Sunday, March 27, 2005

Ashley Smith’s Challenging Witness To The Risen Christ

Ashley Smith

(Easter 2005: This homily was given on March 27, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Easter 2005]

You’ve just come back from the store, and you park your car, as usual, in front of your apartment building.

As you’re getting out of your vehicle, a man suddenly approaches, holding a gun and looking desperate. He sticks the gun in your side, threatens you, and then orders you to take him to your apartment—immediately!

When you’re both inside and he takes off his hat, you recognize him as the man who allegedly killed four people in cold blood within the previous 24 hours.

What would you do in circumstances like those? What would you say?

Hopefully we will never find ourselves in that type of situation. But two weeks ago, just outside of Atlanta, 33-year-old Ashley Smith DID find herself in that situation, almost exactly as I described it.

As most of us know, the man who stuck the gun in her side that morning was Brian Nichols, a former college football linebacker, who a day earlier had allegedly killed a judge, a court reporter, and a deputy inside an Atlanta courthouse, where he was being taken to stand trial for rape. Later, as he was trying to escape from authorities, he hijacked several cars and allegedly killed a federal agent.

And now he’s a guest in your apartment—and still armed!

Most of us probably find it difficult to imagine what we would say or do, faced with such horrific circumstances—but in the case of Ashley Smith we don’t need to imagine anything, because we know for a fact what she said and what she did.

To describe it all as “extraordinary” seems grossly inadequate—but for lack of a better term that’s clearly what it was: extraordinary! A police officer in Gwinnett County Georgia perhaps said it best: “[Ashley Smith] acted very cool and levelheaded. We don’t normally see that in our profession. It was an absolutely best-case scenario that happened, a complete opposite of what you expected to happen. We were prepared for the worst and got the best.”

Because of Ashley Smith’s words and actions, it’s very likely that many more lives were saved—including her own!

Now if you followed the news a few weeks ago you know the incredible details of the rest of the story: After they entered Ashley’s apartment, Nichols first tied her up and took a shower. Then he began to talk to her. During their conversation, Ashley told Nichols that her husband had died in her arms 4 years ago after being stabbed; she also told him that if he killed her, her 5 year-old daughter would be an orphan.

Then she asked if she could read to pass the time. Thankfully, he said Yes. So she went into her bedroom, and grabbed hold of two books: the Bible, and a Christian book of practical wisdom by Rick Warren entitled, The Purpose-Driven Life.

He asked her to read to him, so she began with chapter 33 of The Purpose Driven Life (that, providentially, is where she had previously left off in the book). At the very beginning of that chapter, Rick Warren writes: “We serve God by serving others. The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others, you’ve arrived. In our self-serving culture with its me-first mentality, acting like a servant is not popular.”

That line struck a cord in Nichols, a man who had flaunted his power during the previous 24 hours and used it to kill four innocent people. The biblical philosophy Rick Warren expressed in that one line from chapter 33 was the antithesis of the philosophy Brian Nichols had been living by—perhaps all his life.

From there, Ashley went on to speak to Nichols about God, family, and the crimes he had committed. She asked him to think of the families of the victims he had shot and how they were feeling. She also helped Nichols to see that there was hope for him—even now—even after all he had done—but that he needed to turn himself in and stop the killing for that hope to be realized.

With incredible courage she said to him: “You know, your miracle could be that you need to . . . be caught for this. You need to go to prison and you need to share the Word of God with them, with all the prisoners there.”

Amazingly, 7 hours later, Brian Nichols let Ashley Smith leave so that she could go and pick up her daughter. While en route, she called 911, and a SWAT team quickly surrounded her apartment.

Nichols responded—thankfully—by waving a white piece of cloth to signal his surrender, and he was taken into custody without further incident.

This morning we gather in faith to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In today’s first reading from Acts 10 St. Peter says, “We are witnesses of all that [Jesus] did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. [But] this man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead.”

First and foremost, we know about the resurrection of Jesus Christ and we believe in it because of the witness of Peter, James, John and those other apostles. Theirs is the primary testimony. But we also believe—at least I do—in the resurrection of Jesus because of what I would call the secondary testimony of people like Ashley Smith!

I don’t know about you, but I look at a woman like this and I say, “How did she do it, except by the power of the risen Christ—the risen Christ she believes in?”

How did she keep from panicking? How did she exhibit such incredible courage and wisdom when her life was on the line? And most of all, how did she demonstrate compassion and love for her ENEMY—a man who was prepared (at least early on) to kill her and thus separate her from the person she loved most on this earth, namely, her daughter?

By what power was she able to overcome her normal human emotions and do these things?



And so, in her own unique way, Ashley Smith testified to the world 2 weeks ago that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead and is with us always (as Scripture says) until the end of the world!

God, believe it or not, expects the same from you and from me. He expects each of us, in our own unique circumstances, to show others that his Son is alive. We are to do that by the way we speak, by the way we act, and by the way we interact with others.

And we all have the potential to fulfill this mandate and be this kind of witness in the future, regardless of what our past has been like.

Think again of Ashley Smith. You know, from what I’ve read in the last few days it’s pretty clear to me that this woman didn’t always take her Christian faith as seriously as she does now. There’s been a big change in her life. As a teenager, for example, she was arrested for shoplifting; later she got into trouble with the law for speeding and drunken driving and even battery!

In one recent interview, Ashley’s grandfather talked about his granddaughter’s difficult past, but he said the family always hoped that her good upbringing would eventually lead to positive changes in her life! That upbringing, not coincidentally, included being raised in a church community and attending services every Sunday. And this, her grandfather believes, influenced how Ashley handled herself when she was taken hostage. As he put it (and here I quote): “It was almost like she was recalling all these things she learned as a child.”

Ashley Smith had a foundation of faith in her life—a foundation that literally made a life-and-death difference in a very difficult situation. (Please hear that, you parents who tell your children you’re “too busy” to bring them to Mass every Sunday. Know that you are depriving them of that foundation!)

But it’s also clear that Ashley Smith has been personalizing her faith recently, deepening her conversion, and striving to grow in her relationship with the risen Lord. That’s no doubt why she was reading The Purpose-Driven Life and the Bible in her spare time, as opposed to the latest trashy novels or the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. And that’s why she was able to touch the mind and heart of a hardened criminal like Brian Nichols!

My point is that if Ashley Smith can change and become a good witness for the Lord, then so can we, regardless of our spiritual condition at the present moment. In fact, for some of us, a simple stroll into a reconciliation room is really all that we need to turn us around and get us headed in the right direction.

Jesus Christ died and rose from the dead so that the gates of heaven would be opened and so that we could live with him forever. He died and rose, that we might share his resurrected life for all eternity.

But we only receive the fullness of that resurrected life in the future if we witness to it NOW, by living a life faithful to our Baptism.

Lord Jesus, risen and glorious Savior, we ask you on this Easter Sunday to bless Ashley Smith in a special way for the incredible witness she gave to the world two weeks ago. We thank you for filling her with the wisdom and courage she needed to love her enemy and share the truth with him. We ask you now to give her the grace that she needs to continue her witness to your risen life. And please, Lord Jesus, give to each and every one of us that very same grace, so that someday we will all share in the fullness of your risen life. Amen.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Who Will Have The Final Word In Your Story And Mine? Will It Be ‘The Hitchhiker’ Or Jesus?


(Fifth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 13, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read John 11: 1-44.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday of Lent 2005]

“The Hitchhiker.” It’s one of the most disturbing episodes of the old Twilight Zone television series from the 1960s.

The story concerns a young woman from New York named Nan Adams. Nan is on vacation; she’s traveling by car from Manhattan (where she works) to Los Angeles. However, along the way, she gets into an accident. That’s where the episode actually begins: the roadside mechanic is in the process of changing Nan’s flat tire.

As she’s standing there, waiting for him to finish his work, she suddenly notices a man up ahead on the side of the road with his arm extended and his thumb up, in a typical “hitchhiker pose.” Later she sees the same man at a gas station. Fifty miles further down the road she sees him again. In fact, everywhere she goes, she finds this hitchhiker—and it terrifies her. She can’t seem to escape him.

Finally, at the end of the story, they meet one another face-to-face, and the hitchhiker makes clear who he is: Death. Then Nan comes to the shocking realization that she had actually died in the earlier car accident. (Remember, this is the Twilight Zone!) The episode closes when the hitchhiker gets into Nan’s car and says to her, “I believe you’re going MY way.”

Sooner or later, every single one of us will meet that “hitchhiker.” Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary of Bethany, met him in today’s Gospel story—and spent four days with him! Interestingly enough, Lazarus also met “the hitchhiker” a second time—a fact which separates him from the vast majority of the human race! That’s because when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he brought him back to THIS life—to this mortal existence! Hence, at some point afterward, Lazarus physically died again!

This miracle of the raising of Lazarus, although very impressive, was really only a sign. It was a sign of something better, something much better that was on the horizon, namely, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday! And, by extension, it was also a sign of the resurrection of the just—the resurrection that will be experienced by all those who leave this life united to Jesus in the state of grace.

Here, of course, we’re not talking about a return to a mortal existence (as was the case for Lazarus); we’re talking about entering a life that is perfect and forever—a life that comes from the risen Christ himself! As the Lord said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and [he] who lives and believes in me will never die.” (In other words, he will not experience eternal death when his earthly life is finished.)

But to RECEIVE this life in the end—this eternal life—we must CHOOSE life now!

Not coincidentally, we get in the end what we choose now! That’s the meaning of the text we just heard from Romans 8 where St. Paul writes, “If [and that’s a very important word in the text—if]the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you [in other words if you’re choosing to obey God and live in the state of grace—and choosing to repent whenever you fall into serious sin], then the One who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through the Spirit dwelling in you.”

Now you might think that “choosing life” would be relatively easy, especially given the alternative!—but it isn’t always. And that’s especially true in our contemporary culture, where sin (which leads to death) is often glorified, and where killing the innocent is sometimes portrayed as a great blessing.

The fact is, in many ways we are all encouraged on a daily basis to reject life and choose death (and the things that lead to death). This is something we need to understand, so that we won’t get caught up in it all.

Just look, for example, at the film that won most of the major Academy Awards this year: Million Dollar Baby. In case you don’t know, this is the story of a female boxer—paralyzed from the neck-down in a fight—who in the end is MURDERED by her “compassionate” trainer, who disconnects her ventilator and gives her a triple dose of adrenaline!

I wonder if Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a consultant for this movie? Here choosing sin and death is portrayed as a courageous and noble act!

Or how about the case of the severely disabled woman in Florida, Terry Schiavo? This has been in the news a lot lately. Terry’s husband—a man of dubious moral character—has been trying to do her in for some time now, with the help of activist judges (those, unfortunately, are pretty easy to find these days!).

Her parents, thankfully, are trying to save her life, because she is not terminally ill! Governor Jeb Bush (God bless him) has also made several efforts to try to prevent Terry’s MURDER (which would happen, incidentally, by the removal of her feeding tube and her eventual starvation).

Some doctors say she’s in a “persistent vegetative state” (that’s the way the media usually “spins it”); but other doctors maintain that she is, in fact, “minimally conscious,” since she appears to recognize and respond to the voices of family members and close friends.

In any case, here, once again, death is being glorified—by Terry’s husband and by some of his supporters in the secular media and the courts.

To receive life, we must choose life—and that means, among other things, recognizing and respecting the dignity of every human person, especially the weakest and the most vulnerable.

I began my homily today with a reference to the old Twilight Zone episode, “The Hitchhiker,” and that’s precisely how I’ll end it.

I said at the beginning that I found this particular show very disturbing. Looking back on it now, I think I found it so unsettling—so upsetting—because its message was so real! It was a powerful reminder of the fact that physical death is unavoidable. In the end, it will come for us all.

But if we “choose life” here on earth by remaining faithful to the Lord and by dying in the state of grace, then we need to know that our personal story will end a bit differently than this TV program ended—and that, believe me, is very good news!

Oh yes, the Hitchhiker will still make his appearance. He will come to us as he came to Nan Adams in the original story, and he will say the same thing: “I believe you’re going MY way.”

But at that point, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior—the Resurrection and the Life—will burst onto the scene. He’ll come like the ultimate hero of the ultimate story, and he will have the final word. He will say to Death, the Hitchhiker: “No. You’re wrong. Get out, and never come back. This one, you see, is going MY WAY.”

Let’s pray today that Jesus Christ—and not the Hitchhiker—will have the final word in your story and in mine.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Importance Of Recognizing And Dealing With Your 'Blind Spots'

(Fourth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 6, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read John 9:1-41.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Lent 2005]

You’re driving in the right lane of Route 95 north, and you decide to pass the car in front of you. So like a good, responsible driver, you check your rear view mirror, and the mirror on the driver’s-side door—and you don’t see any cars. So you put on your turn signal, and begin to move into the high-speed lane. Then, all of a sudden, someone next to you in that lane slams on their horn—and you nearly jump out of your seat as you swerve back into the right lane!

The reason this happened is simple: You forgot to check the “blind spot”! The blind spot is the area to the left rear of your car that you can’t see—even with the help of those 2 mirrors.

The only way to make sure no one’s in that area is to turn your head slightly—and quickly—and use your own two eyes!

Failing to check the “blind spot” when you’re driving your car on Route 95—or any other major highway for that matter!—can lead to a very serious accident (unfortunately, some of us may know this from personal experience!). But the real tragedy is that in certain cases, it can cost you your life!

And so it is in the spiritual dimension. God, in his infinite wisdom, has designed the universe in such a way that what happens in the physical order of things often parallels what happens in the spiritual order of things. And such is the case here.

Spiritually speaking, you see, we all have “blind spots.” Some of us may have more than others, but no one is free of them entirely. (And if you say you don’t have any—that’s another one! Add that to your list!)

The Pharisees in today’s Gospel story from John 9, for example, showed that they had a very big blind spot: they did not “see” Jesus for who he really was. They were blind to his goodness, they were blind to the truth of his message, and they were blind to his identity as the Messiah.

And this blindness was, to a great extent, self-imposed—which is what made it qualitatively different from the blindness of the man Jesus cured. That man had been born physically blind, and his blindness was not the result of anything he was responsible for (Jesus makes that clear at the very beginning of the story). But the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees was different: they refused to see! They stubbornly refused even to consider the possibility that Jesus was who he said he was! That explains our Lord’s final words to them: “If you were blind [i.e., physically blind] you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.”

When you’re driving your car on the highway, it’s hard to find the blind spot (that’s why you have to turn your head slightly). It can also be hard for us to come to terms with our spiritual blind spots. It was certainly difficult for the Pharisees. When Jesus confronted them with theirs in this story, they did not respond by saying, “Thanks a lot, Jesus, for pointing this out to us. We’ll be sure to work on it. We’ll be more open-minded from now on when it comes to you and your mission.”

Not at all! If anything, Jesus’ words caused these Pharisees to sink even deeper into their self-imposed blindness!

And so it can be for us.

Think, for example, of the many people in our culture right now who are blind to the simple, scientific truth that human life begins at the moment of conception.

Hence, we have legalized abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, and the birth control pill (which sometimes causes spontaneous abortions). And even when you present to these men and women the genetic evidence which clearly shows that life begins at conception, some of them still refuse to see and admit the truth—with a stubbornness that would make the Pharisees proud!

Or how about this one? Until 40 or 50 years ago, it was commonly agreed that the Ten Commandments enshrined certain moral truths that everyone should live by. That’s because most people back then believed in the Natural Law. They might not have used the term itself—“Natural Law”—but they certainly believed in the concept. However, over the last 4 or 5 decades our culture has become increasingly blind to the truth of this Law—and the consequences have been catastrophic. Violations of the 4th, 6th, 8th and 9th commandments, for example, have led to broken families, broken marriages, and have brought us to the point where so-called “gay marriage” is a real legal possibility.

In recent weeks I have been struck by the number of people who seem to be blind to the goodness of God! Not long ago, for example, someone wrote a short letter to a local newspaper contrasting God with the terrorists of September 11, 2001. According to this person, the terrorists killed 3,000 on September 11, but God killed 150,000 by sending the Tsunami!

Along the same lines, think of the Christians you know who blame God for the deaths of their relatives and friends!

Obviously, all these men and women are blind to the Lord’s goodness. They blame God for death—the death that Satan brought into the world; the death that sin brought into the world.

How many of us, I wonder, are blind to God’s love and mercy? We don’t really believe it’s there (at least we don’t believe it’s there for us). That could be one reason why some of us stay away from Confession.

How many of us are blind to the blessings the Lord has given us in this life? (I suppose to one extent or another, we all have that blind spot! It’s so easy to take God’s gifts for granted. I know I do!)

If you don’t recognize your blind spot on Route 95 and overcome it, it could cost you your life.
If you don’t recognize your spiritual blind spots and work at overcoming them, it could also cost you your life (here and in eternity!).

That’s why this is so important!

Let me conclude today by recommending a movie to you. Someone let me borrow it on DVD this past week. It came out in 2002, and it’s called “A Walk to Remember.”

The story-line concerns a high school girl named Jamie Sullivan (played by singer Mandy Moore). Jamie’s the daughter of a Protestant minister, and she has very high moral standards. Her Christian faith is at the center of her life. Consequently, the “cool” kids in school typically make fun of her and have little or nothing to do with her.

One of the most popular boys in the class, Landon Carter, also treats her unkindly, until he’s forced to work with her on a school play as punishment for a prank he was involved in. He ends up falling in love with Jamie, and because of that his friends also begin to ostracize him.

The turning point in the story comes when Jamie reveals to Landon a secret about herself: she has cancer. Now I won’t tell you how the movie ends (I don’t want to ruin the film for anyone who might want to see it), but suffice it to say that Landon’s “cool” ex-friends have a change of heart when they find out his girlfriend is so sick, and they end up seeking forgiveness and reconciliation with him.

I mention this movie today because it’s really all about “blind spots” (although that term is never used even once in the film!). And it illustrates the beautiful things that can happen when people do recognize their blind spots and deal with them.

Before he worked with her on the school play, for example, Landon was blind to Jamie’s goodness; he was blind to the importance of faith; and he was blind to his own need for reconciliation with his natural father (that’s one of the subplots of the film).

As for his “cool” friends, they were blind to their own self-centeredness; they were blind to their vindictiveness and their lack of charity; they were blind to the value of each and every human life!

But all those blind spots were recognized—and, most importantly, they were overcome—by the main characters in the film (which is why I highly recommend it for teenagers and for adults).

“A Walk to Remember.” May it inspire all of us to make the effort we need to make to “see” our own blind spots—and deal with them.

If He Had Been There On Mt. Tabor, What Would Curt Schilling Have Said?

(Second Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on February 20, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 17: 1-9.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2005]

What would Curt Schilling have said?

If he had been there on Mt. Tabor with Peter, James and John the day Jesus was transfigured, what would Curt Schilling of the Boston Red Sox have said?

Specifically, what would he have said to those 3 apostles?

Believe it or not, I think we can figure that out pretty easily.

On the day he was transfigured, Jesus gave Peter, James and John a little glimpse of his divinity. But even though it was just “a little glimpse”—a tiny peek into the glories of God’s kingdom—from a human perspective it was still an awesome, overwhelming experience!

And he gave them this experience for a reason, a very definite reason: it was supposed to teach them something and change their perspective. It was supposed to change their perspective, first of all, on Jesus himself. If these apostles had entertained any doubts beforehand about Jesus’ special relationship to the Father, this event should have eliminated those doubts completely—especially after the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!”

It was also supposed to change their perspective on what was coming in the very near future. Remember, the Transfiguration took place shortly before our Lord’s passion and death. Jesus was well aware of how his apostles would be tempted to despair when those events took place—when they saw him scourged and nailed to the cross—and Jesus didn’t want that to happen. He wanted them to have hope, even when everything seemed hopeless. And so he gave them something to remember on Mt. Tabor—something that would motivate them to persevere in faith; something that would show them that God could do the impossible, and bring good even out of the greatest of evils.

And this is where Curt Schilling could have really helped.

Why do I say that?

Because of what happened to him on the day he pitched game 2 of last year’s World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Some of us may know this story, but for those who don’t . . .

Here’s how Boston Globe columnist Jackie Macmullan described the situation:

“Curt Schilling wasn’t hedging on this. He wasn’t thinking maybe, or I’m doubtful, or let’s see. He was OUT. He was out as the Red Sox’ Game 2 starter of the World Series. “I woke up at 7 o’clock in the morning,” explained Boston’s ace. “That was a tipoff right there. I’ve never woken up at 7 in the morning for anything in my life.
“I wasn’t going to pitch. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t move. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew as soon as I woke up there was a problem.”

Now every Red Sox fan knows what the problem was: the tendon in his right ankle that he had dislocated earlier in the playoffs had flared up again. It had been sutured into place for game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees, but that suture had now nicked a nerve and was causing him excruciating pain—far too much pain for him to walk, let alone pitch.

Later in the day, thankfully, the Red Sox medical staff discovered what was wrong and corrected it. But Schilling knew that medical assistance alone wasn’t going to be enough to enable him to do what he needed to do that night. It was one thing to get rid of some of the pain; it was quite another to go out and pitch effectively in the biggest game of the year. Of course, he had faced the same difficulty prior to game 6 of the ALCS against the Yankees. After that victory, he was quoted as saying, “Seven years ago I became a Christian, and tonight God did something amazing for me. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do this alone. And I prayed as hard as I could. I didn’t pray to get a win or to make great pitches. I just prayed for the strength to go out there tonight and compete, and he gave me that.”

Not surprisingly, Schilling followed the same prescription before this World Series game. Talking about it afterward he said, “I did what I did the last time. I went to the Lord for help, because I knew, again, I wasn’t going to be able to do this myself.”

Now for the 3 people in the congregation today who were on the moon that evening and don’t know what happened: Curt Schilling pitched one of the greatest games of his career; he gave up just 1 run and 4 hits in 6 innings, and the Red Sox went on to beat the Cardinals, 6-2.

When it was all over, and he was talking to members of the media in the post-game interviews, he said something that the apostles needed to hear when they were coming down Mt. Tabor after the Transfiguration. And had they remembered it, they probably wouldn’t have run away on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. As Schilling was describing his extraordinary day and how the Lord had just helped him to do what had seemed impossible only a few hours earlier, he said, “I will never use the words unbelievable and the Lord again in the same sentence.”

In other words, “In the future, I will never doubt God’s ability to do the impossible!”

That’s the perspective the apostles needed to have when Jesus was undergoing his passion and death. They needed to believe that God could—and would—act in a sovereign way to vindicate his Messiah and bring good out of an otherwise horrid situation!

Back, now, to the question I began with: What would Curt Schilling have said? If he had been there on Mt. Tabor the day Jesus was transfigured, what would he have said to Peter, James and John?

I think that on the way down the mountain, he would have told them what they needed to hear. He would have said, “Gentlemen, trust me on this. There will come a day in the very near future when everything will seem hopeless—and when it will look like it’s over for Jesus. He will seem to be gone forever. But don’t you believe it. You saw his glory on this mountain today! Remember that event—and never again doubt God’s ability to do the impossible. I learned this lesson one day during the World Series in 2004: Never use the words unbelievable and the Lord in the same sentence! Jesus, your Messiah and Lord, will rise from the dead. Believe it!”

The Transfiguration was an experience that was supposed to change the apostles’ perspective on the passion and death of Christ. It was supposed to give them hope that Jesus could—and would—conquer death and rise again.

Have you ever had a “transfiguration experience?” An experience, in other words, that radically and positively changed your perspective on God—and others—and yourself—and on life in general?

For some of our teenagers, the Steubenville Summer Youth Conference has provided that type of experience. For other young people it’s happened at a Youth 2000, or a Search, or a Bread of Life Retreat.

It can happen to any of us at Mass; it can happen in Confession; it can happen in almost any setting—religious or secular.

It can even happen at a time of sadness or tragedy. Remember how it happened for Augustine? After living a pagan life for 30 years, he found himself on the verge of despair (which is not all that surprising—a pagan lifestyle will eventually do that to you). Then one day, in the midst of his inner turmoil, he picked up the Book of Romans and read a couple of verses from the 13th chapter—just a couple of verses—and it changed his life forever! It gave him a new perspective on everything!

That was a “Transfiguration experience”—a decisive moment when he was aware of God’s power and presence. But notice, it came in the midst of great sadness and distress.

It’s not really important when and where you have a Transfiguration experience: what’s really important is that you never forget the lessons it teaches you! Because when you do forget—like the apostles did on Holy Thursday and Good Friday—you tend to slip back into your old ways and habits.

When Curt Schilling said, “I will never use the words unbelievable and the Lord again in the same sentence,” he was really saying, “I will never forget the Transfiguration experience I had today. From now on, I will never doubt God’s ability to do the impossible.”

Dear Lord, help us to learn similar lessons through the Transfiguration experiences you give us—and help us never to forget them!