Retreat as Transfiguration

The weekend (actually Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon) retreat is over here at White House Retreat in St. Louis. A Jesuit friend of mine is picking me up later and we will go out for supper before I catch a flight back to Milwaukee. Today is the Second Sunday of Lent and the Gospel at Mass for this day is always the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. For me, that event has always been a metaphor for going on retreat, and I talked about that in my homily at Mass today.

Luke's version of the Transfiguation says that Jesus went up a mountain to pray and three of his closest friends accompanied Him. That's what we do when we go on retreat. Just as Jesus took special time away from His busy life to commune with the Father, so do we. We accompanied Jesus up the mountain this weekend to pray with Him and to Him. Being with Him, we received a little taste of glory, just as His disciples did during that first Transfiguration.

The apostles received a taste of glory to prepare them for the difficulties that lay ahead. Soon their faith would be sorely tested when the Master would be arrested, tortured, and crucified. Jesus tried to strengthen their faith for those faith-testing events by allowing them to see a bit of the glory which was normally hidden from their sight. Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah to show them that the Hebrew Scriptures and the Prophets of old witnessed to Him.

Though Peter wanted to keep the experience of glory going as long as possible by building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, the taste of glory ended and the apostles had to descend from the mountain and go on with their normal routines. So it is with a retreat. We too leave the mountain-top of retreat and return to our lives in the world. But we take something with us. Every spiritual experience is given to us to build up our faith and that of our brothers and sisters.

I've often heard people sigh at the end of a retreat: "Now it's back to the real world." I'd like to think that what we do when we go away on retreat is to get in touch with the really real world. So often in our busy lives we forget what is most important, why we exist, where we are headed, and how much God loves us. Retreat is a time to get in touch with those things and to have our faith strengthened for the road ahead.

As we leave the retreat we want to savor the words of God the Father which were spoken about Jesus at the Transfiguration: "This is my Chosen Son. Listen to Him." We return to our normal routines knowing that we need to listen every day to Jesus. We do that in two ways. One is to listen to Jesus speaking to us in the living word of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels. The other is to listen to Jesus speaking to us in our daily lives. It's a good practice to pause at the end of the day and to review it: to see how the Lord was present throughout the day, speaking to us through the events and people of our daily lives.

We also need to hear those other words of the Father that were spoken about Jesus and can now be said about each one of us, the baptized. When we were baptized we were joined to Christ, to His Body. We became sons and daughters of the Father of Jesus. As a result, in the words of one of the Prefaces from Mass, the Father sees and loves in us what He sees and loves in Christ. We are chosen. We are God's "choicest" sons and daughters. Our future glory, like Christ's except for the Transfiguation, may be hidden, but the reality is there. We just need, from time to time, to pause and perceive it.