Fr. George W. Rutler – March 15,2009 “Faith is not a thing which one ‘loses,’ we merely cease to shape our lives by it." Bernanos
The same Jesus who was transfigured in glory on the mountain did a very earthy thing in using a whip to expel the moneychangers from the temple. In the early weeks of Lent the Church recounts both as a reminder that God came into the world to change it. Christ’s glory is displayed that “you might be partakers of the divine nature,” but that glory is contingent upon us “having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).
As Jesus led Peter and James and John up the mountain, so he leads us up to glory, like the priest about to ascend the altar steps in the older form of the Mass: “Introibo ad altare Dei” (“I will go unto the altar of God”). That brush with divinity at the Transfiguration, enveloped by a cloud, is a preparation for the conflict between splendor and horror at the foot of the mountain. Pope Leo the Great explains how Our Lord was strengthening the Apostles for the crucifixion to come. The kind of life that forgets God’s glory becomes depressed, despite attempts to put on a veneer of happiness: like Cole Porter’s song “Down in the Depths on the Ninetieth Floor.”
This does not mean that Christ saves us from conflicts. His followers must enter this world’s gravest conflicts, but the consolation of his glory saves them from being psychologically conflicted. Having led the three Apostles up the mountain, he leads them down. More help is needed going down than going up: This is a fact of mountaineering and it is a fact of life itself. The same three Apostles who witnessed Our Lord’s glorious transfiguration on the mountain attended his agony in the garden. By guiding the Apostles down the mountain Christ was instructing them in the virtue of the faith they would need for the trials ahead. While there are more Catholics in the United States now than ever before, many of that number are immigrants and converts. One out of every ten Americans is a former Catholic. Excuses cannot conceal the fact that these people stumbled on the difficult path down from the summit of consolations.
As Chesterton said: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” By being faithful, one proves Newman’s maxim: “A thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.” It is too glib to speak of “losing” faith. Bernanos said pointedly: “Faith is not a thing which one ‘loses,’ we merely cease to shape our lives by it.” Our Lord prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail so that he might strengthen the brethren (Luke 22:32). And Peter did precisely that right to the end of his life: “We did not follow cleverly devised myths. . . . We ourselves heard this voice from Heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1: 16-18).
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