Monday, March 07, 2005

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!