Many years ago when I was a seminarian,
I traveled to Africa with a Kenyan priest friend.
We visited Eldoret, the third largest city in Kenya,
visiting the slums of Eldoret, just outside the township.
My friend had a group of young people walk me around the slum area.
I was shocked by the poverty.
Not unlike Nicaragua, where the houses
were made of sticks, rocks and mud put together
and the floor is just compacted dirt with the roof
using whatever they can find to put on it, sheets of galvanized metal.
The most part was the raw sewage flowing down street.
Just a gully in the middle and people walked over it.
The stench was just memorable to this day.
It flowed into the local river.
Later as we were coming back, the kids decided
they would take me back through a short-cut.
It is kind of a horseshoe shape.
We decided we would walk back by crossing the river.
There was a big oil or water pipe crossing the river,
about 18 inches to 24 inches wide.
The kids said; ‘let’s walk across this.”
They all started walking out and I started to follow until
all of a sudden I smelled something and took a whiff.
I realized that the river, full of raw sewage, was now flowing below me.
I stopped. I looked down and
I saw all the disgusting water, filled with raw sewage.
My legs started to quiver.
I couldn’t walk any further.
At the other end, the kids are just laughing at me.
And the more they laughed, the less strength I had in my knees.
My legs started to totally buckle.
All I could see was myself landing in this water.
And the kids laughed and they walked back out and said,
“C’mon. Look at me. Look at me.”
I looked at them and then one grabbed my hand and he pulled me right off.
“C’mon. C’mon. C’mon; just look at me.”
It took me like 10 seconds to walk the first part and
10 minutes to walk the last part.
Eventually, I got across. Thank God.
I’ll never go over it again.
Something like that happens with us all,
not that you walk across rivers like that
but that we get gung ho doing something.
And we go full into it and then half way through the project,
we start to second guess ourselves and we lose confidence in ourselves.
Maybe it is a physical thing and our legs start to quiver;
or maybe it is more complex.
Somebody says something and we take it personally
and all of a sudden we kind of lose confidence
that we can do this or do it at all.
We sometimes collapse in the middle of our project.
It even happens in ministry.
We go to do something we believe in.
We believe this is where we are called to go.
We start doing it and then realize,
“Wow! This is more difficult than I thought it was.”
Then we start to question whether we can do it
and then somebody makes a comment.
All of a sudden we lose all confidence in what we are trying to do.
It is a common experience to lose focus on the goal,
whether it be something simple or something complex.
In today’s readings, we hear of the struggles of what to do
when we are in the midst of all of this.
Peter is not walking on a dirty river, he is walking on a stormy sea.
He does the right thing, he asks;
“Lord, call me. I am going to do it. C’mon.”
He gets out and he goes walking on the water
and then he looks around at the stormy waters and he realizes;
“Oh, I’m walking on the water!”
As soon as he takes his eyes off Christ, he starts to sink.
He cries out; “Lord, save me. Save me.”
The Lord reaches out and saves him
but then scolds him, saying “oh you of little faith.”
When we start out in our life as a disciple,
often times we are gung ho and we get into it.
Then we often get distracted.
Now that may not be because of stormy waters or polluted waters,
it may be just the distractions of life.
Often times the distractions of life are like bright and sparkly things,
like when you’ve got a great job over here
so don’t mind you don’t have to go to Church this Sunday,
just go down to the beach.
Everything is going wonderful and we take our eye off Christ
and we start to sink.
It happens even more so in stormy waters.
We’re going along, we’re following Christ,
and suddenly a storm comes in our life;
a family member gets sick;
or we get sick and we start to sink.
We wonder where is the Lord in the midst of this?
We lose a job or we have trouble in a relationship
and things start to just become turbulent.
We take our eyes off Christ and sure enough we start sinking.
I promise you that the one thing that will always happen
is that as soon as we take your eyes off Christ, we will start to sink.
That is just the nature of faith.
If we are not believing in Christ;
and we are not looking at Christ then we are just going to go down.
The world will tell us that Jesus isn’t real,
that he is just a figment of our imagination to kind of keep us going.
It will give you good things and
then the ordinary bad things of life happen.
There are plenty of reasons to take our eye off Christ.
The challenge is what do we do.
All of us are in different places.
Some of us are having good things happening so
we have lots of sparkle and great distraction.
And some of you have just been through some real significant trauma in your life and you feel like you are sinking and you have done nothing to deserve it, but you feel like you are sinking.
The only way I know how to stay focused on Christ
is we have to give him some time. We have to pray.
Yes there is pain and there are distractions of the good things.
The message still remains the same.
Unless we listen and spend time with Christ,
we will not be able to follow him,
not in the way that he wants us to.
I beg and I plead with you to carve out 20 minutes every day.
I promise you that if you do that 20 minutes a day
then you will be able to stay focused on Christ.
When the storms come and start to create chaos in our life
we will still be able to walk on the water of life.
When there are all these great things happening,
we will still be able to walk on the water.
We will still be able to get through the troubles;
we will still be able to get through the challenges of life.
There is no easy way to follow Christ.
It requires a deep commitment to follow Christ all the time.
Coming to Church is fine. It is great. It is wonderful that we are here.
It is important that we are here for each other as well as for ourselves.
But unless we do our daily prayer of listening to Christ
then we will find ourselves going down in the waters.
Every one of us has a different excuse about why we cannot do 20 minutes.
Yet we know in the bottom of our heart that we have 20 minutes,
we just have not made the decision to do it.
In today’s first reading
even the Prophet Elijah got distracted,
so do not feel bad.
The Prophet Elijah had just beaten 450 prophets of Baal.
He calls down the fire from heaven and it fries everything.
They are all going: “oh, Elijah, Elijah!” And what does he do now?
He runs because he is scared.
Here he is Elijah, who has just taken on 450 prophets
and he himself gets distracted.
What does the Lord say?
It is not in the earthquake.
It is not in the wind.
It is not in the fire.
He speaks in that tiny, whispering sound.
That is where the Lord is.
The silence of our own hearts.
Spend 20 minutes of silence with the Lord
and I promise we will weather every storm;
we will be able to take on every battle;
we will always stay focused on Christ.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to preside at a wedding
of a daughter of a friend of mine,
whom I have known for many years.
I have known the bride for 19 years.
The couple are a most extraordinary young couple.
They are always smiling. I mean always.
Never once did I catch them not smiling.
I once asked them, “Do you never have a bad day?”
And they smile: “No. Not really!”
To give you an example, the groom changes his voice message
on his cell phone every single day.
“Good morning, it is August 6th, welcome. . .”
Really, every day!
I’ve called it a couple of times.
I told him, “Don’t ever answer;
I just want to listen to you on the voicemail.
It gives you a little pick up.”
Seriously, they are a wonderful couple.
At this wedding yesterday, these two people radiated joy.
That type of joy is contagious.
It makes everyone want to smile at everybody.
We know weddings are always like
but yesterday there was absolute effervescence
in the whole of the celebration because they are so full of joy.
Everyone who spoke, including myself,
commented on this fact about how joy-filled they are as people.
Today, we celebrate theFeast of the Transfiguration of Christ.
It was not that they had never seen God in Jesus before.
They knew Jesus was the Son of God
but somehow, something happened on that mountain,
which was extraordinary in many ways.
It became clear to them in every way that they were to listen to Christ,
that this was the Son of God, listen to him.
When the disciples came down from the mountain, they were on fire.
From here on out their ministry,
the apostles Peter, James and John became completely different
in their ministry from there on out.
They are completely on fire with the Spirit.
One can sense the joy and effervescence in their voices.
We need to be people filled with the joy of the gospel.
We need to inform our faces.
It is kind of helpful to have a smiling face!
What would it take for us to really understand the joy
and the message of the gospel?
If we come every Sunday and we really believe what we hear
then we ought to be going out of here a little bit lighter in our step
because we have just listened to the Word of God!
Eternal life is real.
We hear it yet again in today’s readings.
In the letter of Peter; “until your own resurrection,” he said
“until then, you are the light.
Let it burn from your heart.
Let it set you off.”
That is what we ought to be.
We ought to be people of the light.
Imagine if every single one of us literally was determined
to be joy-filled for the rest of this week.
Tell me that wouldn’t make a difference in other people’s lives.
Whoever would see us or experience us during the weekwould say:
“Where do you go on Sunday?
Where is that place you go to?
What do you drink there?
What is that stuff?”
They would want to know where was the source of your joy,
that you renew it every Sunday.
The challenge is we do not beam with joy.
It is seriously the biggest problem.
We actually are the problem of the message of the gospel.
Because we do not live the joy of the gospel!
I am not trying to say it is easy because it is not.
Stuff is going to happen this week.
We are going to have stuff that is going to happen
that is going to derail us.
It might even happen on our way home
but we have to pursue that goal nonetheless.
The Pope from his very first letter,
said the Joy of the Gospel is critical.
That is the true evangelization, the Joy of the Gospel.
That is our work.
If we want to experience the transfiguration
then we need to allow the joy of the gospel to fill our heart
and to really live that message.
That doesn’t mean all the problems are going to go away.
But we can choose joy regardless of
the circumstances of what is going on.
We can be in pain and still choose to be joy-filled.
The young couple I married made the decision to be joy-filled,
that this is who we are going to be for our life. Wow!
What if we all could do that?
Make that decision today, right now,
that for at least the next 24 hours.
Maybe not for the rest of your life;
I know that is a little too much but just for the next 24 hours.
That we really became the light and no matter what happens,
we just chose to be the light for this day.
That is how we live the Transfiguration.
Today, let us choose the joy of the gospel
and to live it and let that light shine through us.