Bishop Andrew Cozzens on Religious Life and the Transfiguration
March 18, 2014
On Sunday, March 16, the Dominican House of Studies was honored to receive Bishop Andrew Cozzens, auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Celebrating the Sunday community mass, he preached movingly on Vita Consecrata and the Transfiguration. The notes of his homily can be found below. I always found it stunning that Blessed John Paul II began his apostolic exhortation on consecrated life with a meditation on the Transfiguration. One might have expected the story of the calling of one of the apostles like Peter and Matthew, or at least the story of the Rich Young Man. But instead John Paul II holds up the Transfiguration, and calls it an Icon through which we can ponder the importance of the consecrated life for the Church in the world. There are really four things that he points out about the Transfiguration which invite you to enter more deeply into your own consecrated vocation. First he points out that the Transfiguration exemplifies the mysterious reality that consecrated life is a special privilege given to some and not to all. This is a truth that is often down-played or seen as offensive in certain egalitarian circles of our world and our Church, but there is no getting away from it. In the Gospels we see that people are called to follow Jesus in varying degrees. Everyone is called to charity, even to absolute Charity – the commandment of love knows no exception. But not everyone is called to follow Jesus in the same way. Some are invited to follow him in the most intimate way – they are called to be with him always – and they are invited to share his own way of life. We see this so clearly in the Apostles – to whom Jesus says, “Follow me.” And the scriptures always describe that they left everything and followed him. But there are many others to whom Jesus never invites to be with him in this intimate way. Remember the Gerasene man delivered from a legion of demons – who asked if he could come along in Jesus’ company and was told “Go home and tell your family the good things God has done for you.” And even more disconcerting is the fact that among the apostles themselves Jesus seems to have favorites – Only Peter, James, and John are called up the mountain to be with him in this intimate moment. They get to see and hear things which others will only experience in heaven. They have a privileged intimacy, because they have given up everything to follow him. As John Paul II said, “Those who are called to the consecrated life have a special experience of the light which shines forth from the Incarnate Word. …” (VC 15). This is the radical gift of consecrated life. Those who are called have the gift to be with him always – to make him the one true focus of your life. As John Paul says, “Truly those who have been given the grace of this special communion of love with Christ feel as it were caught up in his splendour: he is “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps 45:2), the One beyond compare.” (VC 15). My brothers and sisters – do you take this for granted? Do you allow your life to be a privileged encounter with Jesus? He has invited you up the mountain to be alone with him – his most intimate friends! A practical example… The grand silence… is this just time to be with myself – or is it time for communion with him? This special privilege means also a special duty – this is the second thing the Transfiguration teaches us about consecrated life – you of all people in the Church have the clearest duty to respond to the Father’s words – “This is my beloved Son Listen to Him.” These words are especially addressed to you – because your life is supposed to be a life of contemplation – listening to him, seeking communion with him. Your life must be a life of prayer in a very special way, because Christ has been given to you in a very special way. A consecrated person who does not grow in union with God in prayer is going to live a sterile consecrated life. Here I’d like to quote Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – who had a way of penetrating to the heart of things. She wrote to her sisters in the early 1990s about the founding grace of the Missionaries of Charity. In this she tells them that she worries some of them don’t really listen to the Beloved Son because they don’t really know Jesus as a living person, he is only an idea. Mother Teresa: “Jesus wants me to tell you again, especially in this Holy Week, how much is the love He has for each one of you – beyond all you can imagine. I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus – one to one – you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel – but have you seen with eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus – not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing simply to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying ‘I Thirst’ in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this intimate contact with Jesus as a real living person – not just one idea. How can we last even one day living our life without hearing Jesus say ‘I love you’ – impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air. If not, prayer is dead – meditation only thinking” (Mother Teresa, Varanasi Letter). If we are to be faithful to the Father’s command at the Transfiguration, we must learn as Mother Teresa said, to hear the words he speaks in our hearts. The third thing the Transfiguration teaches us – is that we are all called to heaven. Here you as consecrated persons have a very special witness to give to the world. By the witness of your life of poverty, chastity, and obedience you reveal to the whole world the fact that things of this life cannot satisfy our deepest longing. Vita Consecrata: “It is the duty of the consecrated life to show that the Incarnate Son of God is the eschatological goal towards which all things tend, the splendour before which every other light pales, and the infinite beauty which alone can fully satisfy the human heart.” Here you see the great gift of consecrated life: by your special life of intimacy with the Lord, you are meant to be transfigured. You are meant to radiate his glory to the world. The rest of the Church needs this – we are counting on you to live faithfully your life so that you can reveal to us the glory to which we are all called. You reveal to us the beauty of living for a life beyond this one, that this life is not all there is. As we come to this Eucharist today – we have the privilege of receiving the glory of the Lord – let us ask him to transform us that we might radiate his glory to the world. Bishop Cozzens is an alumnus of Benedictine College and the Angelicum in Rome. He is currently auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis in Minnesota.