Recently, I had the honor of being interviewed by not one, but two national magazines: Slate Magazine and the National Catholic Reporter. Both magazines were interviewing me about my work with Mychal Judge.
Many of you know that I wrote a book a few years ago called “Mychal’s Prayer,” about my work with Father Mychal who was the Franciscan monk in New York City who became the first recorded casualty of 9/11.
There’s a very famous photograph you may have seen of the rescue workers carrying Mychal’s lifeless body from the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
And, in 2006, there was a wonderful documentary released about Mychal’s life entitled, “The Saint of 9/11,” (narrated by Sir Ian McKellan) which you can now stream on Amazon Prime.
Now, you may be wondering why – almost 20 years after his death – were two national magazines interested in writing articles about Mychal again.
Well, last year, a movement began around the world to have Mychal officially considered for canonization. A case was opened to possibly make him a saint.
I personally received a document from Rome asking me to answer a series of questions about my work with Mychal. This came from the official Vatican postulator who is working on the case for Mychal’s canonization.
Now, you may know that in order for someone to be canonized as a saint, there must be at least two miracles attributed to them.
So, for example, Mother Teresa, we can all agree, was a very holy woman who devoted her life to serving the sick and dying. But, in order for her to become a saint, the church needed two confirmed miracles attributed to her.
So, my question for you today is: Why are miracles are so important in order to prove someone’s holiness?
If you were with us last Sunday, you know that our gospel story was all about Jesus performing healing miracles. But, what if there weren’t any miracles attributed to Jesus? Would you still believe in his divinity? What if we never heard about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, or turning water into wine, or multiplying the loaves and fish, or walking on water?
What if all we had in the gospels were Jesus’s teachings alone? His parables. His beatitudes. His Sermon on the Mount. Would that be enough for you to believe in his Divinity? Or, do you need the miracles in order to believe?
I don’t know if Mychal Judge performed any miracles, but I believe he was a saint, a man so full of Love and Light.
It’s important for us to remember that the miracle stories attributed to Jesus were not eye-witness accounts. These miracle stories were written by the Gospel writers decades after Jesus had died. None of these writers had ever met Jesus.
I know that that might be surprising for some of you, because many Christians think that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were Jesus’s apostles.
No, the writers of the Gospel stories never met Jesus. They were writing these stories decades after Jesus’s death, and they were writing them at a time when Christians were being persecuted because of their beliefs.
So the Gospel writers were writing these stories to establish that Jesus was indeed the Messiah who had been promised in the Old Testament. That’s why there are so many parallels between the Old Testament and New Testament stories, such as in today’s Gospel story of the Transfiguration.
As I mentioned at the top of the service, today is Transfiguration Sunday. It signifies the end of the Epiphany season, and it is the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. Each year, on Transfiguration Sunday, the Sunday before Lent, we read this same Gospel story of Jesus becoming transfigured by the light.
This story parallels the Old Testament reading from today’s lectionary almost to tee!
In today’s Old Testament story, Moses – a man himself who performed many miracles (like the parting of the Red Sea) – takes one of his disciples and goes up to a mountain top where he is transfixed by the Light and where God speaks.
And, in today’s New Testament story (which we just heard), Jesus, the Miracle Worker, takes two of his disciples and goes up to a mountain top where he is transfixed by the Light and where God speaks…just like in the Moses story.
This isn’t a coincidence. The Gospel writers were trying to establish that Jesus was “the new Moses,” the one who would lead them from persecution to freedom.
So, we shouldn’t read these stories literally, as historic texts of actual events, but rather symbolically, as metaphor. So, how can we understand the Transfiguration story metaphysically or symbolically?
Well, I’ve shared with you before that going to the “mountain top” symbolizes going to a place of higher consciousness. It’s leaving the earthly realm and rising to a higher plane where you begin to see things from a higher perspective.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is alone, at prayer, in a place of higher consciousness, and it is in that state where he experiences the Light and hears the voice of God.
But, this transfiguration experience is not just for special people like Jesus. Many Eastern yogis have experienced this state, which they call Samadhi. Samadhi is the highest level of meditation. It is when the person who’s meditating loses human consciousness and becomes one with the divine consciousness.
And, that is why the word YOGA means UNION with GOD. That is the purpose of prayer and meditation…to become united with God.
We not only hear this in the Hindu teachings, but also in the Buddhist teachings. When Buddha was meditating under the Bodhi Tree he attained enlightenment. He became one with the Diving Light. Jesus wanted us to achieve this same level of enlightenment for ourselves.
That’s why he said, “You are the Light” and the “Kingdom of Heaven is within You.”
Jesus wanted us to “become one with the one”… to experience oneness with God for ourselves. And Jesus gave us instructions to follow so that we could experience this Oneness. When we forgive as God forgives and when we love how God loves, we practice “Becoming one with the One.”
Jesus also gave us instructions for how to pray. He said, “When you pray, go to your inner room – to the Secret Place of the Most High - and there you will be rewarded.” Jesus said, “If thine eye be single, thy entire body will be full of light.”
Meaning: Close your human eyes, and begin seeing with the divine eye, what our Eastern brothers and sisters call the third eye.
Stop seeing things the way the world sees them, and start seeing them the way God sees them. That’s the purpose of prayer. When you focus on that, your entire body will be full of light.
Today’s gospel story ends with Peter wanting to build a temple on top of the mountain to worship Moses and Elijah and Jesus.
But, Jesus says, “No. We must go back down the mountain. Back into the world.” And, he says, “Don’t tell anyone what happened here.”
You see, Jesus didn’t want to be worshipped. He didn’t want a temple to be built in his honor. He wanted us to become the temple, to be the Temple.
For centuries now, Christianity has been about building temples to Jesus, rather than teaching people to become temples of the Christ Light. It is much easier to build temples to the guy who achieved enlightenment (and worship him) rather than to seek enlightenment for ourselves. It’s much easier to praise the man who was able to love everyone unconditionally, rather than to go and love as he did. It’s much easier to build temples than to be temples.
The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, is the perfect time for us to start or to deepen a daily prayer practice….to ascend the mountain each and every day.
The 20th Century Christian mystic, the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, said:
“Meditation is not the intellectual effort to master certain ideas about God. Meditation (or prayer of the heart) is the active effort we make to keep our hearts open so that we may be enlightened by God and filled with the realization of true relationship with God. Hence, the aim of meditation in the context of the Christian faith is not to arrive at a scientific knowledge of God, but to know that God’s own nature has been given to us by God as our true nature.”
God’s own nature is our nature. It’s about knowing that YOU and the Father (You and the Mother) are One. This transformation, this Transfiguration, is not just about Jesus. It’s about YOU. And, this transformation is a process. Moses was on the mountaintop for 40 days and nights. Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days and nights.
And, the season of Lent is 40 days and nights, a time for us to go up to the mountaintop each day, and to prepare ourselves for spiritual transformation so that we can hear the voice of God more clearly and experience the Light of God more fully.
It’s a time for you to remember that you are the Light – that you are the Miracle – so that you can shine that Light and transform the world.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
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