Father Timothy Radcliffe OP gave the following homily at Our Lady of the Assumption & St Gregory, Warwick Street, Soho, on Sunday. This glorious scene has all the stops pulled out. There is Jesus is transfigured, visions of Moses and Elijah, even God has a part, and it all has just one sole purpose, which is to make the disciples listen to Jesus. They do not want to hear what he is saying. Peter especially has shut his ears. To love is to listen. Lent is a time when we learn to deepen our love of God and each other, and this means learning the delicate and rare art of listening. To be a saint is to have your ears open to God and your neighbour. And this gospel suggest how we may learn to do so. Peter sees the vision and he says, '"Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish I will make three booths here, one for you, and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." ' Peter is still speaking when he is interrupted. It is as if God is saying to him, 'Why don't you shut up a moment and listen instead of talking all the time.' Peter is compulsively chattering. Its takes God to shut him up a moment. And if we are to grow in love of God and each other, then we must learn is how to be quiet, so that we may hear the Word of God, and my neighbour. The first thing is to stop talking to myself. Sebastian Moore wrote: 'Now to hear what God is saying to us, we need to stop completely the mental noise. And this is easier than we think; all that I have to do is realise that talking to myself makes two of me, me and myself, and this can't be true, so I can let this me-with-me collapse into just me, and that's where God is and has been all along. There are not two of me: love makes me one. It's a bit of a shock at first, but take a few deep breaths, and say, "OK, I'm here, God. Your move. "' Even when we are talking to each other, we can be tempted to indulge in interior monologues that shut out the other person. When I was a University chaplain, the hardest thing was to be mentally silent when the students came to talk to me. I remember a gorgeous blond coming in, who want to share with me all the dramas of her rather exotic love life. But I was so nervous wondering what I could possibly say when she stopped, that I found myself talking to myself rather than listening to her. And so when she did stop, I had nothing to say, because I had heard nothing. So the first thing that I would suggest is that you try to find a moment, even just a few minutes to be with the Word of God. For example, to be with the Sunday readings. Just read them quietly before Mass. Do not interrogate them immediately. Just be present to them, silently attentive. Yann Martel writes his novel The Life of Pi: 'No thundering from a pulpit, no condemnation from bad churches, no peer pressure, just a book of scriptures quietly waiting to say hello, as gentle and powerful as a little girl's kiss on your cheek. ' And we must learn that silence in the presence of others. Just attend to them in stillness. Open yourself to their words. They do not have the advantage of Jesus, who can get God to tell you to shut up for a moment. Secondly, listening implies a readiness to move on. Peter sees this tremendous vision of glory, and he wants to prolong the moment. He proposes to build three booths, and settle down. Just six days earlier, Jesus had told Peter that he must go to Jerusalem and there he must suffer and die. Peter does not want to this. He wants things to remain just as they are. If we listen to the Word of God, quietly, in silence, then it will invite us to change. It will ask to make new steps in our pilgrimage. In the first reading, Abraham heard the voice of God calling him to leave his country, his family, his father's house and go to an unknown place. If we listen to the word of God then it will not let us be. And this is also true when we listen to others. No relationship can stay in just the same place. Either it develops or shrivels. We cannot freeze relationships. I makes me think of my parents, who were both wonderful but my father loved change. He was always planning to change his car, or the garden or the house but never, thanks be to God, his wife. My mother could not abide change and always wanted things to remain just the same. And there was a particular look on her face which we all came to know, then she was turned off her ears and dug in her heels! 'And when the disciples heard this, they fall on their faces, and were filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them, saying "Rise and have no fear".' The reason why Peter does not want to listen to Jesus, of course, was because he was afraid. He knew that Jesus had invited him to take up his cross and follow him, and he was afraid to do so. But as, the papal theologian, WG, said, 'He who is afraid to die, will never do anything new.' The whole scene is intended to liberate Peter and the disciples from their fear. Jesus shows himself in glory to give them heart. It is a glimpse of what lies on the other side of death, the end of the journey, the Promised Land. The Transfiguration literally offers them light at the end of the tunnel. Fear shuts our ears to God and to each other. It was fear that made people unable to listen to what Rowan Williams said the other day. I was at the General Synod of the CoE but missed the moment when a protestor stormed in and shouted, 'No sharia law, no gay priests, you dreadful old Druid.' So let us hear the voice of Jesus saying 'Do not be afraid.' Glimpses of God's glory are rare. We may not have one. I asked a friend from Zimbabwe whether there was light at the end of the tunnel. He said 'Yes, only President Mugabe is always making the tunnel longer.' But Jesus also makes a little gesture. They fall flat and he touches them and lifts them up. It is like a mini-death and resurrection. We can lift each other to our feet, give courage to each other. Then we shall dare to open our ears to God, and even to each other.
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