Monday, March 5, 2012

Treasure To Be....Protected....Preserved....Defended

In the early days, I was never trilled to have to preach on Transfiguration Sunday. I was not able to connect with the Gospel episode. The sermon was often more of a "head trip" than a "heart trip". Over the many years, as Incarnational Theology became more of a reality for me, layers of meaning began to open up.

For starters, the message of this Sunday was an influence on the second station of The Cross at St. Andrew The Apostle. When one looks closely at that station you will see a great something in the face of that mature woman. The reason for this is to offer encouragement to the station follower. The stations are offered as a way to connect the suffering story of Jesus, The God-man, with our story of daily suffering. They are one and the same. Just as the sufferings of Jesus led to new life, and a new wisdom. A wisdom not easily grasped. None the less, this wisdom is offered to us and becomes ours over time, as we bring our sufferings to all our prayer practices. In that second station one sees a wisdom there, written by the lines on time on that woman's face. What she has suffered over the years gives has given her that something that draws and attracts us to her. Look at her eyes. They are eyes full of hope. Her eyes convey that necessary message of hope. That is the message of this station.
You do not pass by that station very easily. Our sufferings, seen as the sufferings of Jesus Christ today, are then the pathway to a new wisdom. This path leads us to not just a new understanding and a new way of just existing, but a new way of living. As we are in the early stage of our Lentenintensity we too are in great need of encouragement. We are in deep need of hope. We are in the need of that act of humility which allows us to accept the limitations of our humanity, so as to surrender into the waiting arms of a mercy-full and compassionate God. So easily desired, so difficult to allow to happen.

As that "Wisdom Mother" of the second station, offers us so much, so too, the scene painted in the Gospel. Jesus has announced He was going to suffer and die. Peter reacted, as he so often did, not in a good way. He had to be put in his place. (I love Peter. He must have been an Irishman!!! He was always speaking and acting before he thought.) Jesus wanted to strengthen the Apostles for all that was going to happen. He wanted to teach them that His suffering and death was not to be an end. He would have life after death. Did they get the message? No, we too find it difficult to accept that each death is not the end, but the beginning of a new way of living. We will become “better or bitter” in so far as we accept or deny that reality. We are always going through the grieving process. There are always deaths to face. Some small, some shattering, all are pain-full. Over the years we find out the greater the loss the greater the resulting "gift". A gift that is always slowly unwrapped within the life we lead. Just as death is a certainty in this life so also is resurrection, transformation and transfiguration.

In The Transfiguration, the divinity shone through the humanity of Jesus. That which shone through Our Brother, is also within us, His adopted sisters and brothers. What He had by nature we posses because of grace. This reality, this mysterious, cannot be denied. The denial by ourselves or another either through violent word or action, does not negate the reality. We all have this mysterious gift. "At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will.” “This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty IS THE PURE GLORY OF GOD WITHIN US. It is so to speak His name written within a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.” So wrote Thomas Merton in a letter to Henri Nouwen. No wonder Merton said, ' Be who you already are" and that will be enough. Easier said than done.

We are in a constant battle to preserve and sometimes defend our innate dignity from those who have this sick desire to put us down and trigger feelings of not being good enough. The weapon of choice of these individuals is toxic shame. A spiritual death awaits those who are victimized by this weapon of spiritual death. Toxic shame and a healthy spirituality are mutually exclusive. How often do we hear politicians say to an opponent “SHAME on you", or worse still a parent to a child, "I am ashamed of you"? We must never tolerate words like dumb, stupid, shut up and a word that has hit the news - slut. These words are shaming words and are never justified in being used. Shame was a weapon used in an effort to negate the truth spoken. We must always reverence the truth of another in the same way as we want our truth to be listen to and respected. That is when dialogue becomes a reality and bridges are built. When I want to shame you, I deny your truth and have no willingness to listen to a different way of seeing and thinking. How sad it is for our little ones to be so exposed to such spiritual and sexual violence. There is something else to be considered when a person is shamed it takes a long process for that person to get over the wounding. Yes, in each shaming action a wound is inflicted. Spiritual and psychological wounds are not, and I repeat - NOT, healed over night. It takes a long process of recovery. Shame is so readily handed out. We saw that with the priest who refused The Eucharist to a daughter at her mother's funeral. We also have been exposed to the shaming on the airwaves. These events will disappear from the public eye. The hell of living in toxic shame is not so easily exorcised. That last word was consciously chosen.

In ending, I pray that each of you will take the time to become more aware, more conscious and more accepting of that brilliant diamond deep within. You MUST ask God for His strengthening love to make this happen. Why God? If you have been shamed and who has not? Those who have been shamed in any way you do not possess the belief that within them is the necessary strength. That is the lie we are asked to believe in. I am sorry to say, your strength has been destroyed by the shaming act. Be not afraid, with God all things are possible, with Him there is nothing impossible. Slowly, by healthy actions, self worth is recovered. Recovery is a process. It is the result of many, many healthy actions. But, it does happen when desired. Then, in time, that same light which shone so brightly through the humanity will again permeate your heart, soul and mind. You will become more and more of a testament that evil does not win.

God Is The Lord of life. You now realize your anger has been given to defend your boundaries. This realization is LIFE CHANGING. The life you are now living is way beyond your imagination. By grace, you have "become a new creation and have clothed yourself in Christ", the risen One. There is more of a conscious aware that something is so very new and different. As it was with Him, so it is now with you, and will be forever and ever.


  1. Hi Father Joe-I was at St Andrew today for my grand daughters baptism and I heard you speak at Mass- I really wanted to hear more about your thoughts and I couldn"t wait to come home and read your blog. I really love the Thomas Merton quotes you used because I have such a deep value and respect for people I meet that have the ability to be genuine and be who they really are. as you said, its a process to become ones true self and not one thats easy to undertake and not many even know what that means no less endeavor to actually be authentic. I have had need in my life to surrender and live with an open heart and faced the consequences accordingly. I am learning only now at 54 years old, that the only ONE who can truly fill that void is through the grace of God and His Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you so much for your intelligent and thought provoking voice. I live too far to attend your church on a regular basis but I will be checking in to see what you have to say next. Thank you again! Most sincerely-Kathy- a beautiful wounded survivor who is learning the truth. God Bless you!!

  2. Father Joe,
    I was at church and heard you speak of the toxic trilogy....really wondering how to heal from that...any thoughts would be appreciated.