Blaise Pascal once wrote:
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”
The picture above, taken from the bottom portion of Rafael’s Transfiguration, could stand on its own as separate painting. As a composition, it appears to be complete. Yet even to the viewing eye, it certainly lacks something. By itself, its meaning is not clear.
Rafael intended this affect to to convey the darkness and turmoil of a world that has lost its bearing. A world bereft of Christ, becomes a world of strife, chaos, and anguish.
But, notably, although Christ is not visibly present, the gestures and expressions on people’s faces indicate that he is mysteriously present. There is a longing for peace and healing that only Christ can give.
Anyone who is familiar with the Gospel narratives knows that, in good time, Christ will dispel the demons his apostles are trying to cast out of the tormented boy. Time is of the essence, because Christ wants them to struggle for a moment with their difficulty in order to teach them the lesson of faith.
There some things that can only be resolved through prayer and fasting.
The picture above, taken from the middle portion of the painting, depicts Peter, James, and John being aroused from their slumber when they should have been accompanying Christ in prayer. Note the men worshiping to the left of the picture. It is an indication that we must set aside times and places for prayer, especially when it is difficult. Again, the central message is faith.
Prayer is not always peaceful contemplation, a moment for tranquility, consolation, and deep interior peace. It requires faith to pray at times. Conversely, when we take time to pray in difficult moments, it strengthens our faith.
The upper part of the painting reveals the gratuitous reward of faith. In the word’s of Saint Augustine:
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
Although faith requires a free act of will on our part, the power to believe does not ultimately come from us. Christian faith is a supernatural gift from God.
To accept this, we have to be humble and accept our human weakness before the power of the creator.
Sometimes we need special gifts from God, lights from heaven, that God allows us to have in order to sustain our belief. However, Christ does not want us to depend on signs and wonders. He wants us to struggle and stretch our faith in him so that we grow. When our faith grows, we can extend our faith through our testimony to others by sharing the reasons for our belief.
But again, none of this depends on us. We have to turn to Christ for answers, our works and even our prayers are futile if they are not Christ centered.
Let’s step back now to get a look at the big picture…
Life on earth is a drudgery. It is not, however, a meaningless battle. We are called to do the works of God, but faith in God is the indispensable condition for doing God’s work.
The Church and its members always has and always will face difficult trials, as Christ promised. We should also recall Christ’s admonition that we are only united to the Church inasmuch as we are united to him through charity and prayer.
To participate more fully in the Church’s mission, we need to retreat from the quagmire of the world from time to time and unite ourselves with the militant Church in prayer. That is why the Church offers several opportunities throughout the liturgical year to put ourselves and our worries aside, to pray, fast, and give alms to the needy, and grow in our faith, fortify our souls with spiritual nourishment, and ask the Lord to reinforce the foundations of our belief.
For this we must also turn frequently to the inspired words of Holy Scripture. So I will conclude with a passage from Christ’s first vicar, whose words have been echoed by his successors to this day:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
(2 Peter 1:16-19)