By Father Jeff Belger
For The Catholic Messenger
Reflecting back to the beginning of this season of Lent, Ash Wednesday, you may recall Jesus’ teaching on prayer, fasting and almsgiving. In each category, he begins: “When you … (pray, fast, give alms)”. Clearly expecting these actions to be practiced, Jesus first teaches us how not to do them. We are told not to act as if to be seen or praised. Do not misunderstand this to mean that you should not be seen. Coming together as a family or as a parish to worship and pray together is a great and holy thing. Our motivation needs to be receiving blessing from God, not from others.
This Sunday, you will receive Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration. This is a wonderful passage of union and communion. Not only are representatives of the old and new covenant sharing the same experience, they are witnessing an exposition of the communion of the most Holy Trinity. With all that is extraordinary in this Gospel, I would point out that the message is quite ordinary. Let’s consider two quotes that caught my attention. The Father, speaking to Peter, James and John says: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
It is possible that the Father wanted Peter to be quiet. However, it does not appear that Peter was being rebuked as much as being instructed. However, the Father’s instruction does beg the question: Listen to Jesus as opposed to whom? The one clue that we have is Jesus’ first quote: “Rise and do not be afraid.” Now, in context, the apostles were face down on the ground because of the voice of God, the Father.
Let’s think about other voices Jesus’ disciples must have been dealing with from the past and even more importantly, in the near future. These other voices, were they bringing calm or fear? Much of the experience of following Jesus would have been positive (think of the many who had been healed or delivered from evil spirits), their voices were positive and uplifting.
However, the religious and civil authorities would have had strong voices warning people to stay far from Jesus. He was seen as a dangerous man. He was saying and doing things that seemed contrary to the religious and civil law. But true peace is not merely the absence of conflict. It is the presence of righteousness (right relationship) with God and others. Jesus is righteousness. As the perfect union of the human and the divine, it is through him, with him and in him that we have access to the true peace of the heavenly kingdom.
There are so many voices from our culture filling us with fear. Although there is much we may be fearful about, only one voice can promise peace and follow through with that promise. It is the voice of the Beloved Son, Jesus.
This week as you continue your journey of Lent, rest assured that God has a handle on all that is wrong with the world. If it helps you to give God your own list of uncertainties and anxieties, speak your piece. But remember, we enter prayer with God specifically because he is God, and we are not. So, when you pray, be receptive, listen to him and receive his peace.
(Father Jeff Belger is priest director of Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City.)