It’s a cliché to say our society is broken. Anyone with eyes to see recognizes that the United States is polarized into deep, intractable divisions, with little hope for meaningful, let alone civil, dialogue between contending factions. But if everyone knows it, why does nobody know the solution to it? We can name the opposite of division “reconciliation,” but what is reconciliation?
A common obstacle to and misunderstanding of reconciliation is the assumption that the other side is the problem. One sees this regularly: “Our country is divided. It is time those people stop causing it.” Still more unsettling, one sees the claim that “If only we could get rid of that group of people, everything would be fine.”
But coercing one group to accept another’s position is not reconciliation: it is a disingenuous ploy to control others. Still worse, it prevents people from gaining deeper self-knowledge of themselves and others, of examining their own contributions to the reality of sin. I will never face my own faults if I always have a scapegoat. Reconciliation will just be a weapon against those people who aren’t as good at it as I am.
It is in light of this problem that I read Sunday’s Gospel. In the Transfiguration, God first manifests Himself through the transfigured Christ, and then proclaims the saving truth that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
Jesus then tells the disciples: “Rise, and do not be afraid.” With this line, Jesus is not just encouraging them, but pointing out that they have just had a conversion moment. They have seen and heard God, and that vision and Word should lead to consolation and action. Liberated from fear and empowered for mission, they cannot remain on the mountain to revel in this experience, but must descend back into the realm of activity, animated by the truth they have seen and heard. Their goal? To reconcile all people in Christ.
Authentic reconciliation, as seen in the Transfiguration, is a conversion that requires learning what unites us. In this way, reconciliation allows all parties to come together on common ground, rather than forcing some to accept the terms of another. The loving person of Christ is himself such a good: He compels all toward Him in his beautiful, suffering glory.
In the Transfiguration, we learn that reconciliation is never about ourselves: it is about coming together with others to find our common end: God. But, just because this mission cannot be about us, we must beware the temptation to make reconciliation a conversion of others to our ways, rather than to God’s.
This Lent, let the Transfiguration be our model of reconciliation. No earthly goods will shine forth like Christ. But we must name goods that reflect universal and deep needs and desires, not fleeting and partisan greed. We can never be Christ, but we can imitate him. We can be loving and holy in our ministry for reconciliation, drawing people not only toward common goods but also toward the desire to cultivate the common good for others. Transfigured ourselves, we can work to transfigure the world.
~ By William McCormick, SJ
William McCormick, SJ, is in First Studies (studying philosophy) at Fordham University. He writes for The Jesuit Post and will begin his regency next year teaching political science at Saint Louis University.