(Note: I’ve struggled with whether to post my homilies on the blog. I don’t write them with the intent that they are to be posted. I don’t want to let the thought that I might post them affect what I write. They are intended for the audience at Mass and I think it is important they stay that way. But what I’ve decided is that I’ll post them if I think they are generally appropriate and just not post the ones I think should stay local to the parish. We’ll see how it goes and I reserve the right to change my mind later. 🙂 )
People ask, what did Peter do wrong? Why was it so wrong of him to request to make 3 tents? The textbook answer is that Peter didn’t want it to end. He didn’t want to go down the mountain to regular life. And so he was trying to extend it by setting up camp. But I think there’s something else here. Because the moment was not over. God still had one more miracle to perform: To speak from the cloud and remind Peter, James and John that Jesus was His son. Peter wasn’t necessarily wrong to want this moment to continue.
So what then? I think the 1st reading from Genesis today shows numerous parallels. In the 1st reading God takes Abram outside to show him the stars. In the Gospel Jesus takes the 3 up a mountain. Abram falls into a trance. The 3 are overcome by sleep. Abram is given a vision when he wakes. The 3 wake up to the Transfiguration. And finally, both passages end with God speaking those present. These events have strong parallels.
Except for one thing… Abram feels no need to insert his own will into the unfolding events. He’s content to be silent and let them unfold. Peter on the other hand, refuses to let it play out on God’s terms and insists on talking. He insists on interrupting the event and inserting his own thoughts.
I find this explanation for Peter’s failure much more appropriate for us. Perhaps among certain monasteries or similar religious communities, they need to hear that there comes a time to leave the sanctuary and go do God’s work in the world. But we’re not that community. We’re a community that is too distracted by the world as it is, that doesn’t spend enough time with God. The last thing we need to hear is that we need to go back out into the world.
No, what we need is very different. We need to spend more listening to God. And the only way that’s going to happen is if we stop talking and turn off all the noise around us.
We are inundated with noise and conversation. Get it from our phones, constantly pinging at us with e-mail and texts, with Facebook notifications and twitter. We get it from our TVs, with everything from the news and talking head shows to sports to comedy and drama. We get it from our car stereos, with more talk and a plethora of music. We are so inundated with noise that for most of us we find the idea of silence scary. So let me tell you a scary story.
About two months ago I was at the hospital with a family whose father and patriarch was in a coma and near death. I had already completed the formal prayers I had come to say, but I wanted to stay and hold vigil with the family. As time went on I found myself struggling to resist the temptation to say something, in part because I had nothing meaningful to say. And so time passed: 10 minutes of nothing to say. 20 minutes of nothing to say. 30 minutes of nothing to say. And I started to feel like they were unsure what I was still doing there. Should I just leave?
But then, after a long awkward silence, the eldest brother spoke up. “Deacon, I have a question I need to ask you. Is God angry with our family?” You see, this was the 4th death for this family in the last year. They’d lost a mother, a mother-in-law, a husband in his 50’s and now their father. And their faith was shaken.
I knew then why I had stayed through a half-hour of silence. He needed me there to tell them. “No, God is not angry. God loves you!” But God knew that question was never going to come in 5 minutes. They needed the time to reflect and think and to find the courage to ask what was bugging them deep in their heart. God knew that if I just told them right away that God loves them, their hearts were not ready to receive it. And so he had all of us wait that 30 minutes in silence so all of us would be ready. So that God could tell them “I love you!”
I think we all need to ask ourselves: How many times in my life have I refused to be quiet and wait for whatever God has to say to me? How many times have I missed the opportunity to hear what I most desperately needed to hear from God because I was too impatient and too willing to let God be interrupted by all the noise in my life? When you get home today, find some time to be truly quiet. Turn off the music and the TV. Turn off your phone, not just silent mode, but OFF, and banish it to a different room. Be truly silent. Not just for 10 or 20 minutes. Perhaps not even 30 minutes will be enough. And ask God that question: “God, what do you have to say to me? What have I missed hearing from you because I’ve refused to find truly quiet time for prayer?” I beg of you. Find the time to do this. If you want to see Christ transfigured; If you want to know God in all His glory… all you must do is listen. So find that time, every week if you can, to turn off all the noise and distraction so that the only voice that is left, is God’s.