Advice for when the going gets tough
Michael C. Barber, SJ
One of the consolations of being a bishop is that many times after Mass in parishes, people come up to me one by one and confide in me a particular worry or a problem or a cross or suffering that they are carrying, and they ask for a blessing or they ask for prayers, and I'm only too happy to do this.
And one of the great privileges of being a bishop is that I have a private chapel right outside my bedroom where I can go and be with our Lord and bring him these petitions and prayers and things that people are asking me to pray for.
Many times people say to me, what advice do you have for me, Father, to help me through my difficulty? How can you help me with my cancer? Father, how can you help me with the recent death of my mother or my spouse? The fact is, the temptation of some people is to run away from God or get mad at God, or despair and think there is no God when a particular problem or cross comes upon them.
So what advice do I have for folks in this situation? Well, let's look at the Sacred Scripture. One, how did Jesus handle the same situation? He knew his arrest, passion and death would be coming soon. He knew that maybe his disciples would be tempted to despair or fear or to lose their faith in him.
What did he do to encourage them or to support them? Well, we had it in the Gospel last Sunday (March 16). Jesus took Peter, James and John up on a high mountain, and there he was transfigured before them. They said his clothes shone whiter than any bleach could make them. They saw Moses and Elijah next to him. They were overcome with awe and fear and yet they were attracted to this, to this sight.
Jesus showed them his glory. He underscored, through this experience, that he was the true son of God, and they heard the Father's voice from heaven confirming it. We call this The Transfiguration.
Now, if we stop and examine our life, we can see that Jesus does the same thing with us. He gives us moments of transfiguration throughout our life, if only we recognize them for what they are.
For me, there was an experience once of being in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome for midnight Mass with Pope John Paul II when I was a young priest. Going in that building, with all the candles and lights, people from around the world, I beheld the glory, the beauty and the majesty of God as shown on earth through the Catholic church.
And you know, the priests who work in the confessionals in St. Peter's Basilica every year say that sometimes tourists come in who are not Catholic, and they look around and they are so impressed with the magnificence and the art and the beauty of that building, that they go to the priest in the confessional and they ask, "How can I join a religion that can produce such beauty as this?"
But you don't have to go to Rome to have an experience of the beauty and the glory and the majesty of God. One thing I like to do with visitors who come from out of town to visit me here in the Bay Area is, I like to take them to Lake Tahoe, and I like to go up on Highway 50, and when I get to Echo Summit, I like to pull over at one of the turnouts, the viewpoints, the vista points, where you first see Lake Tahoe with all the trees and the mountains around, and people's breath is taken away.
They can see the beauty of God in His creation. That's one reason why, in many dioceses, when we want teenagers to experience God, we take them up the mountains. Pope John Paul did this when he was a young priest. He took lots of young people hiking, skiing, canoeing, where they discovered the presence and the glory of God in nature.
A third example I have of a transfiguring moment in life is: many of you are parents. Do you remember what it was like when you and your spouse first saw and held your newborn baby in your arms?
You had an experience of glory and awe that you were co-creators with God of a new human being, a beautiful new baby. There's an experience of the transfiguration of God. You knew God exists, that He is beautiful and wonderful.
Our God sprinkles these experiences throughout our lives to give us courage and strength.
St. Ignatius Loyola taught us that in times of desolation, we should remember our moments of consolation. In times of the Passion that come into our life, remember the times of glory and remember that our Lord's promises are all true. He is not a liar, so when the last great trial, when our own passion and death comes, we have hope that we won't be despairing or discouraged.
Next time you go into a hospital, maybe your grandmother is ill, maybe her time on earth is coming to an end, and the nurse comes out and tells you, your grandmother is hovering right now between life and death, well, that's not really true, not for a Catholic, not for one who has been baptized and is in a state of grace. No, at that moment, Grandma is hovering between life and life. God bless you.
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