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The Church: Moses, Elijah, Peter, James, & John 

***Guest Columnist

My Dear Family in Christ,

The following is an excerpt from the writings of one far holier and wise than I, my dear friend and spiritual father, Br. Samuel Gunn.

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‘The Church in modern times uses three important words to describe herself. She is mystery, communion and mission. The Church is mystery in that she is the living continuation of the coming of Christ, sent by the Father, empowered by the Spirit. As Jesus is the head, she is the body. She reveals in every age the presence and saving power of Jesus to the world. The Church is communion – a deep, total and lasting union modeled on the Trinity. She unites human and divine, old covenant and new, the living and the dead. She is of all history, of all nations, and of all cultures. In this sense, her reality is only partly visible and moves with gradual, irresistible power towards her ultimate fulfillment in heaven. The Church is mission in that “she exists in order to evangelize,”(Evangelii Nuntiandi 14) sent by the Lord to engage every generation in a dialogue of truth, to invite, encourage, affirm and challenge all people of every tongue to know Jesus Christ and the power of his cross.


Admittedly it is difficult to see these characteristics in the Church today. Viewed through the lens of the modern media, the Church is scandal-ridden, out of touch with the real world and headed for extinction. To find a better, more reliable point of view, we turn to the Transfiguration.


Jesus stands exalted on the mountaintop surrounded by five figures. Two, Moses and Elijah, we see in conversation with our Lord discussing his “exodus” in Jerusalem. Three other characters, hand-picked, intimate friends of our Lord, serve as our eyes and ears as the scene unfolds.


The Church’s liturgy instructs us that in Moses and Elijah we are to recognize the testimony of the law and the prophets to Christ. They witness to the continuity of new and old; of Jesus in dialogue with faithful Israel. If we take one more step back, I believe we can see a similar principle at work in the witness of the three disciples. Moses and Elijah represent the old covenant, while Peter, John and James, I offer, serve as icons of the new. Peter as the rock, entrusted with the keys of the kingdom is the ministry of the magisterium; the organizing figure for the hierarchical Church with particular authority to teach, to render judgment and to offer sacrifice (Matt 16:18). John the beloved disciple is most intimate with our Lord; reclining at his breast at the last supper (Jn13:23) and entrusted with the care of his mother at the foot of the cross (Jn 19:26), John is granted unparalleled access to the Lord. His mystical insights give depth to the Gospel that bears his name and describe the astounding visions of Revelation. James is the first martyr from amongst the Twelve (Acts 12:1,2). He precedes the others in giving the ultimate testimony to our Lord, drinking the cup which he also drank (Mk 10:38-40).

Thus the witness of Moses-as-law and Elijah-as-prophets, is filled out by the threefold presence of Peter-as-minister, John-as-mystic, and James-as-martyr. Further, the three disciples are later commissioned by Jesus on another mountain as Apostles – those who are sent as missionaries (Mt. 28:16-20). Their missionary witness is the way we have gained access, all these years later, to the vision of Jesus glorified on the mountain. Each figure gazes on the face of Jesus. Like rays of light they identify various features, different angles on his wonderful countenance. They see and reveal to us features like facets of a precious jewel: the law, prophets, ministers, mystics, missionaries and martyrs.’


***Brother Sam is a member of the Brotherhood of Hope and Director of Program Resources of Saint Paul's Outreach, a Catholic movement that witnesses to the Gospel on college campuses and beyond

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God Love You,

Father Corso

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