1995 March 5 – 2nd Sun of Lent (Prison Writings)
Cycle C 2nd Sun of Lent
Lk. 9, 28b – 36
“JESUS TOOK PETER, JOHN, AND JAMES AND WENT UP ONTO A MOUNTAIN” Luke 9:28
This week’s Gospel is St. Luke’s version of the Transfiguration. This story is found in all three synoptic Gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke. The place of this text in all three Gospels is as important as the story itself. It comes right after St. Peter’s confession of who Jesus really is. This is a dramatic turning point in all three gospels. Jesus takes his disciples aside and asks them “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answer, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others, one of the Prophets of old raised from the dead.” “But, then Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter replied, “The Messiah of God.” (Luke 9:18-20)
Peter was right Jesus confirms his inspired answer. For his divine insight in Matt’s version Jesus names Peter the “Rock” upon whom his Church will be built and he gives Peter the keys to both heaven and earth. Then Jesus begins to instruct his disciples on what his Messiahship really means for himself and for his followers. He immediately gives them the first of three predictions of his own suffering and death at the hands of the leaders of the nation in Jerusalem. This is not good news for the disciples. They had an entirely different set of expectations of what Jesus’ Messiahship would mean. Like most people, they were looking for a political Messiah; a King who would help them rid their nation of the brutal Roman occupation. They were hoping that Jesus would be the next King David and reestablish the nation of Israel to its once former greatness, an independent and free nation among the nations of the world. A Messiah whose humiliating death on a cross at the hands of the Romans and the corrupt leaders in Jerusalem was not what they had in mind.
In Matthew and Mark’s versions of the story, Peter tries to persuade Jesus to change his direction. Jesus is blunt and to the point with Peter, “Get behind me, you Satan. You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:23-24) (So much for being the rock and the keeper of the keys to Heaven and earth.) Jesus then instructs his disciples on the harsh realities of being a follower of his. Not only will he suffer a humiliating death at the hand of the authorities, he tells them to be prepared for the same fate. “Pick up your cross and follow me”, Jesus tells them. If you want eternal life you must be willing to lose your earthly life for the sake of my non-violent way. This is all hard stuff to swallow for Jesus’ disciples. They needed a lift, something to bring them out of their funk.
Now comes the story of the Transfiguration and the shot in the arm that the disciples (and the readers) needed. Jesus takes his three most trusted disciples up a mountain and gives them a sneak preview of the victory to come. Jesus is transfigured before their very eyes, “his face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white.” (Luke 9:29) This Gospel story’s special effects are meant to give the wavering disciples courage and hope. The Transfiguration story serves for more than a shot in the arm for the troubled and worried disciples. It is also a strong endorsement for Jesus’ previous message of his suffering, non-violent Messiahship. And what better luminaries for the Old Testament to have standing at Jesus’ side than Moses, the great liberator, and Elijah, the great End Times prophet. No sooner do Jesus’ Old Testament friends appear when all of them are taken into a cloud and the voice of God is heard, “This is My Son, My Chosen One – Listen To Him.” (Luke 9:35)
This cloud and voice take us back to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel story when Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan. After his baptism the text says the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove descended on him and a voice came from heaven “You are my Son; today I have fathered you.” (Luke 3:22) Only this time at the Transfiguration, God the Father adds these three important words, “LISTEN TO HIM!” Jesus is on the level; the non-violent, suffering way is the Father’s way. God wants it to be so. It’s the way it has to be. It is the only way to salvation. Despite all appearances to the contrary, despite the seeming triumph of the violent ways of the political powers and the worldly wealth, despite even the cold realities of human death, the non-violent, suffering way of the cross is the way to eternal life. No sooner was the voice heard when everything went back to normal. Gone is the cloud, Moses’ and Elijah’s and Jesus’ dazzling appearance. Jesus and his three disciples must now come down off the mountaintop and re-enter into the Gospel story. Jesus continues his dreadful and deadly journey to Jerusalem. All will take place as he said it would. Yet in the back of the disciples’ minds, hidden in the recesses of their hearts, is the image of this transfigured moment and divine endorsement. A taste of things yet to come to carry them through the dark times they see ahead. We are in no less a darkened time. We face the same challenge as Jesus’ disciples in following Jesus’ non-violent, suffering ways. Is our faith strong enough to carry us through this darkened journey? Do we have the courage as individuals and as a Faith Community to stand with, along side, the non-violent, suffering Messiahship that Jesus embodied? Food for spiritual thought as we make our way through this Lenten season.
95 03 05
August 6th – Hiroshima vs. Tabor, Bishop Dingman and Donald Kaul
Call it an accident of history or divine intent but the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration on the same day that the USA dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, – August 6. The juxtaposition of these two events has long challenged modern day Catholic peacemakers ever since. I remember the challenge this date and these two events posed to Bishop Dingman when he was struggling with the issues of modern day peacemaking in the post Hiroshima era.
Provoked by the contrast between Hiroshima and Tabor (the mountain upon which the Transfiguration is said to have taken place), Bishop Dingman started writing a yearly pastoral letter in 1978, using this occasion to raise faith questions regarding war and peace in our modern times. In his first letter, he urged Catholics of the Des Moines Diocese to work for an end to the nuclear arms race and to “start at the parish level with persons talking about Hiroshima and its implications.” “The very existence of the human race is in jeopardy,” he wrote. “We must halt the arms race in the spirit of Tabor or proceed with the armaments race and face annihilation in the spirit of Hiroshima.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the USA atomic bombing of Hiroshima. And judging from the public discourse surrounding the proposed National Air and Space Museum’s display marking the event, few people seem interested in taking up Bishop Dingman’s challenge to honestly and faithfully look at this tragic and horrible event from our nation’s WWII history.
Word from Washington, D.C., and the National Air and Space Museum is that the proposed Hiroshima display has been drastically reduced and diminished. Bowing to public pressure, mostly from Veterans Groups, the Museum has scrapped its original planned display and will offer a token display to mark the event.
Donald Kaul said it best in his Feb. 8th Des Moines Register column regarding the successful effort to squelch the proposed Hiroshima display. “None of which can disguise the fact that the bombing of Hiroshima was a war crime. It killed at least 71,000 people, a great majority of them civilians and injured 68,000 more, a large number of whom died lingering deaths. Our own figures list 20,000 children among the dead and missing. I don’t know what you think a war crime is, but I’d say the incineration of 20,000 children falls well within that category.” “Having said that,” Kaul writes, “I have to add this: I would have done the same thing. All modern warfare is essentially a war crime, designed to inflict as much human misery as possible. If you’re squeamish about committing such acts, you shouldn’t go to war.” Kau1 is being brutally honest about the facts and the nature of modern warfare. And he is being a “political realist” in his assessment of our Government’s decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,Japan.
It was just such brutal honesty that moved Bishop Dingman to seriously question the morality of modern warfare; especially our nation’s stockpiling and intent to use nuclear weapons. Unlike Donald Kaul, Bishop Dingman knew that Christians must go beyond the reasoning of the political realists of the world. The standards of the Gospel and the Way of Jesus are much higher than the standards of the political realism that determines the fate of nations. The questions Bishop Dingman asked back in 1978 about the implications of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima are still relevant today. Do we look back on the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration as a faith event meant to give us the courage to follow in the footsteps of the suffering non-violent Messiahship of Jesus, as Jesus’ disciples did? Or, do we ignore the Transfigured Christ on Tabor and put our trust in the disfigured human legacy of Hiroshima by maintaining our nuclear weapons superiority and siding with the political realists of the world?
95 03 05
My good friend and fellow nuclear resistor, Sam Day, managed to cross the line at Offutt AFB three times last week before the authorities locked him up in the Douglas County jail. They brought him before a Federal Magistrate Judge on Thursday, Feb. 23, and charged him with three separate trespassing charges. Each charge carries a maximum of six months in jail and a $ 5,000 fine. That means Sam could end up doing 18 months of jail time for his non-violent witness at Offutt. Sam is the former editor of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientist and former Associate Editor of the Progressive magazine. Sam is 68 years old and legally blind. He risks much for his courageous witness against the nuclear madness of Strat Com headquarters. Currently in Douglas County Jail, Sam’s trial date was set for Thursday, March 9. I am painfully aware that Sam is doing much harder time than I. Please keep this dear and gentle man in your thoughts and prayers. If you wish to write him, you may do so at the Douglas County Jail, 710 So. 17th St., Omaha, Neb., 68102. Write in large print. I’m sure he would appreciate your prayers and support.
Fr. Frank Cordaro