Homily Theme: “Suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5)

By: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC


Matthew 17:1-9

Helga, a very elderly woman of eastern European descent, had been admitted to the hospital from a nursing home a week or so before Christmas. Suffering the many maladies that will afflict all of us if we live long enough, it seemed that Helga’s remaining time on earth was short. Though unconscious when I met her, I knew her to be Catholic, so I anointed her.

Arriving at the hospital early the next morning, I sat over coffee with Claire, the night chaplain whose shift was just ending. It was she who invited me to join her somewhere nearer heaven than earth as she recounted her evening’s experience with Helga.

It was about eight o’clock, she said, when her pager summoned her to the Medical ICU. It was Helga’s room. Knowing nothing about the patient, Claire asked Rosemary, Helga’s nurse, to tell her something of the history of this frail, failing woman whose earthly life seemed near its end. Briefly did Rosemary review Helga’s medical history, concluding with a plea. “I called you because I think she’s going to die soon, and I don’t want her to be alone. All her family live in the Midwest, and while they know what’s going on, they can’t get here to be with her. And since I have another patient to watch over besides Helga, I want to be sure someone’s with her. Can you stay?” Assuring Rosemary that she could stay, Claire pulled up a chair right beside the bed. Though Helga appeared unconscious, Claire introduced herself to the dying woman. “Helga, I’m Claire, a chaplain here at the hospital, and I’ve come to be with you.” Then, taking the old woman’s hand in her own, she sat in silence.



Some minutes into that silence, Claire noticed the crystal rosary beads on Helga’s bedside table. Taking them into her own hand, Claire pondered the many prayers poured into those beads by the woman who lay before her. I wonder how many of those prayers got answered, she thought. I wonder how many dying people made their way to heaven on the strength of Helga’s beads. So naturally did her pondering turn to prayer that she never really noticed the transition, Claire later admitted. Though herself an Episcopalian, Claire was familiar with the rosary and knew its prayers, so she began, the familiar repetitive litany washing over the last struggle of the old woman in the bed.

Coming into her patient’s room soon after, Rosemary studied the electronic monitor above Helga’s bed. I already knew, related Claire, what Rosemary was just discovering. Helga was already more in heaven than on earth, her blood pressure so low as to barely register, and her heartbeats few and irregular. The slimmest thread held Helga earthbound. Rosemary pulled up a chair opposite Claire as the rosary continued. “I’d just finished a decade,” Claire continued, “when Rosemary, looking deep into Helga’s eyes, began softly to sing ‘Ave Maria.’ My eyes darted to the monitor, and I saw the faintest heartbeats finally fade away. It was over.”

The gospel passage we hear today relates the event of the transfiguration, Jesus leading his disciples Peter, James and John up a high mountain where, upon reaching its summit, “Suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” (Matthew 17:5) From the mountain’s peak, metaphorically a place nearer heaven than earth, God the Father confirms Jesus as his beloved son. Only then, upon their descent from the peak, do events begin to unfold that lead to what for all the world looks like betrayal, treachery, brutality and death.

So it was for Jesus; so it was for Helga; so will it be for us. Lent continues, and while the heavy burden of the cross may be our primary focus, still does the divine voice from the mountain peak echo: “Don’t be deceived by appearances. What you are experiencing is a laboring unto new life.”



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