Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, September 4, 2016


Here is a photo of the wonderful 6th century mosaic discovered in the chapel of Saint Catherine's Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, Egypt. The mosaic, dating to the time of the Emperor Justinian, depicts the gospel account of the Transfiguration we read in Saint Mark's Gospel:
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain where they were alone; and in their presence he was transfigured; his clothes became dazzling white, with a whiteness no bleacher on earth could equal. They saw Elijah appear, and Moses with him, and there they were, conversing with Jesus. Then Peter spoke: "Rabbi," he said, "how good it is that we are here! Shall we make three shelters, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah?" (For he did not know what to say; they were so terrified.) Then a cloud appeared, casting its shadow over them, and out of the cloud came a voice: "This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him." And now suddenly, when they looked around, there was nobody to be seen but Jesus alone with themselves.  Mark 9:2-8 

Six days later. Some days earlier and in the verses previous to this account, Jesus has shared sad news with the disciples that he will be rejected and made to suffer, and that there is a cross for them to carry too. We can imagine how disheartened they were to hear this.

Peter, James and John. That these three are Jesus' gospel-insiders doesn't mean they are being held for us as fine examples of faith. Peter will deny knowing Jesus at the Last Supper. After this Transfiguration account James and John will argue over who is the greatest. And the three of them will fall asleep in the Gethsemane Garden the night of Jesus' arrest. 

"...and led them up a high mountain..." Biblically, a mountain is an image of a meeting with God. The image calls to us: "Pay attention, God is going to teach us something new." We can have our own mountain top experiences for sure.

"...he was transfigured; his clothes became dazzling white, with a whiteness no bleacher on earth could equal."  Jesus consoles them in their sorrow, giving them this window into Easter. It's not that Easter replaces Good Friday, but the darkness and sorrow of Jesus suffering-death is transformed into Easter light and joy.

"...and out of the cloud..." Another image: God is here! We might re-think what we're saying the next time we complain: "There's a cloud hanging over me" indicating a string of bad luck and instead, as spiritual people, acknowledge the nearness of God through it all.

"This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him." Oh, I want to listen to Jesus! Have you heard this hymn: I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow of my life...I want to see the brightness of God...clear sun of righteousness shine on my him there is no darkness at all...night and day are both alike...shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

"They saw Elijah appear and Moses with him..." These two have been referred to as Israel's heavy hitters. They are present here to let us know that in Jesus Christ, God's ancient promises have come true. God's day is here.

But what does it all mean? The previous verses, the three insider apostles and then this scene: it is all of one fluid movement. Indeed, something has to die so that something new and glorious can appear. Something has to change, as Jesus is changed. It isn't appearances that must change, but consciousness, (even sub-consciousness!), hearts, minds and choices. The change (the transfiguration) is deep and personal to each of us, yes, but it is all the more ecclesial, national and global. Get this:

"The poor man cries before your house, and you pay no attention. There is your brother, naked, crying, and you stand confused over the choice of attractive floor coverings."  Saint Ambrose of Milan

Someone leaving the Catholic faith once said to me, "I want a religion that's about more than just dying and rising." I'd agree, if I thought for a moment we really understood the profound heart-searing depth and urgency of "dying and rising." 

I met a lawyer recently who is at retirement age. She talked about going back to school to become an RN so she can go to third world countries, where there are no doctors and nurses, to take care of the sick-poor. She's discerning this only for herself, not suggesting we all have to do it. But I thought, "WHOA!"


  1. Although we go to Church and pay careful attention, I don't think that explanations like this are readily available to us. All of a sudden, the story takes new meaning and I see the true glory in it which makes me want to deeply change something about myself. I never applied it to my life before.

    1. Of course, the Sunday homily isn't an academic lecture or class, but the preacher has an obligation to help the folks understand, so the Gospel Word can live and be a source of light and hope.

  2. This is my Son, listen to Him. God's direction for all of us.

    1. And we can only "listen" if there is some silence in our lives. Very difficult in our noisy culture. But we can do it if we really care to.

  3. I have read this several times throughout the day focusing on each bullet point carefully. I am dismayed that I never thought of the following fact myself. The closest followers of Jesus, chosen by Him, were far from perfect. Even though we view them as the holiest of men, they had all the imperfections and flaws that we do. Even in Jesus' physical presence, they could not be perfect as they were human. What a revelation to me.

    1. We must give a little cheer for every insight! Good for you. But I would add this: docility means that someone is teach-able. Carry on!

  4. What a special person this woman must be to want to rededicate herself to helping others in such capacity. Many blessings on her journey towards attaining her goal. Think of all the lived she can touch and be a part of.