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Appearances aren’t always deceiving: Sunday reflection

Appearances aren’t always deceiving: Sunday reflection


This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 9:28b–36:

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying, his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.

It’s been a busy weekend for us, which has led to a different kind of reflection on today’s Gospel. We went to the funeral of a family member in the early afternoon yesterday, then met up with some friends for dinner and a movie. My wife chose the film based on an interesting segment she heard on the Drew Mariani Show on Relevant Radio, where I sometimes fill in for Drew.

(As an aside: I don’t ask my wife who her favorite radio host is, mainly because I don’t want to know the answer. I think I’m currently in fourth place behind Drew, Larry Elder, and Rick Ungar, perhaps or perhaps not in that particular order.)

The film, Garabandal: Only God Knows, opened last year in Spain and Mexico and has opened in very limited release now in the US. It tells the story of an alleged series of Marian apparitions in a small town in Spain from 1961-65, claims which remain controversial and unsettled to this day. For those who follow issues about such apparitions, it has some parallels to Medjugorje, although they have drawn less attention and conversation. This involved four young girls who claimed to have been visited by an angel at first and then by the Virgin Mary, and a miracle that has still not been settled one way or the other by the Vatican.

My point here isn’t to give it a review. Briefly: it’s a good film, especially for the genre, but it definitely takes a point of view on the controversy. Instead, my focus is on the content and its connection to today’s Gospel readings. The very first thing we discovered about Garabandal is that it’s … entirely in Spanish. It had English subtitles, but that doesn’t do my blind wife much good. Usually theaters have audio devices available to narrate the screen action for blind viewers, but this film didn’t, and it would have done little good to narrate action without translating the dialogue.

After a long debate as to whether we should swap the tickets for another film — the only realistic option was Captain Marvel — we decided to give it a try. The pace was good but patient enough for me to whisper the translations and some of the screen action as the film went along, so it all worked out in the end. My wife followed the movie well and the message came across just fine.

It occurred to me this morning that this is, in a sense, what the girls in Garabandal did for everyone else, as did the children in Medjugorje and in Fatima too. The pilgrims who came to watch them during the apparitions could not “see the movie” either or understand the dialogue. The children “translate” the dialogue in order to get the message across in each of these apparitions, as has been the case in other apparitions accepted by the Catholic Church. The alleged miracles in these cases provide a corroboration to the witnesses of the authenticity of the message and the translation.

We see something similar in today’s first reading from Genesis. The Lord appears to Abraham, and not for the only time, to set him as our ancestor in faith. In this episode, “a trance fell upon Abraham,” much as it did at more recent apparitions. The Lord made Himself known by physical manifestations of His presence and an important message of faith. This message comes down to us from the descendants of Abraham and was committed to formal writing by Moses.

Luke’s Gospel about the Transfiguration provides another example of such apparitions from Jesus’ ministry on earth. This is a heavenly apparition in which two of the Lord’s prophets appear in only the presence of three of the disciples. At the end of this apparition, a second apparition appears, this one a theophany as the Lord speaks directly to them from a cloud. This message is actually similar in content to Marian apparitions, which urge people to listen to her son and to follow Him to salvation. The three disciples “translated” these messages too, and in this case Luke committed it to paper so that the messages could spread for the next two millennia.

None of this is to argue for or against the Garabandal apparitions, or Medjugorje or others. That is better left to the witnesses and the investigators. However, we should remember that our scriptures and their revelations come down to us in much the same way. This is God’s word as passed to us by divinely inspired human beings, who saw what we cannot see and had revealed to them what we have to believe through faith. To the extent that private revelations come to us through discernment and prayer, we are the girls of Garabandal; mostly, however, we are the witnesses who must discern the truth from fiction, and who must then go on to “translate” that message to others to call everyone to the salvation of Jesus.

We all have a part to play in this mission of salvation. As Paul wrote to the Philippians, we can “join with others in being imitators of me” as evangelists for the message, even if that evangelism is as simple as committing to “conduct themselves according to the model you have in us.”

The front-page image is “The Transfiguration of Christ” by Titian, 1560-65.

“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here.  For previous Green Room entries, click here.





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