Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Developmental Disabilities Mass – 2nd Sunday of Lent
February 25, 2018
In today’s gospel story of the Transfiguration, Jesus took Peter, James and John up to the mountain to pray. … Do you recall when we meet this same trio going apart with Jesus? Of course – in the garden of Gethsemane the before Jesus’ crucifixion. … They who beheld Jesus’ glory on the mountain peak would also witness his agony. … But why? … Because to endure the latter, they needed the former.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? But it does raise a question. What about us? It is good and proper that the three apostles had a vision to sustain them in difficult times. But what about us? Where is our vision to hold?
The response is that we do in fact have our moments of transfiguration, but we simply fail to recognize them. Through the birth of Jesus, God is in our world and active within our lives. It is, however, a matter of how we carefully we look in order to see God’s power and presence at work among us. For so many of us, we need to learn how to see differently in order to recognize God in our daily lives.
Let me share with you a story that I read years ago that not only speak to today’s gospel but particularly to the reality of how we learn to see ourselves, our world and the presence of God.
A woman by the name of Mary Ann Bird related this personal story. “I grew up knowing I was different and I hated it. I was born with a cleft palate at a time when corrective surgeries were simply not always possible or available. When I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I just look to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth and garbles speech. When my schoolmates would ask, ‘What happened to your lip?’ I’d tell them I’d fallen and cut it on a piece of glass. Somehow, it seemed more acceptable to have suffered an accident than to have been born different. I was convince that no one outside my family could love me. There was, however, a teacher in the second grade that we all adored, Mrs. Leonard. She was short, round, happy, a sparkling lady. Annually, we would have a hearing test. I was virtually deaf in one of my ears; when when I had taken the test in the past years, I discovered that if I did not press my hand as tightly upon my ears as I was instructed to do, I could pass the test. Mrs. Leonard gave the test to everyone in the class, and finally it was my turn. I knew from past years that as we stood against the door and covered on ear, the teacher sitting at her desk would whisper something and we would have to repeat it back, saying things like ‘The sky is blue’ or ‘Do you have new shoes?’ I waited there for those words which God must have put into her mouth – seven words which changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said, in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’”
Before Mrs. Leonard came into her life, Mary Ann saw herself as a malformed, different little girl who was not nearly as valuable as others. … After her encounter with Mrs. Leonard, she saw beauty and self-worth. Those simple words of a second grade teacher, Mary Ann went on to say, remained a sustaining vision as she faced the ongoing challenges of life. … That simple experience early in her life became Mary Ann’s moment of transfiguration. … She saw life differently.
Today’s gospel of the transfiguration of Jesus – that moment in his life that provides for his disciples and for us a foreshadowing of his resurrection and glory – comes at a price. Jesus’ glory is always linked to the cross and the selfless love that he poured forth from it. Yet the cross, in turn, can never be understood apart from the resurrection and life that accompanied Jesus’ openness to his father’s will. … The two go hand in hand. For the Christian, the cross always gives way to life.
We all have crosses to bear – burdens and struggles that demand so much of our time and energy – pain and suffering that can lead to desperation and despair. But as the little girl in the story that I just shared points out, if we look carefully enough – if we learn to see our world in a different way – we will always have hope. For like the cross of Jesus, our crosses are never the end of our stories. Through the power and presence of God, they can become opportunities of hope, of healing and of life for ourselves and others.
Take a look once again at the image of the Transfiguration that hangs over our sanctuary. This time, however, let your eyes drift below the image of the transfigured Jesus to the crowd below. Here the artist depicts the scripture passage that immediately follows the actual transfiguration scene – that of a struggling boy surrounded by his family and neighbors.
Jesus comes down from his mountaintop experience only to embrace his cross yet again as he is asked to immerse himself into the midst of a suffering world. Yet, the presence of this scene reminds us that through lives that are open to one another in faith and loving service, crosses give way to life. … Jesus’ cross is lightened by touching the life of a burdened child. And a young boy’s cross of suffering is lifted through belief and trust in God.
As we gather in prayer today to celebrate the gifts that we are to our world through the grace of God at work in our lives, I am especially mindful of you, our brothers and sisters with developmental disabilities. Each of you, in particular, challenges us to embrace the hope-filled message of today’s gospel more authentically in our lives. Each of you – like the little girl I spoke about a moment ago – even and especially while facing your greatest struggle and carrying your heaviest cross – has beauty and value and worth and the ability to teach us powerful lessons about life and love and the presence of God. Simply put, because of you, our world is brighter – the power of love is stronger – and our ability to see God at work in our world is far more possible than without you!
Pope Francis put it best when he spoke some time ago with a group of disabled children. Here’s what he said to young people like so many of you who are gathered in our cathedral today. “You have a treasure chest which must be shared with others. If we keep it inside, it stays there inside,” the Holy Father said. “When we share it with others, the treasure multiplies itself, for that treasure is for others. … Because of sharing, you receive from others and it multiplies.”
So, my sisters and brothers, may we pray for the grace to see the presence of God all around us, animating our hearts with his love and giving us – all of us – the strength that we need to witness to his resurrection and to bring hope and peace to our corner of God’s world.