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The Rector writes ...
The late, great Pope, now Saint, John Paul 11 introduced a new set of themes into the praying of the rosary: he called them the “Mysteries of Light”, and central to these mysteries is that of the Transfiguration of Jesus which is the subject of this Sunday’s Gospel passage. What Pope John Paul was trying to help us perceive is that just below the surface of our lives light is always waiting to break through. Peter and James and John were overwhelmed by the suddenness of their experience: an ordinary day (just like any other) – a normal circumstance (the chance to go away and pray quietly with Jesus) transformed, in a moment, as a shaft of light, of insight, illuminates and provides an entirely fresh perspective. Time and time again – if only we will let him – God wants to uses the ordinary experiences of our human journey and to infuse them with extraordinary significance.
It is this sacramental principle which is fundamental to our understanding of how God approaches us and supplies the graces we need to respond to him in love and to show genuine concern for our neighbour. Each of the sacraments involves a fairly mundane sign – water in Baptism, food in the Eucharist, oil in Confirmation and Unction, a hand raised in Absolution, hands joined in Marriage and providing the touch of transmission in Ordination – but when interpreted and understood they become a powerful language through which God communicates directly and in a tangible way with his creatures. As with the account of Jesus’ Transfiguration, in the celebration of each of the sacraments the material becomes transfused with the Divine, and with Saint Peter we can only react by saying “it is wonderful for us to be here”.
The psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm, once wrote: “I consider the language of symbols to be the only foreign language that every one of us ought to learn”, whileGertrud Von le Fort (the German poet and Catholic convert) held that “symbols are the language of something invisible spoken in the visible world”. Rightly we spend much time and resource on catechesis for our young people – Catholic schools, preparation for First Holy Communion and then Confirmation etc. – but the process of learning will only cease when there is no longer a need to understand God’s sign language as we see Him face to face, and at every stage of our adult lives there is need for a deeper immersion into the mysteries of Faith. The Catechism (1075) says: “liturgical catechesis aims to initiate people into the mystery of Christ by proceeding from the visible to the invisible, from the sign to the thing signified”.
The title of one of C S Lewis’s books, “Surprised by Joy”, should provide a faircomment on our sacramental lives as Catholics, for every time we think we understand something then God is ready to broaden our perceptions and to open up fresh facets of his presence. Whatever expectations Peter, James and John might have had when they accepted Jesus’ invitation to join him on the mountain top they were superseded by a glimpsed reality beyond their imagining, literally a foretaste of heaven while still on this earth. Whenever we share in the sacraments – most obviously, the Mass – we are accepting the invitation of Jesus to come close and we should be open and expectant to whatever level of challenge or reassurance he might choose to extend. Saint Leo the Great (c 450) says: "what was visible in our Saviour has passed over into his sacraments”, and, although the mode of his presence is obviously different, the reality is the same – we encounter the living Christ in the Church’s liturgical actions, and we touch him through them as vitally as ever did Peter, James or John.All this must surely mean that our attendance at Sunday Mass is not just a matter of obligation (which it is!) but our acceptance that “the Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice” (Catechism: 2181) – that here, as nowhere else, we have our own potential moments of Transfiguration. “O my God, what joy for a Christian who has faith! On rising from the holy table we have all heaven within our hearts” (Cure d’Ars)