Homily – Solemnity of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2017
What is the purpose of Religion in our society?
If you type that question into Google, in 0.67 seconds you will have 120,000,000 responses. Some of the responses are positive and uplifting about the purpose of religion, but it seems that more of the responses have a cynical bent to them, claiming that Religion builds barrier instead of bridges, sows division instead of good seeds, and exacts burdens instead of alleviating them.
Even people who are favorable toward religion sometimes confuse its purpose as being a Moral authority whose role is to instruct followers on how to act in the world; whose mission is to teach the ways of God, and whose goal to make people nice. Grumpy people take heart…religion is not about making people nice. Religion is about preparing people to be Citizens of Heaven while imitating Christ on earth. Life in Heaven is only possible through Christ’s Transfiguration.
Today we celebrate Christ’s Transfiguration, when Christ took a few of his closest disciples to the top of a mountain to experience His divinity and humanity at the same time. Perhaps Christ allowed his disciples to witness this to strengthen their faith knowing what was about to come.
There is a specific part in the mass which recalls the Transfiguration, when the Priest or Deacon is preparing the elements for the Eucharist. He prays a silent prayer as he adds a drop of water to the wine. The prayer that is said is: “Through the mingling of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” This is the Transfiguration – Christ was transfigured into Human form so as to share our human experience, so that we in turn can be transfigured to share in his divine life. The purpose of religion is to help us on our way toward our own transfiguration.
There is a very natural – or supernatural – longing within each one of us. St. Augustine called it the Holy longing, when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” There is a longing for something that is beyond ourselves, a desire that we will never be able to achieve here on earth. It is an innate longing for citizenship in heaven.
To think of religion as simply a moral authority whose objective is to get people to live in a certain way, by a certain set of commandments is to reduce its true meaning. The commandments are important and they do help us live more peacefully within ourselves and in society, and that is a good thing. The same is true with everything in the Christian life…the Sacraments, prayer, the Liturgy, the Scriptures, the Commandments, reconciliation, the Beatitudes, the Traditions – all of it is in the service of living peacefully within ourselves and within society…to prepare us for our own transfiguration – which is our sharing of God’s divine nature.
This chasuble was hand made by some friends in Honduras. It is adorned with butterflies, the symbol of one of the organizations I have worked with in Honduras. Butterflies, as we know, are not born as butterflies, but as caterpillars. I wonder if Caterpillars live with a sense of longing to be butterflies. It is through their metamorphosis in the coccoon – their transfiguration – that they experience life as a butterfly. The purpose of Religion is kind of like to be our cocoon, which surrounds us in a protective shell while we transform into a people worthy of heaven. It is not a cocoon that is meant to keep us out of the world, but it helps us interact in the world while keeping oriented toward our final purpose in life.
Down at St. Meinrad, in the Archabbey Church, the marble floor has a beautiful story built into its design. Along the centerline of the sanctuary, from front to back, is a series of very large circles ringed with a band of black marble. Outside the circles is a random array of tan marble pieces with no particular orientation. Inside the circles is an array of triangular pieces of marble of different colors from all parts of the world. All of the colored triangular pieces point in one direction toward the front of the sanctuary, where there is a huge painting of the resurrected Christ, holding an open book in his hand with the words Ego Sum Vita - “I Am Life.” The story in the floor is that outside the circles is the world, random and colorless. When a person passes across the black border of the circle you enter the Church. Inside the Church is order – not order like everything is perfect and peaceful, but order in that everything within the Church is meant to order our lives toward Christ. All of the elements of religion are in service to this purpose – to order our lives toward Christ and prepare us for our own transfiguration.
Christ did not come into the world to start a religion. In fact, some of his harshest words were for the leaders of religions of his day. Christ came into the world to unite His divinity to our humanity, so that we can in turn participate in His divinity. His Transfiguration is the culmination of this union of His Divine and Human natures. One day – God willing – we will experience our own Transfiguration and our hearts will finally be at peace. Until then our religion helps us along the way.