My dear sisters and brothers in Christ:
On August 6 we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. What an extraordinary event it must have been for the apostles Peter, James and John. Before their very eyes, Jesus “was transfigured… and his clothes became dazzling white.” Then Elijah and Moses also appeared with the Lord. To add to this momentous occasion, the holy Gospel adds that the voice of the Father was heard to say: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (cf. Mark 9: 2-10).
The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus: Peter and Andrew “immediately abandoned their nets and became His followers;” “James, Zebedee’s son, and his brother John… abandoned boat and father to follow Him” (cf. Matthew 4:18-22). In dedicating their lives to the carpenter’s son from Nazareth, they at times must have had doubts about this Jesus who had been sent by His Father to bring us salvation and eternal life. For ordinary men, most who were hardworking fishermen, it must have been difficult to understand all that Jesus taught and did. The moment of the Lord’s Transfiguration was an extraordinary confirmation that, indeed, they had given their lives to the Son of God. As with any joyous moment, we want it to last. So Peter very naturally says to Jesus: “Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Mark 9:5).
But this was not to be the case. Jesus had to complete His earthy mission. The apostles had to come down from the mountain, and to accept the challenges that would be theirs as disciples commissioned to continue Jesus’ work and proclaim the Gospel.
This account of the Transfiguration is a beautiful description of the dynamic of faith and religion. Our faith, our belief in Jesus, is not an escape from the responsibilities and challenges that confront us daily. Faith gives us the strength, the courage and the insight needed to do what must be done, even to accept the words of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my footsteps” (Luke 9:23). The disciples, except for the beloved disciple, John, did sacrifice their very lives for the proclamation of the faith.
Often in our lives, it is difficult to profess our faith amid a culture not necessarily inclined to hear or accept the message of Christianity or the truths of our Catholic faith. But because we believe that Jesus is a true gift to us and that He uplifts and dignifies our humanity by making us sons and daughters of His Father, we wish to share His message even in the most challenging situations. This is especially true in our defense of human life embracing all the stages and circumstances of humanity, from the child in the womb, to the foreigner and the refugee, the “tired, (and the) poor, (those) huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and the sick, disabled and elderly. We stand in awe of God’s noblest creation, the human person, and we realize that God’s law is the basis for all law, teaching us to love the Lord and our neighbor as we love ourselves.
Blessed Pope Paul VI, whose 40th anniversary of death fell on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, very well understood that he was called to give himself totally to the Lord and to fulfill the mandate given to him by Christ to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith (cf. Luke 22:32). On June 30, 1968, His Holiness Pope Paul VI pronounced The Credo of the People of God, the Profession of Faith, which was developed to enable “the People of God to hear the teaching of the Church in the midst of the controversies of conflicting ideologies and multiplying schools of theological speculation” (The Credo of the People of God, A Theological Commentary by Candido Pozo, S.J., edited by Father Mark A. Pilon, p. viii, Forward by William Cardinal Baum). Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has recognized the sanctity and untiring efforts of Paul VI to proclaim our Catholic faith in one of the most difficult periods in contemporary times, the revolutionary 1960s, and for this courageous witness to our faith, Paul VI will be declared a saint of the Church on October 14, 2018!
Paul VI saw the Transfiguration of Christ at every Mass he celebrated and here he found the strength to fulfill the Petrine mission. We, too, at every Mass ascend the Mountain of Transfiguration where we hear those words: “This is my body; this is my blood.” At that extraordinary moment of union with Christ in Holy Communion, we are Peter, James and John experiencing the transfigured Lord, come to us to nourish us. Then we depart to live our lives knowing that Jesus is with us. We must return to our work, the duties of our vocations, to our responsibilities; we cannot flee from them, but we know that He is with us even unto the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:20).
Within a few weeks our young people will return to school. How very essential it is that our religious-education programs and our Catholic schools nurture the relationship of our young people with Jesus Christ. We know only too well how very complex our world is and the extraordinary problems that confront our children and young adults. They, too, can grow anxious, depressed and fearful, desiring to flee the demands placed upon them by a world in which questions are raised about human anthropology and the identity of the person without reference to a relationship with God, the Creator; a society that is plagued by drugs and alcohol, falsely portrayed as a refuge from one’s troubles; and a culture that denigrates the dignity of the human person for selfish and immoral reasons exacerbated by the misuse of technology and media.
Our young people need to know Jesus never abandons them; they need to meet Him on the Mountain of Transfiguration at every Mass, faithfully worshipping the Eucharistic Christ each week with their families; they need the support of the family and the Church both working together on their behalf. We need to enhance their knowledge of the faith so that they understand what they profess and know in Whom and in what we believe. The study of religion can never be a second-class subject, but rather must be substantial so that our youths can build their lives upon a solid foundation and not upon sand.
During this same month on August 15, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a holy day of obligation. On this Solemnity we rejoiced that: “Finally, the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be then more fully conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death. The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a singular participation in her Son’s Resurrection and an anticipation of the resurrection of other Christians …” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 966). How many challenges, heartaches and burdens were placed upon the shoulders of this young virgin of Nazareth: When she was a homeless mother about to give birth; when she had to flee to another country because her Son faced massacre by a ruthless king; when she saw her Son whipped, scourged and beaten; when she looked upon Him crucified; when she held His dead body in her arms. In all these circumstances she did not flee, she did not seek an escape, she remained firm in faith and always present to her Son in every instance! Let us on this Solemnity entrust our young people to the maternal care of God’s mother, asking that always she will lead them to her Son, Jesus, that they may come to know Him as the Way, the Truth and the Life, so that “they may have life and have it to its full” (John 10:10).
May you continue to enjoy these days of summer, renewed and strengthened, and surrounded by family and friends!
Begging the intercession of Our Mother Mary and our Patron, St. John Fisher, I remain,
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester