Transfiguration and confidence
Self-confidence, properly understood, is spiritually healthy. With an honest and well-formed conscience, we should all strive for an unshakable faith and confidence, without arrogance, that is rooted in Jesus.
A letter to the editor in Catholic World Report many years ago gave a wrenching account of a breakdown in confidence. In the letter, a woman reported she was one of eight children. Four were raised before the Council and four raised after. The first four were mature and well-adjusted in adulthood; the latter four were painfully immature beyond adolescence. Her explanation? In the Council’s “immediate” aftermath, confusion among clergy and laity reigned. The father of the family not only lost confidence in his Church after the Council, but he also lost confidence in his ability to be a good father.
There are reasons to believe that this diabolical bout of confusion is taking place again in our day.
The Gospel account of the Transfiguration is a confidence builder. On that mountain, Jesus gives three of His twelve apostles—Peter and the brothers James and John—a glimpse of heaven, a powerful spiritual experience. The Fathers of the Church explained that this preview was a gift designed to strengthen the Apostles as they were about to witness and endure the Passion of Jesus. But the behavior of the Apostles after the Transfiguration is a warning against false confidence.
Most of us have heard of the “born again” experience. This Protestant doctrine holds that when one undergoes a powerful “emotional” experience one may be “born again in the Spirit.” Such experiences bring awareness of sin and confidence that Jesus takes away those sins by the blood of His Cross. The born-again experience also guarantees, according to this teaching, that one’s personal salvation cannot be revoked.
Of course the doctrine is appealing. But the confidence is misplaced. Who is to say that a particular experience is really a saving “born-again” event? We don’t know. Unlike the matter and form of the sacraments, the born-again criteria are elusive. In any case, the certainties of the doctrine have no basis in Gospel teaching.
Nevertheless, powerful spiritual experiences undoubtedly take place and should be viewed as gifts from God. God often grants gifts of consolation with various grades of intensity to bolster our confidence in Him. The experience the three Apostles had during the Transfiguration was intense—so much so that Peter babbled in confusion. But the apostles came down from that mountain after their “spiritual high” and returned to their everyday life following Jesus.
Confidence in Jesus does not mean a life without anxiety. On the contrary, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23) And, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (Jn 15:20) He even promised, “…you will be hated by all for my name’s sake” but He quickly adds this consolation, “…not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Lk 21:17-19)
In the aftermath of spiritual consolations, the effects often evaporate when trials begin. Jesus knew the weak character of his band of brothers. At the Last Supper, Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Perhaps remembering the Transfiguration, Peter’s response was, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” (Mk 14:29-31) But we know the rest of the story.
It is certain that God grants powerful emotional experiences to us for purposes of building our confidence or providing rest for our souls. But Christian character and confidence must be tested by fire “so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold …may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 1:7) Faith is fortified in the crucible of suffering along with Jesus.
Confidence also comes with thinking clearly. The Transfiguration confirms the unity of faith that covers the expanse of Scriptures. In his encounter with Moses and Elijah during the Transfiguration, Jesus consecrates and fulfills the Law and the Prophets. In so doing, Jesus reinforces our confidence in God’s revelation and the entire Deposit of Faith that is handed down through history. God does not lie. From the beginning, God’s revelation is reliable. God delivers on his promises. God forms our minds with the unshakable truths of his revelation.
The God of faith and reason protects the Deposit of Faith we receive from the Apostles. Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium must be harmonized by the rules of logic. Catholic doctrines cannot be mutually exclusive. No man has capricious authority over the deposit of Faith. Priests, bishops, and popes fulfill their roles only if they are honest witnesses to the truths of the deposit of Faith. Errant and even wicked clergy can obscure the firm certainties of the Faith, but only if we allow them to do so, by failing in our exercise of right reason.
When the Apostles came down from that mountain, they continued to follow Jesus. But they allowed events to erode their faith. Bishop Judas betrayed Him, and Pope Peter denied Him. Only Bishop John accompanied Him at the foot of the Cross. It would take the Resurrection—already promised by the Prophets for those with the eyes to see—to restore their confidence.
We also have many reasons to be discouraged in life. We have health problems, family problems, financial problems. We worry about what lies ahead; we worry about our children; we worry about the Church, the nation, and the world. But in worry, it is easy to overlook the promise made on that Mount of Transfiguration. God’s glory is our destiny if we hold fast to Him with the confidence that He is true to his word. The life to come is more glorious than we can possibly imagine.
We must remain confident that the faith we received is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
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