March 16, 2014
Second Sunday of Lent
R/ (22) Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you.
Reading 2 2 Tim 1:8b-10
Gospel Mt 17:1-9
Just one city block from where we have gathered today, in the vestibule of Christ the King Chapel at Loras College is enshrined in a glass display case a book just like this one, a Latin prayer book like this one that was used by Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, in whose memory the Chapel was dedicated in 1947.
Fr. Schmitt, born in 1909 in St. Lucas IA, was serving his first tour of duty at sea onboard the USS Oklahoma at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He had just finished celebrating Mass when the call went out for "general quarters". As the assault on the Navy’s fleet raged, Chaplain Schmitt went to the ship’s sick bay to minister to the injured and dying.
When the Oklahoma was struck and water poured into her hold, the ship began to list and roll over. Many men were trapped. Fr. Schmitt found his way—with other crew members—to a compartment where only a small, narrow porthole provided enough space to escape. Chaplain Schmitt helped other men, one by one, to crawl to safety. When it became his turn, the chaplain tried to get through the small opening. As he struggled to exit through the porthole, he was reportedly blocked from a free exit by that prayer book that he had slipped into his clothing. In the moment of intervening struggle, he became aware that others had come into the compartment from which he was trying to escape. He realized that the water was rising rapidly and that escape would soon be impossible, but he insisted on being pushed back through the hole so that he could help others who could get through the opening more easily. He insisted, “Please let go of me, and may God bless you all.”
Four weeks later in a Protestant service in San Francisco, a Jewish sailor told how he lived because a Catholic Chaplain had pushed him out the porthole, one of twelve men whom Fr. Schmitt helped out of the narrow port hole before the Oklahoma filled with water and sank.
In today’s gospel, we are treated with St. Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of the Lord, where we hear that, after Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up high on the mountain and is transfigured before them, “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.”
Light—the sign of divine presence—shining through the humanity of Jesus of Nazareth.
However, it was not only Jesus who was transfigured on that day, for Peter, James and John did not leave the mountain unchanged.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “Christ's Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles' faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the "high mountain" prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: "the hope of glory" (568)
The faith of the apostles is strengthened in the vision of the Transfigured Lord, a faith that will flower in heroic sacrifice after Christ’s death and resurrection, when these simple men become heroic preachers, even with the shedding of their blood. They become images of Jesus himself, the Light of Christ radiating literally to the ends of the earth.
The vision of the transfigured Lord transfigures all who see him, strengthening their faith for heroic self-sacrificial love in the pattern of the transfigured one upon whom Christ’s disciples gaze.
Peter, James and John went up to the mountain of Transfiguration and were themselves transfigured for sacrificial love.
Fr. Aloysius Schmitt went to the mountain of Transfiguration over and over again when the glory of the transfigured Lord radiated through the Eucharist that he daily celebrated, even in the last hour of his life. This filled him with the love that he needed to heroically give his life on December 7, 1941, following the example of his Lord and our Lord.
We too come to the mountain of Transfiguration that radiates from the Eucharistic Body of Christ from this mountain of grace.
Notice the sheer architecture of our church—the altar up six steps suggests the mountain of the Transfiguration; from this mountain too radiates Christ’s glory, the true hope of glory given to us here week after week.
The question—will we receive this glory for heroic self-sacrificial love, in the pattern of Jesus, according to the example of SS Peter, James and John, according to the heroic example of Fr. Aloysius Schmitt?
Others long to see such greatness of heroic virtue. Your family and friends are literally dying until they see such self-sacrificial heroism and the world is dying until it sees Christ’s glory radiating life and love from this Mount of Transfiguration and through us to others.
Because we have seen His glory, mediocre living and loving are out of the question! From this Mount of Transfiguration, we go like Peter, James and John, like Fr. Aloysius Schmitt, transfigured and called to love sacrificially, heroically, and gloriously, radiating God’s love given here as life for others and for the world.