Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves." Matthew 17:1
In his book on the sacred tradition of the Catholic Church, Fr. Yves Congar makes mention of the Transfiguration. He points out something that I have never noticed, the significance that Elijah and Moses disappear. Jesus takes his closest and dearest apostles, Peter, James, and John, up a mountain and there appears with Moses and Elijah. Both died centuries before. The apostles see Jesus in glowing white, and they hear a voice from heaven say, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." Then, Moses and Elijah evaporate into thin air. Fr. Congar points out that Moses and Elijah, and Peter, James, and John are all witnesses. Jesus Christ is the one to whom both Old and New are turned, the Old in expectation and the New taking Him as model, both seeing him as their center (quoting Pascal in his "Pensées", 740). Jesus is revealed. The prophets and apostles are "instruments of Revelation" (Congar, "The Meaning of Tradition", p. 48). What was foreseen by the Old is now fulfilled and revealed, and the apostles are to be the witnesses of this to the New in the Church. Jesus will give His apostles a mission to do this, for Jesus will say not once but twice in the Gospel of St. John, "As the Father has sent me, even so I send you" (John 20:21 and John 17:18).
Both Elijah and Moses were witnesses to the glory of God. We read in Exodus, "After Moses had gone up, a cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled upon Mount Sinai. The cloud covered it for six days, and on the seventh day he called to Moses from the midst of the cloudŠ. But Moses passed into the midst of the cloud as he went up on the mountain, and there he stayed for forty days and forty nights" (Exodus 24:15-16, 18). Moses sees and in seeing is able to give witness to God¹s marvelous works and deeds for His Chosen People.
Elijah witnesses the glory of God on Mount Horeb. We read that Elijah "walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb. There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. But the word of the Lord came to him, ŒWhy are you here, Elijah?¹" (I Kings 19:8ff.). Elijah explains that he is hiding from those who have forsaken the Covenant. God answers, "Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by" (I Kings 19:11). Both go to mountains, both travel forty days, both hear God speak, both become witnesses.
Now Jesus brings His closest apostles, Peter, James, and John to see Him revealed as the "beloved Son." There is a mountain, there have been forty days, God will speak, and there are new witnesses. Elijah and Moses disappear because "the torch is being passed on." Peter, James, and John are taking up the duty of witnessing to this Revelation.
It is the duty of the Body of Believers, that is called the Church in the Scriptures, to witness to the transfigured Christ. We, as the Church, are the descendants of the apostles. There is no disconnection between the apostles and us because there is a Church to preserve continuity. We go up to a spiritual mountain. It took Moses and Elijah forty days for God to reveal Himself to them. As a Church, we have entered the forty days of Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, and John, and last but not least, Jesus Himself. What Moses and Elijah witnessed in anticipation, they and the apostles witness in Revelation. As a Church, we witness the transfiguration. As St. Paul will write, "All of us, gazing on the Lord¹s glory with unveiled faces, are being transformed from glory to glory, into his very image by the Lord who is the Spirit" (II Corinthians 3:18). In this witness we, the Church, look forward to final fulfillment in a lasting transfiguration, that we call redemption. St. Paul speaks of this too, when he writes, "He will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body, by his power to subject everything to himself" (Philippians 3:21).
We have begun Lent. It is our forty days. We approach the mountain of God. Lent helps us to bear witness along with the prophets and apostles to the reality of Jesus Christ. This witness is a confession of faith, reflected in what we will do in just a few moments by reciting our Creed. St. Paul will describe it this way, "Take firm hold on the everlasting life to which you were called when, in the presence of many witnesses, you made your noble profession of faith" (I Timothy 6:12). Joined to the apostles in the Church, we profess that faith. We enter into that Body by receiving that Body in Holy Communion.
Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word for witness has the connotation of repeating. To witness implies a repetition, not like the repetition of memorization but the repetition of a hammer hammering a nail into a piece of wood. To witness means to repeat the message by driving it in. Moses and Elijah disappear because they have struck. Peter, James, and John will now witness, and those who come after them take up the hammer. This witness is the work of the Church, its continuing witness driving in the message that Jesus is the beloved Son.