“He did not know what he was saying” Luke 9: 33b
The movement to write this reflection started in a conversation I had with my pastor just a few days earlier. We were meeting to discuss a liturgy I had planned and our general conversation flowed out to other areas—one being the subject of Eucharist Adoration. Both he and I agreed that as a parish family, our commitment to Eucharist adoration could use some work. Yes, we have it for 24 hours from Thursday morning to Friday morning but that seems to be the heroic bailiwick of a stalwart tiny few and not the prerogative of a large majority for a parish our size. I mentioned that we could not find 72 adorers to sit with Our Lord for the very first ACTS retreat and that even after having reached parish consensus on moving our former practice of a daily Holy Hour at 12 noon to Wednesday nights at 6PM, that Holy Hour very quickly fell to the wayside and tragically disappeared. I also mentioned that I felt it was odd that we have a recently emergent community within the parish with Adoration as one of their 4 pillars, and that we still cannot generate enthusiasm within the parish for Eucharistic Adoration.
We then discussed why this was. I told my pastor then, and I will stand by it firmly, that it is a matter of catechesis. Not enough of us know what the Eucharist is and why we as Catholics practice Eucharistic Adoration. Father rightly claimed that that could not be the case as he does preach on the Eucharist from time to time. And I pointed out that yes, he did do that—but it was in a homily, and lets face it, how many of us really listen to the homily at Holy Mass?
We are not alone in our faith story of disciples and apostles who did not really listen to the voice of their Shepherd. A few days after the meeting, I was preparing a presentation for a Meet and Greet and I decided to preach on the Transfiguration as my jumping off point since the Transfiguration is two days prior to the Feast of St . Dominic—the occasion for which I was preparing the presentation. I read the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration and took them to prayer to decide which one I was going to use and I chose Luke’s. Many useful things percolated out from the Scripture in prayer, but several things kept surfacing repeatedly.
The greatest of these was “But he did not know what he was saying.” It stood out to me because it can be read 2 ways. The first and the most obvious reading is “But he (Peter) did not know what he (Peter himself) was saying.” And this would not be an incorrect reading of the text because it immediately follows Peter’s blathering on about building 3 tents on the mountain and at the moment, Peter was the only one speaking.
However, is this the most correct reading of the text? I would argue “No.” I think that we can argue that the most correct reading of the text should be, “But he (Peter) did not know what he (Christ) was saying.” Can we make this argument even though Christ never spoke a word to Peter in the actual Transfiguration account? Yes, I think we can because the Transfiguration account is very peculiar in that its specific as to the time of its occurrence. The Transfiguration occurs in Luke 8 days after 3 very important moments in the public ministry of Christ. The first is Peter’s confession of Christ as the Messiah, which is immediately followed by Christ’s first prediction of His Passion, which is then followed by Christ’s declaration on the cost of discipleship. The Transfiguration is said to have occurred 8 days after these things were said. If we move forward in Luke’s Gospel to the events immediately after the Transfiguration, we see the an exorcism being performed where the father of the afflicted boy begs Christ to heal his son because Christ’s disciples could not do it. Oddly, Christ chastises the lack of faith of the people, and presumably the disciples as well, and he foreshadows His Passion again. Immediately after the exorcism, Christ makes his second prediction of His Passion, and then in Luke 9:45, we read “But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was hidden from them so that they should not understand it.” The lack of understanding among the disciples escalates to them arguing about who was greatest, and then culminates with their embarrassment that another exorcist was casting out demons in Jesus Name who was not in their company. It could not get any worse for Jesus’ disciples!
I would argue that the entire Transfiguration scene “bookended” as it is with the accounts before and after is strikingly similar to the scene of Christ’s Agony in the Garden. Immediately prior to the Agony in the Garden, Christ gave Himself to us in the Bread and the Wine, and I am sure that “they (the disciples) did not understand” what Christ was saying and doing at the Last Supper in the same way that they did not understand either the first or second predictions of Christ’s Passion. The disciples in the Garden were also doing what disciples seem best able to do in moments of prayer with the Master—sleep! Christ in the Garden revealed Himself in the agony of His Incarnate Flesh, unlike the revelation of His Resurrected Glory in the Transfiguration. And we find Peter, the one who first confessed our Lord as Messiah, shortly denying Him three times after the Agony in the Garden, because unlike the Transfiguration, the Passion was not a good place to be for Peter. And finally, with Our Lord’s Passion and Death, the true cost of discipleship is fully revealed.
That Peter did not know what Christ was saying is both a valid and licit conclusion when we look at the Scripture for the Transfiguration. We can also conclude that Peter did not know what he, Peter, was saying when he confessed Our Lord as the Messiah. He said it through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but he did not know what he was saying because he could not know. For Peter, as a Jew, the Messiah had to come as a King with the glory of the angels of Heaven—not as some poor carpenter’s son! Yes there were the miracles, but Peter was one of us and we forget that because like Peter, we do not always know what we are saying and we do not always understand what Christ is saying to us. Like Peter, we enjoy the comfort of our sleep and not the cost of Christ’s discipleship. Like the disciples, we always argue amongst ourselves as to who is the greatest and then complain when we can’t do great things in Jesus Name but others can who are not a part of us.
Like Peter, we also deny the Christ, but very fortunately, even then we do not know what we are saying. How is it that we deny the Christ? Our lack of faith in giving Christ Adoration in the Eucharist is probably one of the greatest and saddest ways we deny Our Lord. As moderns , we can blather on with all the reasons why we do not have the time to find one hour out of 168 hours in every week to sit with the Master. And yet, we know that true discipleship demands us to pay a cost. Is one hour of our time every week too much to pay for the promise of eternal glory from One who bought that promise of glory for us with the Sacrifice of His own Sacred Body and Blood?
And so Father, yes, you are saying the right things when you speak on Eucharistic Adoration in your homilies, but most us do not know what you are saying and we do not understand. This is not your fault and if anything, you are in good company for trying to help us understand. Less than 30% of Catholics in the United States do not even believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist and yet just about everyone stumbles forward sleepily every Sunday to receive Holy Communion. As we know the statistic is true, that means that at a Sunday Mass attended by 400 people only 120 people who are receiving Holy Communion know and understand Who it is and what it is that they are being given as free gift! So it should be no surprise as to why we cannot find 72 adorers for 1 weekend or even sustain 1 Holy Hour one night a week. Too few of us know, understand, and believe—even though we sleepily stumble into the Greatest Miracle every week--or even every day. --RD