Immortal Horrors, Everlasting Splendors

Thus far we have not discussed the remarkable opportunity afforded Sts. Peter, James and John on Mt. Tabor when they beheld the glorified appearance of the One Whom Peter had hailed as the Son of the Living God. It was granted to them to behold their Lord in conversation with two of the greatest Old Testament figures – Moses and Elijah. Of course, this get-together poses a problem for the Protestant notion that God wants Christians to have nothing to do with icky dead people, and therefore asking the intercession of the saints is a heathenish practice. Why would Jesus have involved His disciples in the event at all, so close that they not only saw Jesus conversing with someone but actually learned who those men were (after all, Moses and Elijah weren’t wearing nametags!), if there is something deeply wrong when living children of God have to do with dead children of God? This Jesus, you see, is not only the Son of the Living God, as Peter proclaimed Him to be; He is the Son of the Living God of the living! Dead saints aren’t dead; they are ALIVE in Christ! Necromancy, the conjuring up of the spirit of a dead person for the purpose of divining the future, is a very different thing from asking our brothers and sisters in the Lord to pray for us. The fact that they are far more alive than we are doesn’t bother them at all – it shouldn’t bother us, either!

Once we learn to see God as He is – that is, to view Him as our loving Father Who only gives good gifts to us – and to see ourselves as He sees us – i.e., to allow Him to pressure-wash through the lies we’ve told ourselves about ourselves and uncover the real, raw person behind the façade – we find that we have more work ahead of us. We have to learn to deal with all those pesky little “me’s” running around the world, those “others” also made in His image and according to His likeness. The third thing the account of the Transfiguration bids us do is to learn to see others the way God sees them.

And this has always been the most difficult for me. I can believe that God is my Father, and I am learning to be myself – no excuses – in His Presence. But like someone who’s new to the firing range, I keep aiming above or below the target when contemplating my fellowman. I either see you as a god or as an object – there isn’t much in between as far as I’m concerned. I tend to allow people whom I like and admire to occupy an exalted position in my estimation. You can easily become a god to me, to the point where your influence on my thinking and decision-making may become detrimental to my spiritual wellbeing. When God – the real God – is asking me to do something like “convert to Catholicism,” and my main concern and impediment to obeying Him is that Jim-Bob might think less of me when he hears that I’ve entered the Church, then Jim-Bob has become to me a god. I don’t need to state here that that is unacceptable to the real God, in the extreme.

But my other proclivity is almost as bad. For if I don’t like and admire you enough to want to make a god out of you, I generally don’t have much use for you. You become to me an object, and I want to either use you as a paperweight or a knick-knack, or else set you aside entirely. And so my neighbor the mycologist, who loves to bring his work home with him and tell me all about it, gets the brush-off. He’s not interesting to me; we have nothing in common; he bores me. I can find no use for him.

It goes without saying that I’m not supposed to be “using” my neighbor in the first place. Jesus’ message to us was that God is our Father Who loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son – that truth supplied the reasoning behind the injunction delivered to the Israelites centuries earlier:

You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.

But remember, the Israelites were also given another commandment:

‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus combined the two, explaining that not only is God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, He is OUR Father, and He deeply desires that ALL become His adopted sons and daughters, partakers of the divine nature. For that reason, my rejection of my neighbor as useless to me becomes a sin – for he is NOT an object, anymore than he is a god. He is another “me,” or as C.S. Lewis put it:

…it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.

Just as I, depending upon my choices, will end up either “knowing Him, loving Him, serving Him in this world, and being happy with Him forever in the next,” or suffering the unimaginable torments of an eternity without God, so also my neighbor. He and I are both immortal, whether we realize it or not. If I understand this and he doesn’t, it is my obligation to make him aware of this, and to point him towards the outstretched arms of the Father, just as Jesus did when He allowed Peter, James and John a glimpse of the glory of Moses and Elijah in conversation with their transfigured Lord. This is the glory that awaits us all, provided that we choose it. Seeing my neighbor as God sees him or her, as a potential Everlasting Splendor, is what is required of me – because that’s what God sees when He looks at me. Helping my neighbor to see this as well is my privilege as well as my obligation. These are the realities taught to us by the celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration – Jesus became Man to reconcile us to our Father, Who wants to delight in the real me and the real you, forever and ever and ever.


On the memorial of St. Lawrence

Deo omnis gloria!

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