Homily for the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration

Year A, 2023

To “listen to him” must surely be one of the desires of every Christian. This command, given by God the Father, takes place also in the mysterious presence of Moses and Elijah, surely a manifestation of God’s grace.

To listen from the perspective of Moses means obedience. Obedience means the deliberate subjection of our desires to God’s desire, which He has revealed through the Ten Commandments. Our Lord reinforced the relevance of these Commandments when he said: “whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever practices and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).

God’s desire for us is also discovered in what is called the Precepts of the Church. These are as follows: Attend Mass on Sundays and days of obligation; confess your sins at least once a year; receive the Eucharist at least once a year; observe days of fasting and abstinence; provide for the needs of the Church. And God makes his will known through the moral laws of the church.

To listen in to Him brings each of us into an inner struggle, though the habit of obedience does make it easier to listen to listen. Our very being, enslaved by the sin of Adam rebels against the will of God. Perhaps it is comforting to know that not one of us is immune from this struggle – we are not alone. The person next to you, and those of us up here, share this the same inner struggle. That we struggle against the flesh is a sign of faith, not a lack of it, so we should persevere, just as St Philip Neri encouraged the first Oratorians.

If listening to Jesus from the perspective of Moses means obedience, then listening to Jesus from the perspective of Elijah means virtue. Virtue, in this context, means inner and ongoing conversion. The prophet voice of the Church reminds us that listening to Him must go beyond obedience to Commandments, Precepts and Laws.

God desires to speak within the personal encounter we have with Him in prayer. His gentle voice directs us along the path of holiness. One way to learn to hear His voice is to learn to practice the virtues. To read more about the virtues you can look up the Human or Cardinal virtues in your catechism, or online.

Listening Jesus also means learning from Jesus. Let us go a little deeper this evening, to learn what role silence plays in the life of Jesus and for us. On the cross, the Word of God is muted – he is silence. “Wordless is the Word of the Father, who made every creature which speaks; Lifeless are the eyes of the one at whose word and whose nod all living things move” (St Maximus).

When we look to Jesus on the cross, we are confronted by the fact that silence is His last word to the Father, and the Father’s last word to Him. And it is not a comfortable silence. It is a distant silence. A silence that adds inner suffering to what he evident on his body. Pope Benedict teaches that “Jesus’ experience of God’s silence from the cross profoundly reveals the situation of every person who seeks to listen to God in prayer: for having heard and recognized the word of God, [spoken through the Law and the Prophets], we must next come to terms with the silence of God.”

This dynamic, of words and silence, can be thought of in two ways. First, to listen to God requires inner silence. This seems very difficult for us. We are constantly surrounded by noise: the radio; the TV, YouTube, or whatever it is some us fall asleep to. I struggle with silence as much as the next person, running from one task to another throughout the day – running from silence. But “only in silence can the word of God find a home in us, as it did in Mary” (Pope Benedict).

This is why silence in the liturgy is so important. Here, I must commend you. The silence in this parish prior to Mass, during and after, proclaims better than any homily, banner or newsletter: this is a holy place, a people set apart for the Glory of God.

Many visitors experience this silence here as reverence. Those who attend funerals and weddings, or who attend Mass here while on holiday, comment on how our prayerful silence displays something profound here.

This silence is also fruitful. Recently another young person came to see me from an evangelical community. This person said that the atmosphere in our parish speaks of the reverence they desires and as a result, they wish to join our parish. St Augustine, who is not a parishioner of course, said: “when the word of God increases, the words of men fall silent”.

As we listen to Jesus to learn from Him, we see that He too sought out silence for prayer: on a mountain, on the boat, in the garden, often alone. Silence means openness to listening to Jesus.

There is a second dynamic to the relationship between silence and prayer. Not only does silence dispose us to prayer, in our prayer, we often find ourselves confronted by God’s silence, as it were. When this happens, it is easy to feel let down, disappointed, and confused. We have come to listen to God, but it seems he is not listening to us, or has nothing to say. This was Jesus’ experience too: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”. But God’s silence does not indicate His absence, as will be evident in the resurrection which the Transfiguration of Jesus anticipates. But first comes God’s silence.

When God is silent, we do not need to speak more, or louder. We learn from Jesus: “In praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

God’s silence invites us to a deep trust. To trust as Jesus trusted, who on the cross breathed out His spirit, saying: “Into your hands, I commend my spirit”.