments that would be the guide for the life of the people, God called out: “Listen Israel”. Now the Father, in the presence of the Holy Spirit, tells the disciples and us: “Listen to my beloved Son”.
The clear message is that Jesus, the Word made flesh, has become the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, the way and the truth and the life for all. Being a disciple of Jesus means that we listen to the word of God and ponder it, attempt to understand it and see what it means for us in the varied situations of our lives.
The Christian life is not something static but something that we grow into as our faith grows in maturity and allows the presence of God in our hearts to bring us to true maturity. God’s own love and mercy are what change us and convert us and heal us. If we fail to open our hearts to the immenseness of God’s mercy, we begin a journey that ends up where we set out from in isolation and hopelessness. In the same way, sinners will not be converted by words of human judgementalism but by encountering God’s healing mercy that frees us from our sinfulness.
Let us return to how this icon stresses the primacy of prayer, without which all our activity, in society and in our apostolic efforts, would be reduced to empty activism. There is a constant temptation in the history of the Church to transform Christianity into a moralism and moralism into politics, to substitute believing with doing.
In the hustle and bustle and hyperactivity of our lives today we have to be attentive that we ourselves do not end up thinking that busily doing things will resolve all our difficulties. We all like to be busily doing things but we forget that we can easily get lost in the hectic and frustrated then in our failure.
Only a life of prayer and silence and contemplation will open our inner hearts to what the message of Jesus means and thus enable us to challenge our world and our society where so often the emptiness of noise and the bombardment of false messages prevents people from even asking the fundamental questions about life.
Without the dimension of prayer and contemplation all we will offer the world would be a Church built on human planning and such a Church would very quickly end up looking just like any other purely human institution. The Church must witness to the truth about human life but that truth will only touch hearts if it is encountered as caring and supportive love.
When we open our hearts to God, he changes us. God is not a projection of our own ideas and our desires, someone who is created by our thoughts. The three disciples in our Gospel reading refuse to accept that Jesus was to suffer. They had their own ideas of God. God however is always “the other”, the totally different, who changes our desires and our aspirations, who drives each of us in our sinfulness to go beyond ourselves to be saved by our God of mercy.
When we look at the call of the early disciples of Jesus, we see that Jesus call to discipleship asks them to leave everything. That does not mean that in our coming away from the world we retreat into an unreal world in which we feel ourselves comfortably surrounded by just the virtuous or those who proclaim themselves to be virtuous.
This was the temptation of the disciples in today’s Gospel when they suggest that they build the three tents and remain there away from the challenges and temptations of day-to-day life. It is the temptation to flee into a false mysticism and judgementalism.
God’s mercy as revealed in Jesus Christ does not entrap us but it liberates us. It liberates us to praise God and his love; it liberates us to live lovingly in the midst of an often harsh and oppressive world; it liberates us to bring the joyful message of God’s redeeming love to all those trapped in sin. God’s mercy saves and liberates. Let us thank God for his great mercy. Let us trust in God’s mercy. Let us allow God’s mercy to heal us; let us witness to that mercy in joy and in love for those around us who though still in darkness and in sin deep down seek that true freedom that can only be found in Jesus Christ. Let us be true apostles of God’s merciful love.