GOD’S PARTICULAR JUDGMENT
As all of you may already know by now, the Roman Catholic Church lost a beloved priest, Fr. Mark Beard, recently. As a human being, Fr. Mark knew that he would die someday. On that day, he knew, in faith, that he would, finally, stand before the judgment seat of God to receive from God his particular judgment for the life he lived on earth, either eternal salvation or punishment. For this reason, in Scripture, God calls every person to remember daily that he will be judged by God whenever he dies. Indeed, someday his time on earth, as determined by God, will end. On that day, he will die and be judged by God, whether he is ready or not for that judgment. The question is, will he be ready? This was certainly Fr. Mark’s hope. He hoped that he would be ready for the day God called him. Is this not everyone’s desire? Does not every person hope that he will be prepared for the day that God will judge him in the afterlife? Certainly, he does.
FAITHFULNESS TO GOD
At the same time, a person can only be hopeful that he will be ready for God’s judgment, a judgment of eternal salvation in death, if he faithfully remembers, as a man of faith, that he can only receive this salvation from God, as a grace, by living a life of virtue, a holy life, on earth in fidelity to God. In this faithful act of remembering God’s Word, the Word that God will judge every person in death, the human being begins to prepare himself in the hope that he will die a good and holy death someday by his fidelity to God.
Today, in the first reading (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14), the prophet Daniel receives a revelation from God about fidelity, first of all, the fidelity of God Himself. In doing so, he describes God faithfully sending the Messiah, the Son of Man, conceived and born of a woman, who would finally save God’s people as He had faithfully promised them, centuries earlier, beginning in the Protoevangelium of Genesis. In this sense, the first part of God’s revelation to Daniel in this reading is about God’s fidelity to His people. Secondly, Daniel also describes the fidelity of the people of God, the fidelity they offer to God by serving Him faithfully in the person of the Son of Man, the Messiah. This means that service to God is at the heart of being faithful to God. As such, the people of God, the Israelites, including the prophet Daniel, certainly believed and professed that they would only be ready for God’s particular judgment in death by serving Him faithfully. This faithful service alone would prepare them to die a good and holy death someday, a faithful death in the grace of God’s friendship. This, of course, was the same service that Fr. Mark faithfully offered to God, during his life on earth, as a means to prepare himself to die faithfully as a friend of God.
THREE VIRTUES FOR FIDELITY
The question is, what, in practice, does God call the human person to do in this life, as a faithful servant, that he may faithfully prepare himself to receive the judgment of eternal salvation he desires from God in death? In today’s Gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) for the Solemnity of the Transfiguration of the Lord, Jesus teaches His disciples, Peter, James and John, about the virtues of being faithful servants of God, particularly three virtues. True, He does not name these three virtues directly in this Gospel reading, but He does indirectly by modeling them for His disciples. These virtues include humility, charity, and magnanimity. Jesus calls His disciples to use these virtues to build their spiritual house faithfully in this life. In Scripture, the virtue of humility signifies the proper foundation of the spiritual house; the virtue of charity, the frame that holds the spiritual house together; and magnanimity, the roof, or highest part that covers the spiritual house. In this sense, for Jesus, the disciples can only build their spiritual house properly in this life by faithfully practicing humility, charity and magnanimity. In doing so, they are transfigured in Christ throughout their life on earth as faithful servants.
First, Jesus reminds His disciples that they can only be faithful servants by becoming sheep who learn to follow Him humbly as their Shepherd. This is the virtue of following Jesus in humility as His sheep. In this sense, here neither Peter, nor James nor John are the shepherd. They are not leading Jesus. On the contrary, Jesus alone is their Shepherd, their Good Shepherd, who humbly leads them, as they follow Him. In this sense, He models for them the humility He desires them to practice each day. For this reason, in the Gospel, St. Matthew describes Jesus as a humble Shepherd leading His disciples, His sheep. In doing so, He forms them to become faithful servants who would shepherd their people, their sheep, humbly someday. Fr. Mark certainly learned to become a humble sheep of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, for he humbly followed Jesus wherever Jesus led him in his life and ministry. This means that he only learned to become a shepherd of God’s people by first learning to become a humble sheep who followed the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Indeed, he had to learn to follow Jesus before he could ever lead anyone to Him. This is true of every human being. Every person, who desires to be a shepherd in leading others, is first called to learn to follow Jesus faithfully as His humble sheep. Accordingly, for the disciples, humility is the proper foundation for building their spiritual house as faithful servants.
Secondly, in today’s Gospel, Jesus also teaches His disciples that faithful servanthood involves practicing the virtue of charity, particularly in forming friendships, firstly divine friendship, but also human friendships. Indeed, He is calling them to form a communion of friends by loving Him and the people of God they faithfully serve. In this sense, they could never become faithful servants of God by practicing a private form of discipleship that was separated from God and the people of God. On the contrary, only by offering their friendship to God, and the people of God, in the communion of charity, could they serve God faithfully. Accordingly, their call to be faithful servants of God involves living in the communion of the friendship of God and His people through love. For this reason, Jesus, the Son of God, not only calls His disciples His friends, but relates to them as such. In fact, throughout the Gospels, the Evangelists describe Jesus, the faithful servant of God, as befriending the people of His day. Of course, He offers them this friendship because He loves them faithfully. This faithful love is at the heart of the friendship that Jesus faithfully practiced during His life and ministry on earth. Similarly, in the last month, I have learned that Fr. Mark was a faithful servant of God who befriended all the people he faithfully served. He was certainly moved by love to offer them his friendship. He could have never become the faithful servant that he was by living his discipleship privately or separated from God and God’s people. In such a private or separated discipleship, there would have been no love of friendship in him for God or His people. Consequently, that would have been a false discipleship. On this basis, for Jesus, the virtue of charity in His disciples, particularly their offer of friendship to God and His people, is the frame, the bond of perfection, that holds their spiritual house together.
The third virtue of faithful servanthood that Jesus teaches His disciples about in today’s Gospel is the virtue of magnanimity, the virtue of ascending the high mountain, the great mountain of God. After all, He is not calling them to mediocrity as servants. He is not telling them to remain at the foot of God’s mountain. There are many people who remain at the foot of God’s mountain, spiritually, throughout their life. In doing so, they have, in a sense, accepted being mediocre, spiritually. Jesus, on the other hand, is calling His disciples to the greatness of God, spiritually, by ascending God’s high mountain, as He does.
In the Old Testament, a high mountain, such as Mount Sinai, is described as sacred or holy, because by ascending the mountain, the people of God, particularly the prophets, would be sanctified there by the greatness of the All Holy God. In doing so, God would offer them the gifts that they would use to faithfully serve Him as a holy people. In fact, they could only remain on this high mountain, the mountain of God, spiritually, as a holy people, as God’s faithful servants, by faithfully using all the gifts they had received from Him. This means that the All Holy God was calling them to use these gifts, as faithful servants, to reveal His greatness to others, His holiness, by magnanimity.
Similarly, in today’s Gospel, Jesus is calling His disciples to greatness, the greatness of God, by becoming holy as God is holy, as they ascend the holy mountain of God. The virtue of magnanimity, their call to greatness, moves them to ascend this mountain. As in the Old Testament, this ascent involves faithfully using all their gifts magnanimously for the good of others in faithfully serving God. In the Gospel, after ascending to the summit of the great mountain of God, Jesus, the All Holy Son of God, is transfigured by the glory of His divinity, but this divine glory of Jesus in His transfiguration also, in a sense, transfigures Peter, James and John intellectually and spiritually. After all, by this gift of the Transfiguration, they receive a grace from Christ, a grace that they did not have before. This grace of the Transfiguration would later be a great source of consolation for them interiorly during the passion of Christ.
As a faithful servant of God, Fr. Mark certainly ascended the great mountain of God, spiritually, during his life, by using all his gifts, all the gifts he had received from God, including his natural and supernatural gifts, for others in serving God faithfully. This was the virtue of magnanimity moving him to the greatness of God by becoming holy as God is holy through the use of all of his gifts. First of all, Fr. Mark certainly used the gift of his natural life, including his mind, his will and his passions, in serving God faithfully. Secondly, perfected supernaturally in his human nature by the grace of the Sacraments, particularly Baptism, Fr. Mark also used his supernatural gifts, including his theological and moral virtues, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, to offer his life to God as a faithful servant. Finally, and above all, he served God faithfully in this life, as a priest, by using all his priestly gifts he had received from God to teach, to sanctify and to heal God’s people. In doing so, as imperfect as he was, he not only prepared himself to die a good and holy death, a faithful death in the friendship of God’s grace, but also prepared his sheep, the people of God, to do the same. This preparation alone prepares a person to receive the judgment of salvation he desires from God in death: the judgment that he is a friend of God, as imperfect as he is. Fr. Mark was certainly a friend of God in this life, and will forever remain in God’s friendship, but remember to pray for him and offer penance for him, because, as any human being, he was still only human, a sinner, who desired his final perfection in Christ. The virtue of magnanimity, the highest part of the spiritual house, moved Fr. Mark to desire this greatness, the greatness of being fully perfected in Christ by ascending the holy mountain of God. May he rest in the peace of Christ’s love.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.