Monday, August 31, 2015

St Aidan's Day

St Aidan, born in Connaught, Ireland, was a monk at the monastery on the island of Iona in Scotland. According to tradition his birth had been heralded by signs and omens, and he showed evidence of high intelligence and sincere devotion even as a small child.

During the days of the Roman Empire the Christian faith had spread into England, but due to the Empire’s decline, there was a growing resurgence of paganism, especially in the north. Oswald of Northumbria had been living at the Iona monastery as a king in exile since 616 AD and was converted to Christianity. In 634 he gained the crown of Northumbria, and was determined to bring the Christian faith to his mostly pagan people.

Due to his experience of Iona, he sought missionaries from there. At first the monastery sent a new bishop named Corman, but he returned to Iona, saying that the Northumbrians were too stubborn to be converted. Aidan criticised Corman’s methods, and was sent as a replacement in 635.

Aidan chose the island of Lindisfarne, close to the royal castle at Bamburgh, as his headquarters. King Oswald, who spoke Irish Gaelic, often had to translate for Aidan and his monks, who did not speak English at first. When Oswald died in 642, Aidan received continued support from King Oswin of Deira, and the two became close friends.

An inspired missionary, St Aidan would walk from one village to another, chatting with the people he saw, slowly interesting them in the Gospel. According to legend, the king gave Aidan a horse so that he wouldn’t have to walk, but Aidan gave the horse to a beggar. By getting to know the people personally, and making them feel loved, Aidan and his monks slowly restored the Christian faith to the Northumbrian communities. Aidan also took in twelve English boys to train at the monastery, to ensure that the area’s future ministry and leadership would be English.

In 651 a pagan army attacked Bamburgh and attempted to set its walls ablaze. According to legend, Aidan prayed for the city, after which the winds turned and blew the smoke and fire toward the enemy, making it impossible for their attack to continue.

Oswin of Deira was murdered in 651. Twelve days later Aidan died, on August 31, in the 17th year of his episcopate. He had become ill while at the Bamburgh castle, and died leaning against the wall of the local church.

St Aidan’s expression of the Faith owed more to the the flavour and style of his native Celtic tradition than the contemporary Roman influence growing in the south of England. But his outstanding character, his Gospel teaching and his missionary zeal won for him the respect of Popes Honorius I and Felix I.

The monastery he founded grew and itself helped to found churches and other monasteries in the north. It also became a center of learning and a storehouse of scholarly knowledge. The Venerable Bede would later write Aidan’s hagiography and describe the miracles attributed to him. 

Here is a well known prayer of St Aidan:

Leave me alone with God as much as may be.
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore,
Make me an island, set apart,
alone with you, God, holy to you.

Then with the turning of the tide
prepare me to carry your presence to the busy world beyond,
the world that rushes in on me
till the waters come again and fold me back to you.


O loving God, who called your servant Aidan from the peace of a Cloister to re-establish the Christian mission in northern England, and gave him the gifts of gentleness, simplicity, and strength: Grant that we, following his example, may use what you have given us for the relief of human need, and may persevere in commending the saving Gospel of our Redeemer Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.


The sun rising over the path to Holy Island, Lindisfarne 

St Aidan walked from Lindisfarne to Northumbria when the retreating tide opened a path to the shore.

Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is off the coast of Northumbria. As “the tide ebbs and flows,” Bede wrote, “the place is surrounded twice daily by the waves of the sea.” When the tide ebbed, a path of wet sand appeared, a pilgrim’s track that Aidan walked to the mainland, and visitors walked to the island. When the tide flowed back, the path disappeared. Seals swam in the breakers.

Three miles long and one mile wide, off the east coast of Britain, the island was close to Oswald’s court, yet remote. The monastic community was protected by the king, but independent of his politics. In the island’s peace they could practice the contemplative prayer of love that Jesus had practiced in rowboats and on top of mountains. On the windy island they built huts, an oratory, and a hall to teach students to read and write Latin, the language in which their books were written. Hand-bells rang through the roar of the surf.

Retreat though it was, the island was also a place to leave, as St Aidan did many times, in order to reach the people with the love of Christ.

Monday, August 17, 2015

"Our Sister and our Mother" - some good Assumptiontide quotes

From the Queen of Heaven stained glass window
in S. John's Horsham, Victoria, Australia.

Anglicans and Roman Catholics who love Our Lady must be grateful for the final document of ARCIC-II "Mary - Grace and Hope in Christ." Mind you, I think that the document does contain echoes of the theological paranoia not unknown in some Anglican traditions, as well as a slightly skewed interpretation of our history in relation to Marian theology. It is as if the Anglican representatives at that time on ARCIC-II were either prejudiced against or ignorant of the growing evidence for belief in "the Marian dogmas" of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption in the Anglican tradition . . . I suspect the latter. That having been said, however, it is significant that in Section 78 the ARCIC-II document is able to affirm:

- the teaching that God has taken the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of her person into his glory as consonant with Scripture, and only to be understood in the light of Scripture (paragraph 58);

- that in view of her vocation to be the mother of the Holy One, Christ's redeeming work reached 'back' in Mary to the depths of her being and to her earliest beginnings (paragraph 59);

- that the teaching about Mary in the two definitions of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception, understood within the biblical pattern of the economy of hope and grace, can be said to be consonant with the teaching of the Scriptures and the ancient common traditions (paragraph 60);

- that this agreement, when accepted by our two Communions, would place the questions about authority which arise from the two definitions of 1854 and 1950 in a new ecumenical context (paragraphs 61-63);

- that Mary has a continuing ministry which serves the ministry of Christ, our unique mediator, that Mary and the saints pray for the whole Church and that the practice of asking Mary and the saints to pray for us is not communion-dividing.

We have just celebrated Our Lady's great day, when she, having come to the end of her earthly life, was taken up "body and soul" into heaven. It is a day for celebration, for music, art, poetry, and - in some places - even fireworks! It is a celebration that as one of us, by God's grace, Mary shares fully in the victory of her Son over death, a victory that we, too, will fully experience in the General Resurrection on the last day. The Assumption of Our Ldy reminds us of the profound sense in which the task of all our theologies - even papal pronouncements - is to "catch up" with the instinctive convictions of the Church down through the ages. That was the case historically, in terms of this Solemnity, and it is certainly the case for Christians journeying from an "anti-Marian" perspective to the fulness of faith in our time. 

So, today, I simply want to share with you some quotes that might enrich your meditation.

"On this day the sacred and life-filled ark of the living God, she who conceived her Creator in her womb, rests in the Temple of the Lord that is not made with hands. David, her ancestor, leaps, and with him the angels lead the dance."

Heaven with transcendent joys her entrance graced,
Next to his throne her Son his Mother placed;
And here below, now she's of heaven possest,
All generations are to call her blest.

From: You Crown the Year with Your Goodness: Sermons through the Liturgical Year, 186, 190-191
What . . . is the Church celebrating today? That a simple human body, inseparably united to its soul, is capable of being the perfect response to God’s challenge and of uttering the unreserved ‘Yes’ to his request. It is a single body – for everything in Christianity is always personal, concrete, particular – but at the same time it is a body that recapitulates all the faith and hope of Israel and of all men on earth. Consequently, when it is taken up into ultimate salvation, it contains the firm promise of salvation for all flesh that yearns for redemption. For all our bodies long to participate in our ultimate salvation by God: we do not want to appear before God as naked souls, ‘not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Corinthians 5:4); and God, who caused bodies to die, ‘subjecting creation to futility’, has subjected it ‘in hope’ that it ‘will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:20f). So we are celebrating a feast of hope; but, like all the New Testament feasts, it is celebrated on the basis of a fulfillment that has already taken place.; that is, not only has the Son of God been resurrected bodily – which in view of his life and death, is quite natural – but also has the body that made him man, the earthly realm that proved ready to receive God and that remains inseparable from Christ’s body. Today we see that this earth was capable of carrying and bringing to birth the infinite fruit that had been implanted in her. Today we celebrate the ultimate affirmation and confirmation of the earth.

From: The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe
'Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.'

DR ERIC MASCALL (1905-1993)
From: The Dogmatic Theology of the Mother of God in The Mother of God, E.L. Mascall ed. (London: Dacre Press, 1949), p. 43
The relation of Mary to the Church is (as the modern logicians would say) the relative product of two more fundamental relations. The first of these is Mary's relation to her Son; he is still man and she is still his mother. The second is his relation to us and to the Church; we are his members and the Church is his body. Therefore Mary is our mother and we are her children by adoption into her Son. This is not an exuberance of devotion but a fact of theology.

From Mary and The Christian Gospel p. 79
Surely it is possible to think of her Assumption as the end of the great Pauline series (Romans 8:28-30 Cf. 1 John 3:2). Mary, the woman whose predestination has been advanced to its full term of conformation into the image of God's Son and hers; Mary who was called and who responded totally; Mary who was justified and rejoiced in her salvation; Mary who has been glorified? If it may be so taken, and Mary may be seen as the one of us who has already 'got there', then it gives great force to the insistence of the Vatican Constitution that Mary is a sign of sure hope and solace for the wandering People of God; and it makes her a splendid trophy of the Gospel's grace and power.

From: Portrait of a Woman, quoted in Mary in the Church ed. John Hyland Veritas Dublin 1989, p. 93
When the vast repository of beauty and terror which we call Christian tradition, the corporate memory of all Christians before me, tells me of Mary's virginity, of her immaculate conception, and of her assumption into heaven, I believe that truths have been preserved for me which, though I cannot fully explain them nor define then, I neglect to my loss.

From: The Roman Missal
" . . . Raised to the glory of heaven,
she cares for the pilgrim Church with a mother's love,
following its progress homeward
until the day of the Lord dawns in splendour . . ."

From: All Saints'
They have brought gold and spices to my King,
Incense and precious stuffs and ivory :
O holy Mother mine, what can I bring
That so my Lord may deign to look on me?
They sing a sweeter song than I can sing,
All crowned and glorified exceedingly:
I, bound on earth, weep for my trespassing,
They sing the song of love in heaven, set free.
Then answered me my Mother, and her voice
Spake to my heart, yea answered in my heart:
“Sing, saith He to the heavens, to earth. Rejoice:
Thou also lift thy heart to Him above:
He seeks not thine, but thee such as thou art.
For lo His banner over thee is Love.

From: Jerusalem and all its Citizens
Who is this that cometh up not alone
From the fiery-flying-serpent wilderness,
Leaning upon her own Beloved One?
Who is this?

Lo, the King of kings' daughter, a high princess,
Going home as bride to her Husband's Throne,
Virgin queen in perfected loveliness . . .
Who sits with the King in His Throne?
Not a slave but a Bride,
With this King of all Greatness and Grace
Who reigns not alone:
His Glory her glory,
where glorious she glows at His side
Who sits with the King in His Throne.
She came from dim uttermost depths
which no Angel hath known,
Leviathan's whirlpool and Dragon's dominion worldwide,
From the frost or the fire to Paradisiacal zone.
Lo, she is fair as a dove, silvery,
Is Very Love; to Whom all Angels sing;
To Whom all saints sing crowned, their sacred band
Saluting Love with palm-branch in their hand . . .

Friday, August 14, 2015

St Maximilian Kolbe - pray for us

Canterbury Cathedral: 
The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time
Photo by Bob Culshaw (go HERE for info)

When he visited Canterbury Cathedral on the eve of Pentecost 1982, one of the things Pope John Paul II did was to pray with Archbishop Robert Runcie in a small semi-circular chapel lit with high stained-glass windows, not far from where St Thomas Becket was martyred, right at the easternmost end of Canterbury Cathedral. For a long time this was known as the Corona Chapel, having been the place where part of Becket’s skull was housed as a relic. By 1977 the Corona Chapel had been given a new name: “The Chapel of Saints and Martyrs of Our Own Time.” It honours those who have more recently given their lives in martyrdom. 

A notice on the wall reads:

"Throughout the centuries 
men and women have given their lives for Christianity. 
Our own century is no exception. 
Their deaths are in union with the life-giving death 
of Our Lord Jesus Christ the Saviour of mankind. 
In this Chapel we thank God for the sacrifice of martyrdom 
whereby truth is upheld and God’s providence enriched. 
We pray that we may be worthy of their sacrifice."

The change in designation took place following the murder of Anglican Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda by Idi Amin’s forces in 1977 As David Douglas says in Touchstone Magazine of December 2000, ". . . Plastic-sheeted pages inside offer brief biographical sketches of more than a dozen twentieth-century martyrs, among them the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the priest and hermit Charles de Foucauld. Two nuns, Edith Stein and Maria Skobtsova, are included . . .

"Without fanfare, in stained-glass stillness, the East Chapel transforms the beatitude, 'Blessed are those who are persecuted,' into lives of flesh and spilled blood . . ." 

Today is when the Church celebrates the triumph of sanctifying grace in the life of Maximilian Kolbe, one of the martyrs commemorated in the east Chapel. Born in Poland in 1894, when he was just 12 years old Maximilian had a vision of our Lady offering him a white crown and a red crown. The white crown symbolized persevering in holiness, and the red crown symbolized accepting martyrdom. This devout boy accepted both! His first name was actually Raymond. He later took the name of Maximilian, an ancient Christian martyr. 

He became a Franciscan priest and had a remarkable ministry of evangelization in Poland and Japan. Through his ministry so many young people came to know the Lord. But the darkness that spread across Europe during the 1930's gave rise to the Second World War, and on 17th February 1941 Maximilian, whose large following was greatly feared by the Nazis, had been arrested. In May of the same year he was transferred to the dreadful Auschwitz concentration camp where he devoted himself completely to caring for the other prisoners. His kindness, love and generosity became well known. 

At the end of July one of the prisoners escaped. The commander was furious and ordered that ten prisoners should die in his place. The prisoners were lined up and ten picked out at random. The ninth one chosen, a young Polish soldier, broke down and asked for mercy on the grounds that he was married and had a young family to support. It was then that Maximilian stepped forward and asked if he could take the man's place. After giving the matter some thought, the commander agreed.

The ten condemned men were flung naked onto the concrete floor of an underground bunker and were left there to starve to death. The guards observed them through a peep-hole and could hardly believe what they saw. Frequently the condemned men were gathered around Father Maximilian. Sometimes they were joking, sometimes they were praying and singing hymns. The assistant janitor, an eyewitness of those terrible days, said that it was as though the cell in which the condemned men were held "had become a church."

Fourteen days went by, and death overtook the prisoners one by one. Father Maximilian was the last to die when a guard put and end to his agony with an injection of phenol.

Franciszek Gajowniczek, the man whose place Maximilian had taken, survived Auschwitz and the war. Later he said, "At first I felt terrible at the thought of leaving another man to die in my place. But then I realised that he had done this, not so much to save my life, as to be with the other nine in their last terrible agony. His nearness to them in those dreadful last hours was worth more than a lifetime of preaching."

Maximilian might have contented himself with giving those men encouragement and advice. If it had been allowed he might have visited them in their death cell. But his presence with them, sharing their dreadful ordeal meant more than anything else.

Maximilian's death began a healing work in many hearts. After the War he became a popular symbol of the cry for a renewed respect of basic human rights in Germany as well as in Poland. In church circles, people of both nationalities pressed for his recognition as a Saint. This eventually took place in October 1982 in St Peter's Basilica, Rome. The next day, Franciszek Gajowniczek and many other survivors of Auschwitz and similar concentration camps were present at a special service of reconciliation in which Germans and Poles prayed together and exchanged the greeting of peace with each other. Gajownizek died in 1995, a great-grandfather.

Like Jesus whom he served, Maximilian gave his life for others. Like Jesus, his very presence reassured all kinds of people that God was real and that he loved them in spite of all the suffering and pain in the world.

St. Maximilian's cell in Block 11 at Auschwitz

Patricia Treece, in A Man For Others quotes one of the prisoners who witnessed Maximilian offer himself in Franciszek Gajowniczek's place:

"It was an enormous shock to the whole camp. We became aware someone among us in this spiritual dark night of the soul was raising the standard of love on high. Someone unknown, like everyone else, tortured and bereft of name and social standing, went to a horrible death for the sake of someone not even related to him. Therefore it is not true, we cried, that humanity is cast down and trampled in the mud, overcome by oppressors, and overwhelmed by hopelessness. Thousands of prisoners were convinced the true world continued to exist and that our torturers would not be able to destroy it. More than one individual began to look within himself for this real world, found it, and shared it with his camp companions, strengthening both in this encounter with evil. To say that Father Koble died for one of us or for that person's family is too great a simplification. His death was the salvation of thousands. And on this, I would say, rests the greatness of that death. That's how we felt about it. And as long as we live, we who were at Auschwitz will bow our heads in memory of it as at that time we bowed our heads before the bunker of death by starvation. That was a shock of optimism, regenerating and giving strength; we were stunned by this act, which became for us a mighty explosion of light in the dark camp night . . ."

". . . For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall walk by your light . . ." (Isaiah 60:1-2)

The painting of St Maximilian at the Franciscan Church in Krakow

Saturday, August 8, 2015

In the strength of that Food . . . Elijah, Jesus and Us

A handful of people are head and shoulders over everyone else in the story of God gradually revealing himself to us. Elijah is one of them. In fact, it says he is the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. You remember how – representing the whole prophetic tradition – he appears with Moses on the Mountain of Transfiguration as they speak with Jesus about his forthcoming death. (Having Moses and Elijah there is a way of saying that Jesus is the one to whom the Law and the prophets point.)

Elijah’s ministry is so wonderful. For years he is touching people’s lives with the love and power of God. He is a faithful servant of the Lord, a channel of blessing for many. He is a man of prayer. He lives by the Word of God.

So . . . why do we find him depressed? What’s wrong with his faith? Why does he wish he’d never been born? Why does he want to die?  It’s right there there . . . in today’s first reading. Elijah wants to die. “Lord”, he says, “I have had enough.”

Why do people get depressed? You know as well as I do . . . that’s a difficult question. Some medical conditions can bring on depression: even something like the flu, a malfunctioning thyroid gland, or maybe a hormonal imbalance after having a baby. Or just being unwell in general. If you think that your depression is related to a medi¬cal condition, then tell your doctor.

The problem might be basically psychological or emotional. You should still tell the doctor.  So many people are helped by a combination of counselling and the right medication. 

But sometimes the problem is primarily spiritual, and the thing we need most of all is spiritual healing, prayer, the laying on of hands, and perhaps the anointing.

(Of course, depression seldom separates neatly and clearly into categories like that, although it is often easy to see how they do exist and are intertwined. So, we need all the help we can get!)

For thousands of years, God had been drawing his people more deeply into his love, not in some special sanitised realm separate from “real” life, but right in the middle of the stinking sludge of human history, with all of its violence, abuse and bloodshed. Just before poor old Elijah’s bout of depression, he had experienced the greatest triumph of his life. Single-handedly on Mount Carmel he had brought the Israelites back from Baal and Ashtaroth to the worship of Yahweh. It’s a real blood and guts narrative, not for the faint-hearted! But, you’ve got to understand that the battle wasn’t over a few “technical theological differences.” It was about stopping the spread of “Baalism” with its frequent and terrifying rites of child sacrifice, as well as the widespread sexual abuse at the heart of the fertility cult of Ashtaroth.

The problem was that King Ahab and Queen Jezebel refused to return to the Lord. Jezebel even sent a note to Elijah saying that she’d ordered one of her minders to kill him before the day was out.

I know what you’re thinking. After such an amazing triumph over nearly a thousand violent men, why is Elijah so upset by the threat of Jezebel? Where’s his faith gone?

There are two things to say about that. First, many of us know that it doesn’t actually take much for good feelings, feelings of triumph, success and fulfilment, to evaporate. The “high” gives way to a “low.” Those who have that in their psychological makeup experience regular and enormous mood swings. 

Second, if we are emotionally fragile, or prone to negative thinking, we imagine disasters, even when there are none. You know what it’s like when someone says something – perhaps without thinking – that really hurts us! They don’t mean to upset us, but that’s what happens. Or when the bank sends us what turns out to be a routine circular letter; but, even before we open the envelope, we have already begun to imagine our financial ruin. 

The greatest of the prophets, fresh from his triumph on Mount Carmel, was rattled by the letter from Jezebel. 

Now, look what happens: The “Angel of the Lord” comes to Elijah and gives him a meal. Elijah is nourished. He is strengthened. He can now see things in better perspective, and the fact that God provided the meal makes him feel not so alone. Then, it says, in the strength of that food Elijah walked for 40 days and 40 nights until he reached Horeb, the mount of God.

What it doesn’t say is that Elijah’s problems had gone away. He was still a wanted man with a price on his head. His circumstances were the same. But he gained strength and clarity of vision. He knew all over again that he was loved with an everlasting love! After listening to the angel, after eating, and then resting, he was able to face his problems and move forward. 

It’s the same when we come to the Eucharist to feed on the Bread of Life. We leave church with the same problems we came in with. Our circumstances are the same. But we gain strength and clarity of vision. We know all over again that we are loved with an everlasting love! After hearing God’s Word, after eating, and then resting, just “lingering”in his healing presence, we are able to face our problems and move forward. 

Jesus gathers us as family who are not so proud as to pretend that we are always on top of things. But some people do stay away from the Table because they are too proud to admit that they have problems. They might even be like Elijah, depressed and broken. But they’ve made things worse by going into a state of denial.

In today’s Gospel we hear Jesus talking about supplying his people with supernatural food in the wilderness:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Isn't that a wonderful promise!

WE are strengthened at Mass, just by being here and sharing with the Lord and our brothers and sisters. But that’s not all. As the liturgy itself says, our fellowship is with “the whole company of heaven” - not just one angel, as in the case of Elijah! 

As Elijah ate and was strengthened for his journey, the supernatural Food we receive from Jesus - the Bread of Life - the Blessed Sacrament – his very self - strengthens us for our journey through the joys and the sorrows of life, until that day when in his love he calls us home.

From glory to glory advancing, we praise thee, O Lord;
thy name with the Father and Spirit be ever adored.
From strength unto strength we go forward on Zion’s highway,
to appear before God in the city of infinite day.

Thanksgiving, and glory and worship, and blessing and love,
one heart and one song have the saints upon earth and above.
O Lord, evermore to thy servants thy presence be nigh;
ever fit us by service on earth for thy service on high.

Liturgy of Saint James;
Translated by Charles William Humphreys, 1906

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Not forgetting the special place - a Transfiguration homily

This wonderful homily was preached for the Feast of the Transfiguration 2010 by Father Alexander Tefft at St Botolph's Antiochian Orthodox Church (the parish founded by the late Fr Michael Harper), meeting at St. Botolph's Church Bishopsgate, London, UK.

'Tell no one the vision, until the Son of man is raised from the dead'. (Matthew 17.9)

Did you ever have a favourite place as a child? A magical place, where everything was possible? A place where you ran and hid from grown-ups who did not have the eyes to see or the ears to hear? Maybe a small spot in the garden, by a pool surrounded by the trees and bushes. Maybe a clearing in the woods, a tree house high up in the branches. Maybe a hilltop, where you could see the lights of the town or the fields spreading out to the horizon. If you grew up in the city, as I did, maybe your special place was only a little walk-in closet up in the attic where you could be alone: only yourself - and God. An only child, as I was, always finds special places. In all your lonely hours, you make your own company. Friends step out of fairy stories or off the pages of history. Sometimes, a doll or a teddy bear is the only one who listens to your secret thoughts. Your toys listen, but God hears. In those secret moments, in that special place, a veil is lifted. Things are not as they appear. You catch a vision that no one else can see. At most, only two or three of your closest friends can ever enter the sacred space. You glimpse what life truly is, in a place where you are free to be yourself.

When you grow up, they make you forget your special place. They shame you, twist and mould your heart where everything once was possible - until, at last, you fit in to what society calls 'real' life. Your horizon recedes. You learn how to survive and forget how to live. Life becomes conventional and respectable. Go to school, then on to university and when you get out - then what? A job, a spouse or a live-in partner, two or three children and a house in the suburbs. All the veils that we call 'real life'. You live in a little box that our society assigns you; you live unhappily ever after. Why? Because something inside that you cannot repress still whispers: 'there is more to life than this!' What did you give up in fitting in? Your sense of wonder. You let go the adventure; you forgot the vision. A still, small voice that once whispered to you in the garden, or the clearing in the woods, or the closet up in the attic. The voice of God that spoke to you in your special place - in words that only you, and two or three friends, could hear. You learned to adjust to what they call 'real' life, where there is no place for wonder - and no place for God.

'Surely', they will tell you, 'there's a place for God. It's called "church". You don't have to see visions to go to church. Happy banners, hymns, organ music, ladies in pink hats: isn't that enough "God" for you?' A headline in a Toronto newspaper once read: 'Going to church can help teach children our values'. Values! So that's what we mean by 'God'. Now that the old dogmas and rituals are thrown out, we have 'values'. Hard work, clean living. That is what Christianity is all about. You do not need visions, just plain common sense. A practical Gospel, well within the reach of the most ordinary person. What need for candles, vestments, incense, monasteries? Tell those monks and nuns to go out and get real jobs! A king did as much five centuries ago, when he closed the monasteries: when he replaced 'visions' with 'real' life. Fit into real life! Fit in, and grow up!

Some of us refuse to fit in. Some still remember the monasteries. We never forgot that a job, a husband or wife, three children, a car in the garage, and a home in the suburbs is not necessarily real life at all. It may not be life at all - if you forget the vision. The vision that haunts you from your special place, where only you and two or three of your closest friends could ever go. An adventure, when the veil was lifted. When you were alone with yourself ... and God.

Today, our Lord Jesus Christ goes to his special place. To the top of a mountain, 'apart', away from the crowds. Away from jobs and spouses and little boxes and 'real' life. Does he take just anyone along with him? Only his three closest friends: Peter, James, John. An ordinary person has no eyes to see what he has in store. In his special place, he lifts the veil. The veil of Jesus, the carpenter's son. He shows them who he truly is. His face shines a million times more brilliant than the sun. His garments, as white as the light. On either side, Moses the law-giver and Elijah the prophet bow down to him. 'No one down below will believe it', Peter thinks. 'Better capture the vision: build a little box for each of them'. Just as he is thinking practically, a bright cloud overshadows him. A voice speaks in words that only the three disciples hear: 'This is no ordinary man. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him'. No ordinary mind can take in what these three see on the mountaintop. No one can package it in a little box. They fall face down, down to the earth. What can you say, when you have seen Life himself stripped of every veil? 'Don't be afraid', he says. They look up - and no one but Jesus is there. Along the rocky path downhill, Jesus warns: 'Tell no one the vision. If you could not endure it, how can they? Ordinary people will build boxes around it. They will surround it with banners and ladies in pink hats. They will change the vision into "values" and call that "real life" - because they have forgotten what life is. Only tell them ... after the Son of Man is risen from the dead'. Tell them so that they will know: the Son of Man laid down his life freely, a life that no one takes from him. Tell them after he appears in a secret garden, outside an empty tomb hewn out of the rock. When the veil of his flesh is lifted, to reveal who he really is.

Beloved in Christ: everything that you knew as a child, every secret that you discovered in your secret special place, is confirmed here today. The face that you glimpsed in the veil of a garden pool. A clearing in the woods. A closet in the attic. The voice that spoke to you in tones that only you could understand. Christ our true God, transfigured here on the mount, does not change his face. He only unveils it. He lifts the veil of flesh, to show the Uncreated Light from eternity that is he himself. Just as a bunch of grapes only veils the Precious Blood; just as creation itself only veils the face of our Creator. But be sure to tell no unbelievers the vision. They are too 'grown-up' to believe. God the Father has hidden this vision from the wise and prudent - the commonsensical - and revealed it ... to babes. To a child, alone in his special place. To the nun alone in her cell. The Father has revealed it to those who do not 'fit in'.

Those for whom everything is still possible.