While sitting at Mass two weeks ago and listening to the Gospel from Matthew 17:1-9, I began to relate a story in my life to the Transfiguration. It all started back in February 2010 when my brother-in-law and sister signed me up for a weekend retreat at my church called Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). I really wasn’t excited to be attending; after all, my life was in order and I was too busy to make that kind of commitment — I didn’t have time. Right? Well, thankfully I remained true to my commitment and participated in that weekend retreat because that experience has been a life-changing event.
Unlike most retreats, the CRHP commitment continues beyond that initial weekend with an additional six months worth of weekly meetings where we would break open Scripture and learn more about the Catholic faith. Thanks to the Holy Sprit, a world of a transformation occurs during these six months as women, once strangers, unveil ourselves to each other; no longer just acquaintances to see every Sunday at mass, we became Sisters in Christ. The icing on the cake then is putting on the next weekend for 25 new women, who often times come unwillingly, just like I did, six months before.
Without giving too much away, there are a number of witnesses throughout the weekend. Brave women sharing their stories which are sometimes filled with pain, other times joy, but all of them, very personal and a reflection of God’s presence in her life — powerful and intimate.
There’s a discernment process to determine who’s witnessing on the retreat weekend. Between some things that had happened in my life, including my Dad having then just past away, I felt called to share my story and wanted to be able to give a witness. However, when the discernment process was over, it was determined by my fellow CRHP sisters that I would not witness but would rather be a table leader. Feeling crushed, saddened, and confused, I called my sister that evening in tears, “Why won’t I be sharing my story, sis? I thought for sure I would be witnessing?!” And again, typical correct advice from a wiser, older sister. “God has a plan, all in His time, Sarah,” she said.
God did have a plan. Like everything divinely inspired, God’s time is precious and perfect. While I wasn’t discerned to give a witness, I was eventually discerned and blessed with the opportunity to be named co-spiritual director and continue on for another round of weekly formation meetings with the new group of women. I would have the opportunity to be transformed even more for another six months, and during the February 2011 retreat, I would be witnessing.
The growth that occurred over that year with both formation teams is indescribable. If I had shared my story, though, when I thought it was time, it wouldn’t have been close to being the type of reflection that God was calling me to give. I needed to be patient and allow God to continue working through me to transform me. I needed additional opportunities for hearing God’s word through podcasts which helped me learn more about the sacraments of our faith; I saw through my own eyes how God works miracles in the hearts of those we love in the ability to forgive; and all in God’s time, I realized that just because my late father is no longer in the ‘here and now’, it didn’t mean that he isn’t always with me — he’s continuing to love me, in more ways than he ever could while he was here on Earth, along with all of the other communion of saints.
The next retreat weekend arrived and minutes before sharing my story, in the quiet time in front of the Blessed Sacrament with one of my dear Sisters in Christ, I felt a powerful experience of the Lord’s Presence, and I can only imagine that it was similar to what the disciples were also feeling on the Mount that day. I felt this warm, strong hand on the lower part of my back. What was this warm sensation I was feeling? I had been praying for “a sign” from my Dad, as I really wanted something tangible to hold onto. Could this be the sign I had been praying for? Or was it just one of my CRHP sisters who could have walked into the room and placed her hand on my back? Then I heard a voice saying, “I’m here with you. I’ve always been here. I will continue to be here for you.” My fear disappeared. And like the disciples, I too fell prostrate and wept. My Dad, the good shepherd, has been with me the entire time.
Reflecting upon the Transfiguration Pope Benedict XVI said, “When one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: For a moment they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials.”
I will remember this lesson about God’s timing being like everything He creates, precious and perfect. And like the sign our Holy Father speaks of, my sign was precious and perfect as well.