Last year the dramatic flood of refugees heading for Europe across the sea was a daily feature in the news. Tragic stories of those who drowned were making headlines. Reports on refugees holed up in migration centres or facing closed borders were shown on TV so often that they seemed to have become a permanent fixture in the regular schedule. Our reactions over here in Europe varied widely, from extreme opposition to accepting any refugees at all, to a seemingly careless acceptance of anyone who showed up at the proverbial door. Each opinion was capable of being supported by valid arguments. But there was one thing certain about most of those who had left their homelands – they wouldn’t have left unless they felt they absolutely had to. Running away from war, or escaping from persecution, or looking for a better life – I’m pretty sure they would have loved to stay where they were, where they felt they belonged, in what they considered as their homes; and I’m pretty certain that it was with heavy hearts that they made the decision to set out into the unknown.
A similar scene is related in today’s first reading, in which God tells Abram – the future Patriarch Abraham – to leave his country, his family and his father’s house, and to make it to another country, the one that God will eventually show him. There’s a promise attached to this call: ‘I will make you a great nation’, but there’s very little evidence that it will be fulfilled. In fact, Abram is entirely reliant upon the trust that he places in God, nothing more. So, Abram is to leave everything familiar to him and to travel into the unknown: that’s a massive undertaking. The biblical author described Abram’s response in a concise but powerful way: ‘So Abram went as the Lord told him.’
A similar call from God for trustful obedience is directed towards the three Apostles in today’s gospel – Peter, James and John. The Apostles witnessed Jesus in his glory; they were so gobsmacked that they didn’t know what to do or what to say. Peter offered to set up camp to prolong this powerful experience. Yet the climax of this spectacular event is God’s proclamation: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour’, followed by the call: ‘Listen to him.’ This call isn’t merely about pricking up one’s ears to register the sound and words of Jesus’. It’s a call to take his words to heart, into the mind, and to follow them – to put them in practice. In the moment of rapture and elation it was easy to embrace that call wholeheartedly. The real test of the Apostles’ resolve was to come. Jesus gives a hint of that test as they were going back down the mountain: ‘Tell no one about this vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’ We know that they mostly failed at the time of Jesus’ death; but we also know that they went through the hours of darkness because of that belief.
We may be fooled into thinking that Abram, as well as Jesus’ followers, had it easier than us because somehow they heard God actually speaking to them and therefore they enjoyed clarity of expression; an advantage unavailable to the most of us. We have to remember that the biblical stories were told and written down with the benefit of hindsight, allowing them to see a much wider picture and to make connections between the chain of events. But those who lived through those events struggled to grasp their meaning at the time they occurred, as we do. The individuals in the Bible had their dilemmas, as we do; they had their doubts, moments of despair, their fair share of trouble and adversity… Their faith in God, fortified every now and again by some positive experiences, helped them to go through their hours of darkness.
We have our own Mount of Transfiguration, where we can look on Jesus’ glory and be reaffirmed in our belief that He’s always with us: in our joys and our sorrows, in our jubilations and our frustrations, in our successes and our failures… Where is that Mount of Transfiguration of ours? Here and now, and every time we celebrate Mass. This is the time when we can renew our hope, our faith and our love, and find the strength to trudge through another week. God speaks to you through the events of your life. Listen to Him.