By Kathryn Cunningham of the Catholic Writers Guild. This piece is republished from the blog of the guild.
I must admit I lament the way many of my Catholic brothers and sisters lack knowledge of the scriptures. I sometimes hear crazy stuff that defames the Old Testament, the discipline of memorizing scripture or even the idea of having a bible in the house. That just makes me sad. This lack of understanding from some Catholics simply leaves them defenseless and vulnerable to attacks of the enemy who is always about like a “prowling lion”.
For instance, many believers have the misguided concept that the only thing of real value in the bible is the New Testament, and all of that old law, prophet stuff is woefully out of date. This is nothing but pure deception from the enemy. One of the scriptures that informs this idea differently comes at the beginning of Lent. The real purpose of Lent is transformation, not suffering. The reading that strengthens this teaching is the story of the Transfiguration in Matthew 17.
You probably have some recollection of this story. Jesus takes his main men Peter, James and John, up a mountain. Together they have mystical experiences including the physical appearance of fathers of the faith, Moses and Elijah. In an interesting configuration Jesus actually winds up standing between these two icons of the faith. That’s not a chance occurrence. Ever since the Bible has come into being, scholars understood that mention of Moses represents the Law and of Elijah, the prophets. In one succinct image, the complete story of salvation is revealed. Jesus is literally the link between the old law, the wisdom and long suffering encouragement of God’s prophets, and the reality of something brand new for the people of God. He is the existence of God’s promise in the flesh linking the two, closing all gaps and completing God’s promise. There is no new unless there has been the old. The old has formed the foundation for the new.
As is usual the bible speaks on many levels, all at the same time. You will notice in this story of a pivotal adventure for the Apostles, the number three is glaringly prominent. Three Apostles, Three prophets, three eras of the Law, the past, present and future of God’s plan for the world. Another lesson we can take from the story of the Transfiguration that can inform our spiritual lives and give us new perspectives when reading scripture, praying and just trying to live as Spirit-filled individuals is the prominent lesson of three.
We all know that the Trinity is the core of what we believe: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In our daily life, our prayer, our worship and our faith, the Lord is always sending us encouragement and reminders that he is present. Take a more focused look at this reading. In Hebrew teaching, numbers are very important. As you read scripture and other holy writings, be aware. If something appears three times, it is a likely clue that the fullness of God (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) is being emphasized or pointed out.
When it comes to ultimate exercise of faith in the spiritual life, there simply is no complete fulfillment without the Spirit. Of course you can pray and lead a life that pleases God by knowing Jesus and working to please the Father. But frankly to be a fully present prayer warrior in the kingdom, you will need wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, reverence/awe for the Lord and fear of his power. We are best guarded with three sides to our faith story and will make the most progress with knowledge of and friendship with the Spirit. As far as God is concerned, there are three sides to everything.