Opening the Word: Be intentional today

As Catholics, we often expect there to be conflict or tension between the Church and the world, whether it be in cultural, social or political realms. Yet the conflicts and tensions within the Church and among Catholics can be disconcerting. Why so many disagreements? And wasn’t it so much better in the early Church? The last question is especially interesting to me, for it seems as if most of us — myself included — can find ourselves longing for the “good ol’ days” of yesteryear, a golden age of harmony within the Church. Such a time, however, never really existed. And that, I suggest, is both to be expected and can be, in a way, a source of encouragement.

The story of the Transfiguration provides the foundation for this observation. What had happened just six days before this astonishing display of supernatural glory? Jesus asked the Twelve two questions: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” and “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, famously, spoke for the entire group: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:13-16). With that important realization in place, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” To which Peter immediately responded with harsh words of rebuke: “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you” (Mt 16:21-22).

The seriousness of Peter’s audacious remark was met with a scathing reprimand from Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mt 16:23). Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, in “Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word” (Ignatius Press, $31.95), notes the statement “Peter took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him” was an attempt by Peter to “convert” Jesus to Peter’s “all-too-human ways.” But having preached the necessity of the cross and self-denial (Mt 16:24-28), it was Jesus who took the disciples along and “leads them upward, in the direction of God’s heavenly dwelling.”

During the two years the apostles had been journeying with Jesus, they had learned many things. But they had even more to learn. They lived in a state of tension, in what Blessed John Paul II called an “eschatological tension,” for they were meant for heavenly glory, yet their feet were still stuck in the mud of earthly ambition, even fear. They were, in other words, just like us today, and so they fought among themselves and even, at times, confronted Jesus with imprudent and short-sighted declarations.

It is here Leiva-Merikakis offers a most valuable insight. “The event of the Transfiguration,” he writes, “is essential for us to understand that life in Christ is about fullness of life now. ... The Transfiguration is the experience of the fullness of the divine Presence, action, communication, and glory now, in our very midst, in this world of passingness and disappointment.” The glory witnessed on the mountain was a real taste of the power and life of God. It reminded the apostles of their true calling and deepened their anticipation of the goodness to come.

It should be the same for us. Lent is meant to strip life down to its fundamental core and to help us think as God does. It should help clear away whatever is distracting us from our eternal calling. And that calling is not just in the future, but in the immediate present. Now. Today.

Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report.