I would like to focus today’s reflections on the importance of prayer, prayer especially as a source of encouragement in the face of tribulations. The late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Cardinal of Chicago when I was studying at that city’s seminary in 1996. At that time Cardinal Bernardin was in the last months of his fight against cancer. One evening he held a meeting with the priests and seminarians. That meeting became his farewell speech to the seminary. He shared the state of his illness and invited the priests and seminarians to walk with him the last stage of his life. The teaching from Cardinal Bernardin that I remember the most is on prayer. He believed that we should pray while we are well because when we suffer and are in pain we cannot pray.
Saint Matthew tells us that the Lord’s Transfiguration took place six days after the Lord’s first announcement to the disciples of his impending Passion and Death. We can imagine how confused and sad, how demoralized and discouraged the disciples became after learning such devastating news. Six days later the Lord chose three of his Apostles, Peter, James, and John, and led them up a high mountain to show them his glory. These three Apostles had already been chosen by the Lord to accompany him to the house of Jairus when the Lord brough back to life Jairus 12-year-old daughter. These three Apostles will also be chosen to accompany the Lord and be much closer to him at the agony in the garden on the eve of his Passion and Death.
At the Transfiguration, the Lord wanted to give these three Apostles a pick at his divine glory and to encourage them in their upcoming tribulation. Tradition says that the Transfiguration took place about forty days before the Lord’s Passion. The Lord knew that the disciples would be so unprepared for the scandal of the cross that they needed a powerful image in their minds to afford them hope and strength at those terrible moments of doubt and fear. It was as if the Lord would be telling them something like, “My children, in spite of what you are about to see and hear, keep the image of my eternal glory in your mind”.
Another way to state the Lord’s prohibition to the Apostles on the way down is this: “Once the Son of Man has been raised from the dead, by all means tell the vision to every person”. The preaching of the Apostles and of the Church from that moment on has been the retelling of not only that vision but of the most spectacular facts of our faith that the disciples saw with their very eyes, namely, the awesome apparitions of the Risen Lord and his glorious Ascension into heaven.
The Lord is also aware of our frequent confusion and discouragement in the face of sin and suffering in this world. Suffering is something that always challenges us and sometimes confounds us. And just as he did with his Apostles, the Lord invites us today to come with him to the mountain and see his glory. This spiritual climb to the mountain happens each time we pray and read and reflect on the Holy Scriptures, especially the gospels; it happens each time we attend Mass. In prayer and at Mass the Lord gives us images, memories that will sustain us and make us strong when suffering and tribulation comes our way. These special moments with the Lord provide us with grace and hope to endure our crosses.
Cardinal Bernardin taught people to pray when we are well. Following his thought, I may say that we need to fill our minds with the memories of God when we are well because when we suffer and are in pain, we cannot to do it. These memories of God are what may help conquer tribulations.
Let us humbly ask the Lord to reveal his glory to us and to grant us his grace to be people of fervent prayer.