“Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.” (Mark 9:2)
What must have been going through the minds of Peter, James, and John as the followed Jesus up that high mountain? What expectations could they possibly have had? Obviously, they were not expecting what eventually occurred. They couldn’t have possibly imagined that the Lord would be transfigured before them, that they would catch a glimpse of his glory, and that they would hear the voice of the Father telling them that this was his beloved Son to listen to him. They couldn’t have expected any of this. Yet, that is what happened. That is what Jesus chose to reveal to them. As we wander through the desert of our Lenten journey, like the disciples, we catch a glimpse of the glory to come.
As I’ve been meditating and thinking about the Transfiguration the last couple of days, I’ve been focusing on what we expect when we come to Mass. I’ve been focusing it more on what you as the faithful expect. As Catholics who come to Mass, you expect to hear the Word of God and you expect to be fed from this table. Aside from those two essential elements of the Eucharistic Celebration, you expect good music, a good homily, an air-conditioned church, and all of these are reasonable expectations. But these reasonable expectations may lead to a sense of complacency. So as a pastor I started thinking beyond what my faithful expect towards what my faithful deserve. You deserve all those things listed above and much more, fed by the Word and by His Body, you deserve inspiring homilies, you deserve divine music, a beautiful worship area, but above all you deserve to have a genuine encounter with Christ as the disciples did on that mountain. As a pastor and as a church, we cannot keep catering to the lowest common denominator and lazily go through the motions, rather we need to raise the bar in terms of what people expect and deserve when they come to church so that they have a Transfiguration experience. But it goes beyond an experience. It must lead to action. Experiences are all well and good, but we have to move beyond them to concrete action and evangelization. In the gospel, the Transfiguration eventually ended and they had to go down the mountain because Jesus’ mission was not quite complete.
The Church’s mission is never complete. We have to go in search of those who are lost, those who may at one time experienced this glorious Christ, but did not make Christ a central part of our lives. In short, what I’m saying it that we have to get past the “warm and fuzzies.” I’ve always been wary of the “warm and fuzzy” experience of Jesus. It’s what Peter did not understand on that mountain. In speaking to youth leaders this past week, Archbishop Wenski warned about this complacency and the experiential: “In the past, the force of custom in a culture that was friendly to faith gave rise to a sense of complacency among pastors and faithful. That complacency has led us to tolerate more than we should have the inadequate and even defective religious formation of our young people. Today after some 30 years of “experiential” catechesis most of our young people are religious illiterates (Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Lenten Reflection to Youth Leaders, 2/25/25).” What the Archbishop is saying is what I underscored earlier: you deserve better. He notes that because of this complacency our young people, and I would add many adults, have left the faith.
This is why we have to look beyond just simple expectations and start looking at the glorious Christ as our model and ideal instead of someone we’ve had an experience with. Let me give you an example. After CCD yesterday, I was sitting in the church waiting for the rain to subside talking to a catechist when a six-year-old little girl walked up to me and said, “Hi Jesus!” The catechist laughed and corrected her, “his name is Father Manny,” then she pointed to the crucifix, “that is Jesus.” I smiled because that little six-year-old fleshed out my homily today with a two-word greeting. Of course I’m not Jesus, but I must be Jesus to all of you as a priest. In fact, we all have to be like Jesus. We have to aspire to be like Jesus. That’s the goal! We are presented with this gospel of the glorious Christ at this juncture in Lent to remind us that He is our goal. As Catholics, we cannot settle for anything less than being Jesus to others. The disciples would not “get this” until after the resurrection. Yes, it is good that we are here, but that isn’t enough. Once we behold the beauty of our Lord on that mountain, we have to fall back to earth to share that beauty in a real, concrete way. But we do need our time on the mountain. We do need our time to listen to the Beloved Son, to know Him well enough so that we can share Him. And herein lies the challenge for each of us going forward in Lent because we deserve so much more than what our expectations demand: do we truly know this Jesus?