Some years ago England’s national television network, BBC-TV, sent its star journalist, Malcolm Muggeridge, to India to do a documentary on Mother Teresa.
Now the BBC wanted to televise Mother Teresa and her sisters picking up the dying in the slums of Calcutta and taking them to a shelter run by the sisters. At the shelter the dying are washed up and cared for, as Mother Teresa put it, “Within the sight of a loving face.” The shelter to which they were brought was once a temple to the Hindu goddess Kali. It was dimly lit by tiny windows high up in the walls. The television crew had not anticipated the poor lighting inside the building, and had not brought any portable lights with them. They concluded that it was useless to try to film the sister working with the dying inside the building. But someone suggested they do it anyway. Perhaps some of the footage would be usable.
To everyone’s surprise, the footage filmed inside the shelter turned out to be in their words spectacular. The whole interior was bathed in a mysterious warm light. Technically speaking, the camera crew said, the results were impossible to explain. Muggeridge had his own theory about the mysterious light. He wrote, “Mother Teresa’s home for the dying is overflowing with love…One senses this immediately on entering it. This love is luminous, like the haloes artists make visible round the heads of the saints. I find it not at all surprising that the luminosity should register on film.”
What Muggeridge was talking about was not a figment of his imagination. It is something that is well documented in biblical and spiritual literature. The Book of Exodus says that when Moses came down from the mountain after talking with God, the people noticed how radiant his face had become, and they were afraid to come near him. St. Kateri Tekakwitha when praying before the Blessed Sacrament would just glow with joy, her face seemed to shine with the love of God. People would enter the church just to stare at her, rather than pray before the Blessed Sacrament. And in today’s Gospel Peter, James, and John report that our Lord was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun. The love of God can be luminous.
The word transfigured comes from the Greek word metamorphane, which is where we get the word metamorphosis. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly, a tadpole becomes a frog, and a seed becomes a plant, all of them being raised to a higher state. All these are forms of metamorphosis. And the bright light emanating from Jesus is also symbol of metamorphosis. Jesus is raised to a higher level. He’s raised to the level of Heaven and Peter, James, and John get a glimpse of the Heavenly Trinitarian love and they get a glimpse of what God intends for Jesus after the Resurrection and for all of us.
Now the Gospel also speaks of our Lord’s clothes that are white as light. Theologians see this as an external dimension of someone who is deeply in touch with God. A person who shares a deep communion with God, one who is deeply in love with God, radiates outward making one’s life brilliant. When we are in deep communion with God this beautiful relationship can sometimes radiate outward and be seen. I think this is what people saw in Moses, St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. Kateri. These saints’ love for God was so deep that it became physically evident. We’ve all known people like this, they just can’t hide their love for God.
Every Christian is called to this, is called to be a light in our darkened world. Every Christian is called upon to radiate the light of Christ to the world. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world. Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Heavenly Father.”
Muggeridge in his book wrote of an incident where Mother Teresa gave a talk in a school. He wrote, “I was watching… the faces of the people as they listened…Every face…was rapt, hanging on her words; not because of the words themselves-they were ordinary enough-but because of her. Some quality came across over and above the words that held their attention. A luminosity seemed to fill the school hall…penetrating every mind and heart. When she had finished…they all wanted to touch her hand…She looked so small and frail and tired standing there, giving herself. Yet this is how we find salvation. Giving, not receiving…dying in order to live.” Mother Teresa was a light in the darkness to these people. She was giving not receiving and she was dying to self in order to live.
So what about us; the people of St. Jerome’s and St. Joseph’s, like Moses, St. Teresa of Calcutta, and St. Kateri we too are called to be a light in the darkness of our world. Now maybe our face won’t be glowing but our words and actions should. Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are living out our calling. Are we pursuing the corporal and spiritual works of Mercy? Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are letting our Christian light shine. Where do I need to be a brighter light of God’s love? Where is our Lord calling me to let his light shine through me? Is it with the family, parents, spouse, children, in-laws, is it at work with friends, and co-workers, is it at school, is it in the community, or is it in the parish? And after this examination if we find we weren’t doing as well as we could, Lent is also a time for repenting and beginning anew to live this calling to transfiguration.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley