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‘They Saw No One Else But Jesus’

10/1/2014

Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley, archbishop of Boston

Cardinal James M. Harvey, archpriest of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls and former prefect of the papal household, celebrates Mass at the Supreme Convention Aug. 6. To his left is Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, who was the homilist for the Mass.

It is a joy to be here — “How good it is,” as St. Peter says. For us bishops it is a mountaintop experience to come to the Supreme Convention each year to be inspired by the faith and the goodness of the Knights of Columbus and their families. Your witness and fidelity is a great source of spiritual blessing in our Church and in society.

You are building up the solidarity and fraternity that makes the Church real as in the first generation of Christians, whose sense of community attracted people who observed the Christians and said, “See how much they love one another.”

Today’s feast is about glimpsing Christ’s love and his glory. In discovering who he is, we discover who we are, and why we are here in this world.

In today’s Scripture readings, there are three descriptions of the Transfiguration. The ancient prophecy of Daniel, the Gospel account of the actual event in real time, and St. Peter’s second epistle sharing his dramatic recollection of the event that marked St. Peter for life. …

The Transfiguration is about connecting the dots between the suffering Christ of Good Friday and the glorious resurrected Christ of Easter. Last year, St. Francis Day was one of those mountaintop experiences for me. I traveled with Pope Francis to Assisi. Our first stop was the Istituto Serafico where the Holy Father kissed and blessed a hundred severely handicapped children, their parents and caregivers. In his remarks, the Holy Father spoke of the wounds on Christ’s body after the Resurrection, when the risen Christ appears to the apostles in the Upper Room on Easter. The first thing Christ does is to show them his wounds and say, “Peace be with you.” The risen Lord is still the Crucified One.

The Holy Father went on to say that on Ascension Thursday, the risen Christ ascends to heaven and takes the wounds with him to heaven. When we see the suffering children, we are gazing at Jesus’ wounds. The same Jesus who is hidden in the Eucharist is hidden in the wounds of the children. Their wounds need to be heard, the Holy Father says. Jesus’ wounds, which he carried to heaven, are also present to us in the suffering of the children.

In our own country, in the last 10 months, 60,000 children have left behind the violence of their homelands and risked their lives crossing the border. It was to pray for them and all those who have perished in the desert, that I joined a group of bishops who went to Nogales, Ariz., to celebrate a Eucharist for all of them. I was amazed at the response. Most Catholics believe and understand our message, which was that of Pope Francis whose first trip as pope was to Lampedusa, Italy, where thousands of immigrants trying to enter Europe have perished. The Holy Father warns about the “globalization of indifference.” We cannot be indifferent to the wounds of Christ that manifest in so many ways.

In our own country, 90 percent of Down syndrome children identified in the womb are aborted. As a young priest I had a funeral for a 45-year-old woman who had Down syndrome. Afterward, the mother asked to speak to me. She told me about how difficult it was for her to have this Down syndrome baby after having had four healthy children. This baby, however, taught her and her family how to love in a more unselfish way. She told me that her daughter would not let them argue, because she was always so loving. As children married and moved away for jobs, the mother was left alone when her husband died. Her daughter with Down syndrome became her constant companion and best friend, the joy of her life.

In our midst, there are so many who have a claim on our love: suffering people, so many unborn children, the elderly, sick, homeless and handicapped. A vision of faith will allow us to really see them. One of the most poignant phrases in today’s Gospel comes after the vision of the Lord’s glory has passed: “They saw no one else but Jesus” (Mt 17:8). Neminem nisi Jesum. Mother Teresa always saw Jesus in a distressing disguise in each and every suffering person.

When Pope Francis kissed that terribly disfigured man in St. Peter’s Square, the picture went viral on the Internet. The whole world took notice, including many people who would have averted their gaze from that man if they ever encountered him. People were invited to glimpse in that man a transfiguration. Before, he may have been considered an ugly creature, but in a moment, by a kiss, he is transformed into a brother who is appreciated, revered, loved and accepted.

We all need mountaintop experiences to be able to prepare us for difficult encounters with the Cross. The Transfiguration takes place when the Apostles leave behind the noise, the hustle bustle, the grinding daily routine that often absorbs us so entirely that we fail to see Christ, to experience his mercy and love.

Our instructions are simple: “This is my beloved Son. … Listen to him” (Mt 17:5). Listen to Jesus. Then, we will see Jesus, even in the distressing disguise of those who suffer, as we discover their inner beauty, their worth, their connectedness to God.

In St. Francis’ last will and testament he describes his own conversion as the moment when he kissed the leper. The leper was transfigured; the leper was now a brother, a friend, Christ. And Francis was transfigured from a self-absorbed, entertainment-addicted, spoiled rich young man into an icon of Christ, a universal brother, a saint.

May our lives be filled with transfigurations, glimpses of glory and love in surprising places and in unlikely people. We will find not strangers, but brothers, sisters — indeed, Christ.