Two persons I was once helping to prepare for their wedding and the marriage that would follow were explaining to me the status of their religious life. The young man admitted that he wasn’t much of a church-goer and that he was finding it increasingly difficult to relate to his Catholic faith and remain a practicing member of a parish. He went on to describe a time in his life, not very long ago, he said, when he was experiencing real joy, looking forward to Sunday Mass and Communion and faithfully living up to his obligations as a Catholic. He said, with obvious nostalgia, that God seemed so present to him in those years, implying that he did not know how or why things had changed so much for him and that he missed the warmth and beauty of it all.
It sounded to me that he was talking about the happiest years of his life up to that point.
And then he added, “You know, I think about those days a lot. And, even when I’m not going to church (as I am not now) and am having all kinds of doubts about religion, the memory of those days keeps me going and won’t let me give up.”
I listened with intense interest, as you can well imagine, and tried to confirm his hope by asking, “Do you know what you’ve just described to me and your-wife-to-be? I call it a ‘peak experience’, a crystal clear awareness of an important truth so convincing to you, so totally satisfying, that it remains with you even when you are doubting, as you tell me you are now.”
That’s what the three apostles seem to have had with Jesus in the phenomenon so dramatically described in the gospel passage today: a peak experience. He was the carpenter’s son to them, surprisingly knowledgeable, uncommonly good, but still, the man from Galilee, who showed every human frailty that they did — except evil. And then, either in a powerful moment of grace, as the writers of the gospel put it, or by a gradual accumulation of many revealing signs over their years together, they recognized in him the deepest reality of his being as the one who would be called “Son of God”.
Despite this enlightening epiphany, it would not be long before they would doubt and deny him and betray him out of fear for their own lives. They would heatedly disagree about what he had actually said and what he meant by what he said. But the memory of that new and different vision of him would never leave them, no matter what. They would continue trying to understand him and his message more fully and to join their lives with his. And we have learned through hindsight that they succeeded.
Is it not the same with us? Whatever the reason —emotional, physical, spiritual — we sometimes find ourselves with a less than enthusiastic attitude toward God, the church, faith and worship. It can be a time of dryness for us, a time of doubt and lack of confidence that makes us feel as though we were in a dark and depressing place.
Now is the time for us to acknowledge the possibility that we may be there again in the years ahead. So I suggest that this would be a good time for us to recall those occasions when we were absolutely certain that God was very close to us, that God was in was, loving and caring for us and others dear to us — realizations that no one could ever persuade us to deny.
We are not, after all, very different from those privileged apostles, because no less advantage has been granted to us. In our own ways , we have also “seen” God!