Easter Sunday

On Good Friday, Jesus looked like a failure. He hung there, dead on a cross; His disciples had abandoned Him in fear. Where are all the miracles now? Of what use were all the beautiful words He had spoken to the crowds? As he was buried in the tomb, Jesus appeared to be just one more nice guy who finished last, one more naïve dreamer who found Himself chewed up and spit out by the harsh realities of the world.

And then something incredible happened. He rose. The tomb is empty. Death has been conquered, life is victorious. Jesus, who had once appeared broken and defeated, is now triumphant. From the beginning of the world, the one constant was death. All things were under the power of death. Now, that power has been defeated. The powers of death and darkness and sin are defeated by life and light and grace. That is what we celebrate today. It is the very foundation of our faith, that Christ has truly risen from the dead, and death and sin are defeated.

And yet, notice how the Gospel for this morning ends. Peter and John, two of the Apostles are standing at the empty tomb, and it says “they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.” Not exactly how we expect the reading for Easter Sunday to end. Here they are at the empty tomb, seeing it with their own eyes, and yet they do not understand. They see that the body of Christ is no longer there, but they do not yet understand what that means. They do not understand that they are witnesses to the greatest truth in history. They do not understand that all of reality has changed, that the chains of sin and death have been destroyed. They still believe that death is the final word. They are still living their old lives; they do not yet realize that Christ has made all things new.

I think we can often be like these two disciples standing at the empty tomb, seeing yet not understanding. We claim to believe in the Resurrection, we profess Sunday after Sunday in the Creed that Christ is risen from the dead, but we do not understand the importance of that belief. We do not yet understand how the Resurrection changes everything. We still live our old lives, lives under the power of sin and darkness and death. That is the way of the world. The world teaches that the goal of life is to try to squeeze as much fleeting happiness as I can out of life, because in the end death is victorious. And how often we can be tempted to live like that, as though the passing joys that the world offers are the only things that make life worth living. When we do that, we are like the disciples, not yet understanding the truth of the Resurrection. We are living according to the rules of death and sin.

Easter tells us that there is a joy that lasts forever, an eternal life that far surpasses whatever short-lived delights and accomplishments I can find in this world. That is the truth of our faith. And if we truly understand that and believe that, then our lives should be different. As Christians, as people of the Resurrection, our lives should be fundamentally different from the life that the world proposes. The way we live, the things we pursue, the ways that we seek joy and meaning in our lives, should shine with the light of Christ. The Resurrection should not be something that we just celebrate once a year on Easter or just profess at Mass every Sunday, but should be something that fills our entire lives. People should know by the way that we live that we are living for something other than this world. This is what St. Paul means in our second reading when he says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.” Our very way of thinking as Christians, the way that we view the world and reality, should have its foundation in the truth that we celebrate today.

But all too often, that isn’t the case. We come to Mass on Easter, we sing Alleluia and profess our belief that Jesus is truly risen from the dead, and then as soon as Mass ends, we go back to living just like everyone else. We go back to living for this world and being guided by its rules. I get it. Even as a priest there is that temptation to want to judge my life by the world’s standards and not by the light of the Risen Lord. We are so surrounded by the way the world thinks that it just seems like common sense to us. In a same way, it was common sense to the disciples that dead people don’t come back to life. And yet, there was a deeper truth there, a truth so profound that it shattered the rules of the world and its so-called common sense. The disciples would eventually understand this, and their lives would be radically different. Once they truly understood the meaning of the Resurrection, their lives were never the same. We hear in our first reading of Peter, who once stood at the empty tomb and did not understand, now preaching to the crowds the Good News of the Risen Lord. Once the disciples understood the Resurrection, they were never the same, and people knew by the very way that they lived and spoke that they were guided by something other than the ways of the world. And it should be the same for us as well.

As we gather here this Easter morning in the joy of the Resurrection, let us not be like the disciples on that first Easter morning who saw but didn’t understand. Let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of understanding, so that we can truly see how the truth of the Resurrection changes everything. Let us also ask God to show us where in our lives we have still been guided by the wisdom of the world, rather than by His truth, so that we may truly be changed by this awe-filled mystery. May the Resurrection of Christ be something that we celebrate not just once a year, but with our very lives.

Easter Vigil

For me, one of the most moving parts of the Easter Vigil is at the very beginning. As we enter the church, it is completely dark, except for one little flame, the Easter Candle. In the midst of the darkness of night, one little light seeks to shatter the darkness. Then, as we enter the church, that one little light begins to multiply and spread. And as more and more flames are lit, the light grows. The darkness is slowly driven back by the light of the candles. It is a beautiful moment.

That symbol, of light shining into the darkness, is an apt symbol of the history of God’s work of salvation. We heard in our readings tonight some of that great history. We heard how God revealed Himself to Abraham and made a covenant with him. We heard how God led the Israelites from slavery in Egypt into freedom. And we heard of God’s greatest act in history, the Resurrection of Christ from the dead. In all of these, God shines His light into the darkness – the darkness of fear, the darkness of doubt, the darkness of sin, the darkness of death. That is what we celebrate tonight.

We celebrate that God saw mankind surrounded by the darkness of sin and death. And so, in an act of supreme condescension, He became man, suffered, and died for our salvation. But that is not the end of the story. If it were, death would still have the final say. And so, on that Easter morning, as the sun was just beginning to rise, while the world was still shrouded in night, God rose from the dead and destroyed once and for all the powers of sin and death. He destroyed all that held us captive in order to bring us freedom.

But we do not gather here tonight simply to recount what God has done in the past. The grace of Easter is not just a historical reality. The grace and the light of the risen Lord shines through all of time. We celebrate tonight not just what God has done, but what He is doing. We see that especially in the lives of our catechumens and candidates, who tonight will receive God’s grace in the sacraments of initiation. In a particular way, they will share in the grace of the resurrection on this Holy Night. The Resurrection is not just something that happened 2,000 years ago. As St. Paul says in our reading today, “If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.” The Resurrection is not just a thing that has happened, but something that is happening, something that god is doing in all of our lives.

God wants to renew in all of us the grace of His resurrection, the grace which we received at baptism. Because all of us still struggles with the forces of sin and darkness in our lives. Like the Israelites, we find ourselves in slavery. That is why we gather at night, because we are a people surrounded by darkness, crying out for the Divine Light. We cry out for that flame that will pierce the night and shatter the darkness in our lives.

That is what Easter is about. Not just how God conquered death in the past, but how He is doing it right here and now in our own lives. Easter is about bringing those things in our lives that are dead and dark and enslaved and allow the glory of the resurrection to transform them into life and light and freedom. That is what God wants to do. That is what He does every day.

But all too often, we miss it. We miss the grace of the resurrection which God offers us. I think we often miss it because we expect God’s grace to be big and booming and earth-shattering. Sometimes it is. In the Gospel today, we hear of earthquakes and an angel that appears like lightening. Sometimes God’s grace works like that in our lives. But other times it doesn’t.

We heard tonight of God parting the Red Sea. We picture God parting the Red Sea like Hollywood shows it, where Moses strikes the sea and the waters go rushing to the side and tearing open while an orchestral soundtrack swells in the background. But how do the Scriptures describe it? “Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the LORD swept the sea with a strong east wind throughout the night and so turned it into dry land.” It was a steady wind that slowly parted the waters. God freed His people, but He did it in a gentle and quiet a way.

Or look to His greatest act, the Resurrection. Yes, when the women got to the tomb, there was an earthquake and an angel and the whole deal, but by that point, Christ had already risen. The tomb was already empty. The actual Resurrection itself was not accompanied with fanfare and spectacle. No one saw it at all. God’s greatest work in all of history happened in the middle of the night, surrounded in silence and darkness. Likewise, in our lives, God works in quiet but powerful ways. But we have to be open to it.

In this most holy of nights, let us bring to the Lord all of those places that we are still in darkness. Let us bring to Him all of the places where we are still dead, still in slavery and sin. Let us ask Him to shine in those dark corners of our lives with the brilliant light of the Resurrection.

Holy Thursday

Imagine for a minute Christ washing the feet of the disciples. In the time of Christ, it was considered good hospitality for a host to provide a basin of water for guests to wash their own feet when they arrived. If the host had a slave, he might command the slave to wash the guests’ feet. But the host would not do it himself. But Christ gets up from dinner, lays aside His outer garment, ties a towel around His waist, and begins to wash their feet. The Messiah, the Son of God, the Word Made Flesh, performs the task of the lowliest slave. At the Incarnation, God the Son laid aside His Divine Glory and took on our human nature; now He lays aside His outer garment and ties on a towel, taking the position of a slave. The God who at creation gathered the waters of the sea in a basin so that the dry land could appear now pours water in a basin so that He can humbly serve. The God who formed man out of the dust of the earth now washes the dust off of the feet of His disciples.

Imagine as He comes to Judas. At this point, Judas has already arranged to betray Jesus to the chief priests. The thirty pieces of silver that they paid him are in his money bag as he reclines at table. Before supper is over, Judas will leave to meet the guards whom he will lead to Gethsemane, where he will betray Our Lord with a kiss. Jesus knows all that is to come. He knows what is in Judas’ heart. And yet, as He comes to Judas, He kneels down in front of him, and with His own hands washes the feet of His betrayer.

Just take a moment to sit with that image. On the very night that Judas would betray Him, Jesus washed his feet. What amazing love! What profound humility! Our Lord shows His love not just to His friends, not just to those who deserve it or who earn it, not just to the good people, but even to the one sold Him to His executioners. It is as though the Lord is reaching out to Judas by this intense act of love, trying to soften his heart. Unfortunately, Judas is already so blinded by his pride, his selfish ambition, and his greed that he is unmoved by the Lord’s tender and humble compassion. Just imagine that moment. As Christ kneels before his betrayer to wash his feet, what is in His eyes as He looks up at Judas? What is in His heart as He looks into the eyes of the one whom He had called to be an apostle, but has now become a traitor?

Often, we can be tempted to think that God only loves us when we are good. We can be tempted to think that we have to earn His love. We can think that our sins push God away from us, that He loves us less or cares for us less when we sin. But as we contemplate Christ washing the feet of Judas, we see that isn’t true. God’s loving care for us isn’t diminished by our sinfulness. No matter what we do, no matter how we betray God by our sinfulness, His love for us isn’t lessened. He still seeks to reach us with His love and His compassion.

As Jesus finished washing the disciples’ feet, He told them, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” He gives the same command to each of us. How often do we base our love and care for other people by whether or not we feel they have deserved it? If someone is good to me, I am loving and kind to them. But if someone does something that we feel wronged us in some way, do we show them the love of Christ, or do we seek revenge? To the person who cut me off in traffic, to the coworker who is always inconsiderate, to the family member who has hurt me, do I show the love of Christ, or do I respond in malice? If Christ can lower Himself to wash the feet of Judas, who am I to refuse love to someone because of what they have done to me?

Of course, washing the disciples’ feet was not the end of the evening. The Lord went on to do something even greater. As we hear in our second reading, that same evening He “took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’” Christ not only washed His disciples’ feet, but He then gave them His very Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

And this is how Our Lord comes to us, not as a servant to wash our feet, but in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ pours Himself out in love for us, giving us His very self to sustain us and strengthen us. The Lord doesn’t come just to wash dirt from our bodies but to fill our souls with His very self.

When Jesus washed the feet of Judas, Judas remained unmoved. He did not repent of his actions nor did he turn away from the wickedness he had planned. His heart was hardened, and so Our Lord’s love and care had no effect on him. When we receive the Lord in the Eucharist, are we like Judas? Do we receive Him without care or concern? Do we remain unmoved and hard of heart? After receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, do we try even harder to avoid sin, or are we unaffected? Unfortunately, I think all too often that may be the case. Like Judas, the Lord comes to us, but all too often we do not let Him in, we do not het His grace penetrate our souls. When Mass ends we go about our lives exactly the same, without any change that should come from encountering God’s great love for us.

Let us strive to not by like Judas. Tonight, in this Mass, when the Lord comes to you in the Eucharist, don’t remain unmoved. Allow the Lord to touch your heart. See the profound humility of the King of Kings lowering Himself to come to you and to me under the appearance of simply bread and wine. Allow this Eucharist to change you. May Christ’s service of us here at this Mass inspire us to serve others as He did.

Palm Sunday

I remember as a little kid, I always disliked the part of the Palm Sunday Gospel where we say the words of the crowd, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I didn’t like calling for the crucifixion of Jesus. Sometimes, I would just refuse to say it.

And yet, as I have grown up, I have realized that it is my sins that call out “Crucify him,” even more than the crowd. By my sins, that I commit so willingly, I turn my back on Jesus and condemn Him to die. If only I were as opposed to sinning as that little boy was to saying “Crucify him.” If only my sins troubled me as much as those words.

As we recall the death of our Lord, let us meditate on His immense love that He showed on that Cross. And let us resolve to always love Him, by our words, our actions, and our lives.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

There is a rather odd detail contained in today’s Gospel. St. John tells us that, to cure the man born blind, Our Lord spit “on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes.” I’m not a germaphobe, but I’d rather someone not spit on the ground and then rub the mud in my eyes. What is going on here?

Part of what is going on in this miracle is historically based. In the time of Christ, spit was believed to have healing properties, especially for eye problems. Pliny the Elder, a Roman author who wrote around the time of Christ and the Apostles, said that saliva was good for healing certain eye problems. And the fact that Christ made clay harkens back to the account in Genesis of God forming Adam out of the clay. Christ is re-creating this man, just as God first created Adam.

So, while it sounds kind of gross to us, there is a reason that the Lord used saliva to make clay in order to heal the blind man. But the real question is not why use His saliva to make clay but why bother healing the blind man in this way at all. He could have just snapped His fingers and said, “Be healed.” Why go through all the trouble of making the clay and then putting it on his eyes and then making him wash in the pool of Siloam? The way that the Lord chose to heal the blind man was certainly messier. But it was also more personal, and more human. The blind man felt Christ actually touch him and heard Christ speak to him. Rather than just heal from a distance, Our Lord heals in a way that is much more personal. The healing was not just some magic trick that Christ performed but a personal encounter with the man. The blind man also had to make an act of faith. After Jesus put the clay on his eyes, He told the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The blind man had to trust Jesus and follow his directions. Christ healed the blind man by His own power, but the man had to participate in the healing.

Christ’s means of healing was also much more human than if He had simply commanded the man to see. As humans, God made us with both a body and a soul. We are not purely spiritual beings. So God comes to us through the mediation of physical realities. Christ used the physical realities of the clay and the water of the pool to bring about the healing.

This is how God works in our lives too, not from a distance, but in a way that is close and personal, and which incorporates the whole of who we are as human beings. The clearest place we can see this is in the sacraments. For each of the sacraments, God’s grace is mediated through tangible signs. In baptism, God uses water as a means of giving us sanctifying grace. In confirmation, God uses chrism to seal us with the Holy Spirit. In the Eucharist, God transforms bread and wine in order to give us His Body and Blood. God doesn’t want to give us grace in a distant, impersonal way but in a real, tangible encounter. Sometimes people will say to me, “Father, I don’t see why I have to go to confession. Can’t I just tell God I’m sorry for my sins?” We should tell God we are sorry for our sins, but again, God wants to give us grace in a way that is tangible, through a real, personal encounter. And that is what happens in the sacrament of confession.

God always acts in ways that correspond to our human nature. But this means that, like the blind man, we have to participate in God’s work. Often, when we pray about problems, whether big problems like poverty and hunger and violence or our own problems, we expect God just to snap His fingers and magically make those things go away. But He doesn’t do that. He works to solve the problems of the world through real, tangible means, that is, through us. We are His hands, reaching out to bring His healing. We are the tangible means that He uses to give grace to the world. In order to heal the blind man, Christ got His hands dirty. In the sacraments, He comes to us also through tangible signs. And He sends us out into the world to get our hands dirty too, so that we too can be tangible signs of His grace.

Third Sunday of Lent

What is prayer? I think most of us think of prayer along these lines: There is something that I want or need. So I go to God and I say, “Hey God, it’s me, here’s what I need.” And God responds to us, hopefully by giving us what we think we need. I think that is the approach that most of us have to prayer. I have a need; I go to God; God answers. But the Church defines prayer differently. The Catechism says, “In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.” Prayer is not about me going to God. In prayer, God comes to me, and I respond. Our prayer, whether we realize it or not, is not us going to God, but rather us responding to God, who has already reached out to us. We see that in Our Lord’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in today’s Gospel. It is Jesus who initiates the conversation by saying to her, “Give me a drink.” He is the one who speaks first; her first words are a response.

In fact, the Catechism uses this encounter in discussing prayer. It says, “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him.” That is amazing. Most of us think of prayer as us bringing our desires to God. But really, it starts with the opposite; it begins by God bringing His desire to us.

Think about that: God desires something of you. On some level, that doesn’t make sense. God is lacking nothing. God is perfect; He is the cause of all perfection and all perfections are in Him. There is nothing God needs. But there is something He wants, something He desires, something He thirsts for, and it is you. The Most Holy and Blessed Trinity thirsts for you. Whether we realize it or not, every time we come to prayer, every time that we raise our hearts and minds to God, we are responding to God’s deepest desire.

In the Gospel, Jesus brings His thirst to the woman, but in doing so He also uncovers her thirst. First, her thirst for water, for material needs. But as He talks with her, He uncovers her deeper thirsts. He gets to her thirst for rest. “Give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She is tired of her labor, tired of having to come in the heat of the day to draw water day after day. She thirsts for rest. The Lord goes deeper still. Although she tries to hide it, Our Lord reveals to her that He is aware that she has had five husbands. Truly this woman is searching for something. She is thirsting for intimacy. She is thirsting for someone who can make her feel whole. Like the woman, we have things we desire: we desire material things like food, water, and shelter; we have deeper desires like comfort and rest, and deeper desires still, like love and intimacy.

It is interesting to note that as soon as Jesus hits on this deep thirst, she begins talking to Him about God. That is what she is ultimately wanting, her truly deepest thirst. That is what all of us ultimately desire. As the Catechism says, “The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God, and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” All of us, every single person who has ever existed, desires God. It is built in to us. Our desire for God is as natural as breathing. Unfortunately, we can often misinterpret this thirst for God or try to satisfy it in other ways. We can try to satisfy our thirst for God with fame and success. We can try to satisfy our thirst for God with possessions and wealth. We can try to satisfy our thirst for God with other people or with lust. We can try to numb our thirst for God with distractions or food or alcohol. When the things of this world fail to satisfy our thirst for God, we can give in to despair and hopelessness, assuming that life is ultimately disappointing and meaningless. The Samaritan woman was trying to satisfy her thirst for God with husbands. She was looking for the one person who would truly satisfy her, who would love her completely, who would know her fully. Unable to find this in any one man, she went from husband to husband, searching for God but not realizing it. But when her thirst encountered the thirst of Jesus, she was filled. Notice that after talking with Christ, John says that the woman, “left her water jar.” Her thirst has been quenched, not her thirst for water, but her thirst for God, and it was quenched by being assumed into God’s thirst for her.

Like the woman at the well, we all come to God thirsty; we come desiring things. And like her, there are many levels to those desires. But underneath all of those there is that deep longing, that thirst for God. What have you been doing with that thirst? Have you been trying to ignore it, to pretend that it isn’t there? Have you been trying to satisfy it with other things, with the things of this world? There are so many things people use to try to satisfy their thirst for God. Sometimes even good things. People try to have their spouse fill their thirst for God or their achievements. But it never works. Have you been trying to numb your thirst for God? Have you given in to hopelessness, deciding that that deep desire in your heart will just never be filled?

There is only one thing that can satisfy our thirst for God, and that is by letting it encounter His great thirst for us. God desires you. He thirsts for you. As St. John tells us later in his Gospel, as Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out, “I thirst.” From the Cross Jesus thirsted, not for water or for wine, but for you, for your heart. In this Eucharist, we bring our thirst, our desire for God, and in return we encounter the God who thirsts for us, who desires us so much that He would give us Himself, His Body and Blood.

I think for so many of us, our experience of prayer and of the Mass is just intellectual, very unemotional and dispassionate. But that isn’t what it is supposed to be. Prayer is the meeting of our deepest desire for God and His deep desire for us. Prayer is two passions, two thirsts meeting and finding themselves satisfied in the other. And Mass is the greatest form of prayer we have, the most intimate encounter we have with God’s desire for us.

Today, right now, what do you want? What are you thirsting for? What is the deepest desire of your heart? Bring that to God. Give it to Him in this Eucharist. And in so doing, allow yourself to encounter His desire, His thirst for you. Know the passion and the longing in His love as His heart yearns for you. And find in Him the one who says, “whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Second Sunday of Lent

I was flipping through the channels on TV the other day and came across one of those famous televangelists. One of those guys with the really fancy suits preaching to a church that looks more like a basketball arena. And I thought, “Hmmm, I wonder what he’s preaching.” He was saying, “God wants to bless you abundantly.” And I thought, “Hey, that sounds like our first reading for Sunday.” In our reading, the Lord tells Abram, “I will bless you.” Not only does He promise to bless Abram, but He then adds, “I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.” God is going to bless Abram so much that the blessing will overflow from him to others. God’s blessing for Abram is going to be so abundant that other people will be blessed because of it. And the Lord says the same thing to us that He said to Abram. God wants to bless you as well, and through you that blessing will pour out onto others.

But then this preacher went on. He said, “God wants to bless you abundantly. He wants to bless your finances abundantly. He wants to bless your health abundantly.” I don’t know what he said after that because I threw my remote control through my TV screen. There are a lot of preachers out there that equate “God wants to bless you” with “God wants to make your life easy and take your problems away and make you wealthy and successful.” It is such an attractive message. We can all be tempted to hear “God wants to bless you” and think it means “God wants to give you whatever you want.” Let me be clear: that is not what it means. “God wants to bless you” does not mean “God wants to make you a millionaire.” It doesn’t mean “God wants to take all your problems away and make your life carefree.” Listen to what St. Paul says to St. Timothy in the second reading: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” These are two saints talking. If being blessed by God was synonymous with having a nice, easy life, they’d have had the best lives ever. But they didn’t. St. Paul elsewhere recounts the list of his tribulations. He says, “Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure.” In St. Paul’s life, it is pretty clear that being blessed by God did not mean that he didn’t have any troubles.

In fact, being blessed by God probably caused more troubles for him. Those hardships he encountered were a result of being called to preach the Gospel. If God had never called him, St. Paul would probably have had fewer difficulties in his life. The same is true for Abram. Notice how the first reading starts, “The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” God’s promise to bless Abram is preceded by a command to leave everything he has ever known and move to a new land. And Abram doesn’t even know where he is going, just that it is to a place that the Lord will show him. Anyone who has ever moved knows that moving is not a fun, easy thing. Imagine moving without modern conveniences like moving vans, and moving without knowing where you are going. Being blessed by God made Abram’s life more difficult than it would have been if he had not been blessed by God and just stayed where he was.

So if being blessed by God doesn’t mean taking our troubles away, what does it mean? We see this in the Gospel today. It is important to put the Transfiguration in context. Immediately before this, Jesus tells His disciples for the first time that He will suffer and die, and then tells them that whoever wishes to follow Him must take up their cross and follow Him. This news understandably unsettles the Apostles. So Jesus takes three of them, Peter, James and John, the three He seems to have been closest to, and He brings them to witness His transfiguration. They get a glimpse of His true glory and majesty. They hear the voice of the Father. All in all, it is a profoundly awe-inspiring event. Falling as it does on the heels of Jesus’s prediction of His Passion, its meaning is clear. The prediction of the Passion has the Apostles shaken and afraid. Perhaps it even has caused them to question whether or not they really want to follow Jesus. The Transfiguration is intended to strengthen and reassure them. It is as though Our Lord is telling them, “Yes, there will come a time when you will see me seemingly weak and defeated, but remember, in all of that, that this is who I am.” Jesus seeks to encourage the Apostles.

And that is what it means to be blessed by God: not that we will not face trials, but that in the midst of our trials we can remain sure of God’s loving care for us. Listen again to what St. Paul tells St. Timothy: “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” St. Timothy is not facing hardship alone, but he does so fortified with the strength that comes from God. Abram, as he set out on his journey to an unknown land, did so certain of the Lord’s care and support. God’s blessing is not a promise of an easy life. Rather, God’s blessing is the promise of His presence even in the midst of life’s greatest trials. God’s blessing does not give us things like wealth or good health or material success. Those are small things. God’s blessing gives us something much bigger than those things: it gives us God Himself.

Sometimes, I think we can forget just what an amazing blessing that is. The all-powerful, infinite, eternal Creator of Heaven and Earth is with you. He loves you; He knows you, He cares about you. In the midst of all of your difficulties and troubles, He is close to you with His strength and support. That is the blessing that God gives each of us. God knows that there can be times when it is hard to believe that God is with us, so He gives each of us our own Transfiguration moments in our lives. He gives us those moments where His presence is so real and so tangible, we are like Peter, James and John on that mountain. Maybe our Transfiguration moments are as big and dramatic as theirs, maybe they are a bit more subtle, but God gives them to each of us. He probably gives us more than we even realize, we just miss them. And God gives us our Transfiguration moments to strengthen us as well, so that we can know the blessing of His presence and so that our faith can be strengthened for those times that we face trials and hardship.

So what are your Transfiguration moments? What are those times that God has revealed His presence in your life? Have you ever stopped to reflect on them, or do they just pass you by? God gave them to you for a reason. And if you are having trouble thinking of any, perhaps spend some time in prayer with God asking to see how He has been present and active in your life. As He told Abram, God wants to bless us abundantly with the blessing of His presence. Let us not take this great blessing for granted.