Genesis 12:1-4; 2Timothy 1:8-10; Matthew 17:1-9
There’s a beautiful little book by Pope Benedict called “Behold the Pierced One”, first published in English in 1986. It’s really a series of Christ-centred meditations and reflections and I want to share with you some of the thought from this book as they relate to our Gospel today.
The first word of today’s Gospel is Jesus. Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain.
But who is Jesus? Catholic theology has much to say about him but there is a modern trend to want to go back to the beginning and discover the historical Jesus; to set aside all that the Church says about him, and to know him in and through himself alone.
This, then, is the challenge Pope Benedict takes up in his meditations – to suggest in a few clear statements certain fundamental characteristics of the unity of the Jesus of history and the Jesus of the Church. We don’t have the time, of course, to develop each step of the Pope’s thought but let us select a few of his ideas.
His first thesis is that: according to Scripture, the centre of the life and person of Jesus is his constant communication with the Father.
How true this is and no Christian, Protestant or Catholic, will deny it.
For the entire gospel testimony is unanimous that Jesus’ words and deeds flowed from his most intimate communion with the Father; that he continually went “into the hills” to pray in solitude after the burden of the day.
The evangelist Luke shows us: the essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality and that this core was his dialogue with the Father.
Surely this insight is as simple as it is indispensible to understanding Jesus. We could go so far as to say that Jesus was defined by his prayer and as Pope Benedict’s second thesis says: Jesus died praying.
His third thesis is that: Since the centre of the person of Jesus is prayer, it is essential to participate in his prayer if we are to know and understand him.
Jesus’ prayer was the prayer of the Son; it was an act of constant self-giving into the hands of his Father who gave him everything in return. Since, in his innermost self, Jesus is nothing but relationship with God, the Father we, in order to come to know and understand Jesus, must enter into this relationship, this prayer of the Son.
Thesis four states: Sharing in Jesus’ praying involves communion with all his brethren .. what St Paul calls the ‘Body of Christ’.
Jesus came to us so that he might make us into a New People for God his Father; he is here on earth for us because, as Pope Benedict says, our voice is not loud enough to summon the infinite. Only the prayer of Jesus can reach God.
And again: man is not in a position to produce a relationship to God on his own account. It is the prayer of Jesus which adopts those who believe in him into the community of his own self (of his Body).
But there is one more important thing to be said here. It is to make clear that the prayer of Jesus, his act of self-surrender to the Father, his dying prayer, was consummated on the Cross and made present in the Eucharist as his gift to us. In this prayer Jesus takes us to the Father and makes us children of the Kingdom.
It is not surprising then that when Jesus went up the high mountain to pray, that he should take ‘with him’ Peter, James and John (the core of the community of the Twelve) as he would take them ‘with him’ to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
The mountain, in Scripture, is always the place of meeting with God, the place of prayer. During his prayer Jesus is transfigured. The glory of God in which his prayer participates is shown in his body. Pope Benedict says: the Transfiguration only renders visible what is actually taking place in Jesus’ prayer: he is sharing in God’s radiance…
When we reflect on this we come to see that all Jesus’ teaching, his proclamation of God’s revelation, the Good News, and all the miracles he worked proceed from this radiance. Furthermore, it is into this very radiance of God that we enter when we pray so that our eyes may be opened so that we may see God.
In the midst of this reflection Pope Benedict says something which needs pondering. He says that: the entire person of Jesus is contained in his prayer. Certainly he would intend us to understand here the entire Jesus is contained in the Eucharist because it is his prayer to the Father.
So, to understand his prayer is to understand Jesus; to understand Jesus we have to participate in his prayer.