A Homily from Richard Rohr
Life Coming to a Focus
Friday, March 20
As we grow in the spiritual life, our life will become increasingly centered. Only a few things will really matter. Because of the coronavirus outbreak, I see a lot of people right now thinking this way. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together—every continent, country, class, religion, race, age, or gender. We’re all subject to this crisis. Suffering has an ability to pull you into oneness.
Maybe you’ve seen such oneness emerge in your family. I went to Kansas last month for my sister’s funeral, and all of my family was there. We don’t have any big resentments or conflicts, but the suffering—and acceptance of that suffering in her death—brought us together in the most beautiful way. It was such an honor to have the funeral with my own family and for my own sister.
We see an increasing centering take place with Jesus and the disciples in the gospel text from this past Sunday [Matthew 17:1-9]. Jesus is leading the disciples towards the Transfiguration experience. He is preparing them for the cross, and saying, “It’s going to come! Be ready. It’s probably the only thing that will transfigure you.”
As I said in yesterday’s reflection, there are only two major paths by which the human soul comes to God: the path of great love, and the one of great suffering. Both finally come down to great suffering—because if we love anything greatly, we will eventually suffer for it. When we’re young, God hides this from us. We think it won’t have to be true for us. But to love anything in depth and over the long term, we eventually must suffer.
The disciples first respond to the Transfigured Christ with fear. In our global time of crisis, this is where many of us are today. The disciples mirror the itinerary of the spiritual journey: we start out with many concerns, fears, and worries. Our minds and hearts are all over the place. But Jesus comes, touches them, and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” When the three disciples raise their eyes, they see nothing but one image: Jesus. Their lives have become fully focused and simplified on the one thing that is good, the one thing they desire, and the one thing that is necessary. What a moment of grace and encouragement!
But then Jesus leads them down the mountain, back into the ordinary world to continue his labor of love, healing and nonviolent protest against Empire. We can’t stay on the mountaintop forever. And then Jesus ends with a line that to me was always a disappointment: don’t tell anybody about what just happened. He might be saying, “Don’t tell this story to someone else, because they’ll think they understand it just by hearing about it.” Religious experience has to be experienced firsthand. We can’t believe it because someone else talked about it. Sooner or later, we have to go to our own mountaintop. We have to have our own transfiguration, and we have to walk down the mountaintop into the ordinary world, on the path of suffering, and the path of love—which are, in the end, the same. As we experience a suffering world together, I pray that this community will be drawn to center itself on the cross and bring Jesus’ teaching to life.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Life Coming to a Focus,” Homily (March 7, 2020).