Many years ago now, I was sitting in a hospital room with my mother, about a week before her death. Obviously, as you could well imagine, this was a painful time, where I was well aware every conversation was precious because it might be the last one. My mother rarely told stories like the one she told me that day because she wasn’t one to talk about dreams or signs. But for someone so sick with cancer, she was in great spirits as she told me this story.
The evening before, as she lay in her bed after a pretty restless and difficult day she drifted off to sleep and woke up to see her grandmother who had died ten years before. She was sitting in the chair I was sitting in and they talked. My mother said it seemed like hours; one of the longest and greatest chats they ever had. They talked about old times, she told my mom what heaven and God were like, she told Grandma how scared she was of what she was facing – of dying and my mother told me Grandma held her hand and said “Lynda, don’t you worry, everything’s going to be okay”.
My mother told me how much peace she had about Grandma’s visit and I remember her telling it like it was yesterday. I wasn’t a priest at the time, not even in the seminary; I had only been a Catholic for a few months. My mom and I spoke a lot about faith and God and in many ways what I was learning and coming to realize about God and shared with my mother was all that she had at this trying time of her life; it was her only connection to God except for an occasional visit from a chaplain. My mother strongly felt Grandma’s visit to her was a sign from God and so do I.
Before I became Director of Vocations, I spent time with people who were sick and who were dying in my parish, and as anyone who ministers to the sick and dying will tell you – there are many, many stories like my mother’s. We can’t explain it. But there is a much, much deeper meaning to my story here today and it connects this story and similar stories to the Gospel today, the Transfiguration of Jesus.
If you’ve ever been to Mount Tabor, you’ll know it’s a very high mountain and it would have taken hours to climb the mountain; Jesus and the Apostles would have had to stop and rest a few times along the way. Those hours would have been filled with mystery and a sense of the unknown. The Apostles didn’t know what was to come, very much like we don’t know what’s to come in life; we always await the unexpected. They witnessed something there on the mountain they could not explain, but something that gave them so much peace and comfort.
St. Peter acknowledges “it’s good to be here”. I’ll bet you if we were to ask Peter why it was good to be there, he couldn’t exactly explain why, he just knew it was. I knew it was good for me to be with my mother that day hearing that story, knowing it brought her peace and comfort, hearing her tell me someone she loved and trusted tell her it was going to be alright. The parallels I’m drawing between my mom’s story and the beautiful Gospel account of the Transfiguration has many limits, and I wouldn’t imply that they are accounts of the same magnitude. We also might wonder why only Peter, James and John went with Jesus that day. Of course, we don’t know for sure. But I’ve often wondered why I was the only one my mother told her experience to. My sister didn’t know about it and heard it for the first time from me when my mother had passed away.
The Apostles shared faith with one another; as a priest I share this story and experience with others because it helped me find peace and comfort in my faith; knowing that the Lord was with my mother in her suffering and she had the experience of a trusted person in her life to help her.
We all have transforming moments of our lives, and we are all given a glimpse or foretaste of what God has planned for us. We all have mysterious, unexplainable, glorious moments where God powerfully and personally reveals Himself to us. I know the graces that take place in the midst of suffering.
Today’s Gospel requires us to stop and reflect. St. Peter wants to set up tents; he wants to stay there, as anyone would want to remain in a wonderful place. But that was not why they were there. Jesus had to suffer His agonizing death to save humanity and that was yet to come. This foretaste of heaven (surely that’s what it was) was to prepare the Apostles for what they too would undergo. They would need to remember this day when times get tough, as they would in Jerusalem. They would need to remember this day among others when their lives were demanded of them (as Peter and James’ were). John would remember this day as he lived on to account to the next generation of believers. Tougher days lie ahead for Jesus and the Apostles.
After this experience in my mother’s hospital room, she suffered and it wasn’t an easy week before her death, but I truly believe she found the peace, and I have no doubt that everything was alright. Even though I mourned the loss of my mom, whom I loved, my faith was strengthened in God by this experience. We need to hold on to the glorious moments we receive as a gift for the tougher days ahead. My brothers and sisters in Christ, I offer this to you today for reflection; do you have those transforming experiences of your life whatever they may be; wrapped in mystery, peace; those “God” moments? Let them be moments you reflect upon from time to time, because they are also the moments that will get you through the tough days when you’ll need them most. May God bless you