“Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’” (Mark 9: 2, 7)
March 1, 2015
Second Sunday of Lent
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
Creature of habit that I am, with routine a comforting structure, Monday evening has become laundry time. Thus it was that on a recent Monday I tossed a pile of clothing into one of the community washing machines before the start of Mass at 5:15 PM. Following supper after Mass, I returned to the basement laundry room to toss the now clean clothing into the dryer, settling myself into a nearby chair to read while the appliance did its work. Adept after many years of doing my own laundry, I know enough to remove permanent press shirts and slacks from the dryer while still damp, arranging them on hangers, allowing them to air-dry.
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On this particular Monday evening, though, I momentarily escaped the mindlessness of routine to confront an ancient mystery. As I pulled a light green 3-button polo shirt out of the dryer, I stopped mid-routine to ask myself the haunting question: How is it that shirts, slacks and socks emerge from the dryer inside out when I consistently place them into the washer right side out?
While physicists may have a logical explanation for this phenomenon, I don’t really need an answer. It’s just one of those things I’ve come to acknowledge will happen every time I do laundry, one more mystery given for my acceptance, not my understanding.
The laundry room conundrum, though, points to a more far-reaching and certainly more serious consideration. It’s one thing for a polo shirt to emerge inside out from the dryer, but what about when people, you and I, emerge inside out having been tumbled about violently by a life experience? What happens to us when life itself leaves us tangled and twisted, our faith shaken, our sense of self battered? A recently spotted adage might speak to that situation as it proclaims, “Sometimes when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.”
Many years of ministry in hospitals have provided me opportunities to witness what happens when people are turned inside out by sickness, pain and death. All sense of comforting routine now long gone, every moment in a sick bed can seem a harrowing moment of anxious uncertainty. Gone is the familiar environment of home; gone the sense of well-being; gone the ability to be in charge, to make such simple decisions as what and when to eat. In short, with all sense of order and control disrupted, a hospital patient (along with the family) is left as confused and tangled as the shirt I pulled from the dryer that Monday evening.
In the gospel passage we hear today, St. Mark writes, “Jesus took Peter, James and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.’” (Mark 9: 2, 7)
My years walking with the sick have informed my understanding of the meaning of the biblical account of the transfiguration on Mt. Tabor. Indeed, I picture Jesus leading three disciples up a steep hillside. Having reached the summit, Peter, James and John collapse in exhaustion, their heavy breathing sign enough that they aren’t as young as they used to be. Or as old as they’re going to get. And while they silently ponder the weight of their own mortality, suddenly Jesus is revealed as God’s own beloved son. It’s here on this mountaintop that the disciples face squarely their own human limitations even as Jesus is revealed as both human and divine, God’s beloved son sent to walk with them along earth’s pathways and on into heaven itself.
From my perspective as a hospital chaplain, it’s the dark, misty valley of sickness rather than the mountaintop where people learn this same lesson. Sickness is an insistent teacher, mortality the lesson to be learned while we cling tightly to Jesus’ promise to walk our earthly paths, leading us home at the last.
Like the disciples who descended Mt. Tabor’s summit enlightened, patients and families often leave the hospital changed. Having seen a larger truth, their frequent response is gratitude. Consider a prayer by an unknown author:
“Today, upon a bus, I saw a very beautiful woman. And wished I were as beautiful. When suddenly she rose to leave, I saw her hobble down the aisle. She had one leg and used a crutch. But as she passed, she passed a smile. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two legs; the world is mine.
“I stopped to buy some candy. The lad who sold it had such charm. I talked with him, he seemed so glad. If I were late, it'd do no harm. And as I left, he said to me, ‘I thank you, you've been so kind. It's nice to talk with folks like you. You see,’ he said, ‘I'm blind.’ Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two eyes; the world is mine.
“Later while walking down the street, I saw a child I knew. He stood and watched the others play, but he did not know what to do. I stopped a moment and then I said, ‘Why don't you join them, dear?’ He looked ahead without a word. I forgot, he couldn't hear. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I have two ears; the world is mine.
“With feet to take me where I'd go. With eyes to see the sunset's glow. With ears to hear what I'd know. Oh, God, forgive me when I whine. I've been blessed indeed, the world is mine.” (Original source unknown)