Saturday, August 5, 2023

Transfiguration of the Lord (Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9). "This is my Son, listen to him"


St. Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

During his life on earth, a priest known simply as Padre Pio (1887-1968)—now St. Pius of Pietrelcina—was considered to be probably the most photographed man in the world. He was a Capuchin Franciscan priest who lived in an obscure monastery in the east of Italy in a small village called San Giovanni Rotondo. He is probably most famous for the stigmata, the five wounds of Christ, which appeared in his body when he was 31 and remained visible for over 50 years. The wounds bled about a cup-full of blood each day. They were examined many times by doctors, but they could give no explanation. Just three days before his death in September 1968, the wounds disappeared completely and his skin became like new with no trace of the stigmata. He was forbidden from showing the wounds to people, so he usually wore gloves, except when celebrating mass.


He was known to have had the gift of miraculous healings, of reading hearts—where in confession he could tell people if they were omitting something—of levitation and even bilocation. On several occasions he was seen in two different places at the same time. He heard confessions for up to 19 hours a day. People from all over the world came to make their confession to him and often had to wait for several days before they were able to go to confession. Karol Wojtyla (Pope St. John Paul II) went to him for confession as a young priest and Padre Pio told him that one day he would be given the highest post in the Church.


There is a story of one lady who came a long distance to go to confession to him. She had to wait about three days before it was her turn. When she began her confession, he just closed the confession ‘window’ on her without saying a word. She was furious. When she went back to the hostel where she was staying, the lady of the house seeing her anger, told her to think about what she had said to Padre Pio. As she reflected on her confession, she began to realize that it was not a sincere confession and that she was just going out of curiosity. She then prepared properly and after several more days went to confession to him again. This time he was very kind and respectful towards her. She needed this tough love, to realize her insincerity.


During the mass he regularly experienced the passion of Christ and his mass would often go on for up to three hours. He said that more souls came to him from purgatory asking him to pray for them, than people on earth.


As you can imagine, the Church was highly suspicious of these so-called mystical gifts and put many restrictions on his ministry. They were afraid that the gifts might be a deception and that he was misleading people. At one stage they decided to move him, so that people could not get to him, but the local people caused such an uproar that they were unable to move him. They eventually decided to forbid him from saying mass in public, or from hearing confessions. This lasted for two years. When he was told that these restrictions were being placed on him, his response was, ‘God’s will be done. The will of the superiors is the will of God.’ It is interesting how he understood the importance of obedience to his superiors. The temptation might be to fight back, but he was totally resigned to this.


Why did tens of thousands of people from all over the world go to see him? No doubt it was because his mystical gifts were a kind of window into the spiritual world, which is something we all hunger to see or experience. We need help to believe and the Lord knows that and so He continually gives us mystics like Padre Pio, and all kinds of extraordinary miracles—over 140 Eucharistic miracles to date—apparitions, physical miraculous healings and so many other signs. Many of the teachings of our Church, especially the teaching on the Eucharist, where we believe that the bread and wine really and truly becomes the Body and Blood of Christ, are difficult to believe because we don’t see anything. We just see the priest holding the host and saying the words, ‘This is my Body which will be given up to you.’ God is well aware that it is difficult to believe and so He continually gives us all kinds of extraordinary signs to help us. They are all around us if we just open our eyes.


In today’s Gospel we have the account of the transfiguration, when Peter, James and John were given this amazing vision and window into the spiritual world. Try to picture it in your mind as if you were there. Imagine being with someone you consider to be a very holy person, who could work miracles. Suddenly his whole body becomes blinding light, so much so that you can barely look at him. At the same time two other people appear and you are looking at this amazing sight. You can almost picture Peter standing there dumbfounded wondering was he dreaming and then coming out with the non-sensical works, ‘Lord it is wonderful for us to be here…’ Then there is suddenly a cloud all around you, so that everything is hidden and you hear a voice from the sky saying, ‘This is my Son the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Can you imagine the effect something like that would have on you?


Why did Jesus allow them to see this? It seems that He was giving these three men a more intense training than the others. Apart from her parents, they were the only ones He allowed with him when He brought the 12 year old girl back to life. They were also the three He kept close to him in the Garden of Gethsemane, when they saw him falling apart with fear, knowing what was about to happen to him.


No doubt one of the reasons Jesus allowed them to experience this vision was to strengthen them, to leave them in no doubt about who He really was. It says that this happened shortly before the passion, when they would be so disillusioned by what was happening. How could He be executed? What about all the miracles? Nothing made sense. But then they would remember this vision and it would help them not to despair. It would help them understand that there was something bigger happening. They had been allowed to see through to the other side. It was real. They weren’t just imagining.


The two men who appeared with Jesus were Moses and Elijah. Moses represented the Ten Commandments and Elijah represented the prophets, as he was considered the greatest of the prophets. For the Jewish people, the Law and the prophets were the path to heaven. If they lived by these teachings, this is what would lead them to heaven. The vision was showing them that Jesus was now the fulfilment of all that had come before. He is now the gate to heaven—‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6). Jesus is now the one we must listen to. He is the doorway to heaven. It is only because of his death and resurrection is it possible for us to go to heaven. And think about what they heard the Father say, ‘This is my Son the Beloved, listen to him.’ Of all the voices shouting at us through the media and different people, there is only one that we need to listen to and that is Jesus. What all of us want—happiness and being with the people we love—is to be found in Jesus. Keep listening to Jesus, to what He is saying to us. Nothing else is important.


Does this have anything to do with us today? Is it just a story in the Bible? No, it is real. It is another account that these men really saw and it is recorded for us to help us to believe. The spiritual world is real and when our time comes we will cross over into it. For now we need all the help we can get to believe and the Lord continually gives us signs and wonders to help us to believe, because He knows how difficult we find it. So when you find yourself becoming sceptical, read up on some of these mystics, or Eucharistic miracles or apparitions. They Lord has given them to us to help us. In our world it is very easy to become dismissive of spiritual things, but they are real, just as real as what we can see.


Suddenly He was transfigured before them

and his face shone like the sun

and his clothes became white as light.

And behold Moses and Elijah appeared to them

and they were conversing with him.

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