Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Lectionary: 614

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.


Saint Peter's reference to myths in his Second Letter tells us that the apostolic church and the early fathers (the Patristics) were well aware of mythology and flatly denied there was anything mythological about the Gospel. 
They knew about gods who were supposedly born of women and gods raised from the dead. The similarities were accidental, not substantial. A pumpkins may resemble a bowling ball but they are not remotely alike . There is no comparison between pagan myths and Christian faith.  
Many cultures and religions are built on a particular mythology. Classical education taught us all about Greek and Roman gods; many of us learned of Celtic and Scandinavian gods also. A multi-cultural society wants our children to learn something about Native American and Asian mythologies. 
Secular American culture also has its myths: George Washington and the cherry tree; the rail splitting Abe Lincoln, Paul Bunyan and John Henry. Some mythological stories may have factual roots but they are used for larger purposes. The story of Washington's cherry tree may be true but that's not why it's told to children. Lincoln certainly split logs into rails to fence in his father's cattle but the story was used to persuade voters that the Illinois lawyer was "one of us." Mythological stories don't have to be historically accurate to teach truth. 
Some nineteenth century Protestant scripture scholars suspected the stories of Jesus were mythological. Some believed that a Jewish preacher may have been crucified and then "raised up" by the disciples who refused to stop talking about him. Perhaps they even stole his body from the grave! 
Some Protestant theologians suggested the gospel was basically true even if it was largely made up by some smart fellows who also fabricated stories about fishermen and tax collecting apostles. They supposed the real history was not important but the myths were. Somehow, miraculously, the apostles had stumbled into an "eternal truth" which might still be relevant in modern times. 
Fortunately, later scholars discovered historical foundations in the New Testament. While some had supposed the gospels must have appeared centuries after Jesus' death, they showed how the four canonical gospels -- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John -- were written in the first century. Mark may have been written as early as 45 AD. 
Belatedly, in 1943, the Roman Catholic Church took up the challenge of scripture scholarship  and provided better theological guidelines. 
The gospel is not a cleverly devised myth. If it were, it could not save us. Much of the 19th century problem was the supposition that we are saved by our beliefs, i.e. our opinions. "Only faith," as Martin Luther taught. 
Nineteenth century biblical scholars created their own myth to update the Christian religion. Since the story of Jesus was only a myth, it could be rewritten to fit modern necessities. And one of the surest truths, they asserted, was the Roman Catholic Church had lost the gospel since the beginning! The apostles got it wrong but now, with our modern insights, we can tell you The Truth. Scholars as recent as Harvey Cox make such claims.
Salvation must go deeper than our opinions; it must shape our behavior and change our very substance. We must literally eat the flesh, drink the blood and breathe the breath of Jesus. We must be joined corporeally to him by baptism into his death. 
When Jesus sent us out he didn't say, "teach this doctrine" or "persuade them of this ideology." He said, "make disciples and baptize them." 
Catholic doctrine assures us that, for all our sinfulness and misguided ways, God has never abandoned his people. Our sacraments still bind us to the historical Body of Christ, a body which was born of Mary, transfigured on Mount Tabor, crucified on Calvary, raised up at Easter, and taken into heaven some forty days later. If he does not appear as the man he was, he is still physically with us in the Church and its sacraments. 
Our story is true history; it is not grounded in once-upon-a-time or a-galaxy-far-far-away.

I well remember my own struggle with faith as I learned of a mythological interpretation of the Gospel. If it were not founded on actual history, if the myths were important but not the facts, then I might, as a priest, maintain a public life quite different from my personal life. What were important was what I said and what people believed -- and not what I actually was. 
In those days I was not at all sure of myself or my vocation. Young adults often feel like they are faking it. They look like adults and are expected to act like adults but sometimes they feel like children. 
Eventually the Sacrament of Penance would reassure me of my vocation and the Lord's choice. Reconciled to myself as a loved sinner, I could preach the gospel and celebrate the Eucharist with the assurance of faith. Yes, the Lord is here in the Real Presence of the Blessed Sacrament even when these damaged goods  preside over the ceremony. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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