“Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” 2 Timothy 1:8-10.
We have begun our Lenten journey with Christ and find ourselves with him on Mount Tabor, nearby the Sea of Galilee that stands 1,886 ft., above sea level. His friends Peter, James, and John experience a transforming event, in which the gospel details that Jesus’s face shone like the sun. This is the Transfiguration! All three narrative gospels mention this event, so it helps to explain the meaning of Jesus to his followers and us.
In his Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie comments, “The Transfiguration is much more than a doublet of the baptism of Jesus or a misplaced resurrection apparition. It is a statement that the Son of Man, even in his earthly existence, is the glorious Son of Man. He is recognized in his glory after his passion and death.”
Let’s climb this mountain today and consider how transformations can take place in our lives, and such experiences can touch the soul. So that we too might hear from above, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Here are two transformation stories. They found in and around Anaheim, California, better known for its chief attraction, Disneyland.
Now I know many of you have been to Disneyland here in California. And I’m guessing more than just once, and of course, a few of you have been to Disneyland in Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. Have I missed any? Of course, Disney World in Orlando, Florida!
Here’s my Disneyland transformative experience. Years back, I taught a film course as part of our January Term for my Saint Mary’s undergraduate, and part of the course was a week visiting Hollywood film studios. For a fun-filled day off, we went down to Anaheim and Disneyland.
Once we arrived inside the park, typically, to make sure all in our group got into the “magic kingdom,” I would station myself, along with Brother Ray Berta, nearby a café directly across from the Main Street train station. This location was our meeting point, and the place where the entire group would depart hours later.
As Brother Ray and I sat down for coffee and a snack, and we did this several years in a row, I would marvel at the sheer excitement of people entering this place. Let’s say if you’re having a “bad hair day” or not feeling so well, and your best friend has stopped “friending” you on Facebook, don’t go to Disneyland.
Something happened at that café that startled me. We were sitting at the gate where all of the Disney characters, those actors dressed as Mikey and Minnie, Cinderella, or Winnie the Pooh, emerge from backstage and go to their respective “Meet and Greet” stations.
What most amazed me, of course, were the dazzled eyes of youngsters seeing their favorite characters come to life. But not only the kids, but grown adults were also mobbing these fictional characters, as national icons – attempting to take selfies them and with their grandchildren. Just a fantastic sight, but an accurate statement of how sometimes we let go and to find ourselves empowered by the magic kingdom that is Disneyland.
Just a fantastic sight, a statement, and a possible metaphor of how transformations and transfigurations might be possible.
Two weeks ago, I was in Anaheim, but I did not go into the theme park. Instead, I attended the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress that yearly gathers thousands of Catholics and Christians at the Anaheim Convention Center to hear and learn from some of our most inspiring teachers, speakers, and thinkers.
One of whom, Jesuit Father Greg Boyle, is a truly amazing and gifted figure whose ministry in Los Angeles is a true blessing. At one of his talks, Father Greg conveyed a vital life lesson about transformations, those changes in our lives that are worth the struggle and within our grasp.
He tells the story of Herbie, one of the reforming gang members of Homeboy Industries, the non-profit group in East LA, and now the most extensive gang reentry program in the United States. Their work of job-training, counseling, and even tattoo removal has an impact on the lives of so many young men and boys.
One day, in July of 2014, Father Boyle received a telephone call from the White House. The presidential scheduler told him that President Barak Obama would be in Los Angeles and stay overnight. The White House request was simple; the President wanted to meet four of the Homeboy residents/workers, those young people who had been gang members and, in some cases, had lived on the streets.
Among those that Father Greg selected was an African-American teenager, Herbie, who at the time was working in the Homeboy offices, had a life experience that might be pertinent to the President.
Before this encounter with the President of the United States, however, Herbie needed a transformation. He needed a suit, tie and shirt, new shoes and mostly a haircut. According to Father Boyle, Herbie’s Afro needed a trim. This bad hair day was an outward sign of an inner condition that only Herbie himself knew. That’s what Father Greg figured. In any case, Greg asked his secretary to get Herbie suited up, and they purchased his new clothing at Sears, but the hair became Herbie’s dividing line. This teen did not want to get a new hairstyle or his beard altered in any way, and insisted no barbershop! This became Herbie’s signature demand with or without meeting Barak Obama.
Somehow the issue of hair got lost in the excitement of meeting the President. They arrived on time at the hotel suite; this was not a press event, and not listed on the President’s calendar.
Of course, several days later, the news got out, and a brief account appeared in the Los Angeles Times. The President talked about how he had been raised by a single mother who gave birth to him when she was eighteen, and how he had gotten into trouble as a youth but was good at not getting caught.
Father Greg says this brief encounter with the President was more than a “pep talk,” instead, the President told them how he admired them and asked them to “keep it going!”
For these young men, there was an immediate connection, almost a sense of belonging; afterward, one of the boys said: “He’s one of us!”
In taking photographs with each of the young men, President Obama smiled at Herbie and said that he (Obama) had always wanted to grow out his hair like Herbie’s. After all the fuss, here’s an irony!
With a glint in his eye, the President asked Herbie what he was doing?
Herbie replied: “Well, I work in the office for Father Boyle, but mostly I’m working on myself.”
Father Boyle reports the President had tears in his eyes when he said: “Herbie, that’s commendable!”
Barak Obama got the point, all of these transformations are more than buying a suit at Sears, dressing up, or getting a haircut, they are the result of the overwhelming struggle to turn around our lives. Turning one’s life around from drugs, alcohol, crime, or gang violence – is no easy task!
More importantly, such a transition requires going to the mountain top and hearing and knowing how beloved each of us – is in the eyes of God.
Of course, this personal observation by Father Boyle was not reported in the media accounts. Father Boyle concluded his Anaheim talk with this:
“Each of us attempts to find that mystical dignity within ourselves.
Often, we search for it outside of ourselves. Instead, it’s inside ourselves, after all.”
Again recall Herbie’s words: “I’m working on myself!”
Lent is the occasion to make these inner transformations that might adjust our attitudes and behaviors for the better, more in line with the very struggle that is Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem and his life and death on the cross.
Let’s end and consider these words from Saint Paul: “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA