We who follow the liturgy as it unfolds each day are greatly blessed to be able to ponder the great feasts throughout the year. Each feast celebrates a particular aspect of the life of Jesus, and helps us understand what he is revealing to us about himself and about our own life in him. The Feast of the Transfiguration helps us see beyond – or through – the humanity of Jesus to contemplate his glorious divinity. This Feast also invites us to ponder our own call to glory. We share in the glory of the Lord when we listen to him and follow his way of the cross.
Each of today’s readings depicts vividly the splendor and the glorious nature of Jesus Christ. In the first reading, Daniel is privileged to behold the kingship, splendor and glory of God. This Old Testament prophet does not know about the mystery of the Trinity, since it had not yet been revealed, but in his vision he distinguishes two glorious figures: “the Ancient One,” whom we understand to be God the Father, and “One like a Son of man,” who is given an everlasting kingship. This second figure is a foreshadowing of Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father.
We do not know if Peter, James and John knew about this passage from the Book of Daniel, but when they saw Jesus’ glory revealed on the holy mountain, they knew it was much more than a mystical “vision in the night.” It was a real encounter with God in glory! As the Second Letter of Peter puts it, the Apostles were “eyewitnesses of his majesty.” This experience was no dream, nor a “cleverly devised myth”! They saw Jesus’ real identity, and what they saw was confirmed by what they heard with their own ears: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
This extraordinary event is described in three of the four Gospels. This year we ponder the account of St. Mark, who adds the little detail that the whiteness of Jesus’ clothes was beyond the work of any bleacher. It is a homey way of saying that in this event, an other¬worldly light has shone upon this world. The mountaintop suddenly becomes a portal into heaven. No wonder the Apostles are terrified and have no idea what to say. They are allowed to see the glory of God!
In the Transfiguration, the glory of God shines not from somewhere up above, as we would expect, but from the humanity of Jesus himself, from his human face and even from his ordinary clothes, which suddenly become “dazzling white.” Thus, the Transfiguration also reveals God’s plan for our “ordinary” humanity: we are destined to be resplendent in glory. The biblical symbol for being “clothed in glory” is the wearing of white garments. When the saints in Heaven are described as “clothed in white robes,” it is a symbolic way of showing us that they are sharing in the glory of God (cf. Rev 7:9).
How can we, who because of sin are far from glorious, even think of participating in the divinity and glory of the Lord? How can we ever be clothed in such white garments? The process has already begun with our Baptism, when we were washed clean of sin and made pure. Today’s Feast teaches us how to continue our journey to glory, by following the clear command we receive from the Father: Listen to him. When we listen to the Lord, which is what we do in prayer, we do not usually experience being transfigured. We do not see shining clouds or hear voices. After our prayer time, we look much the same as we did before. However, in prayer we enter into a profound communion with God, a relationship that irradiates us with divine transforming power. Being in the presence of God and listening to his word truly changes us from within and makes us more like him, more glorious.
Like Peter, we would like to remain on the mountain and enjoy being in the awesome presence of God. However, our glimpses of glory in this life are only a foretaste of what is to come in the next life. For now, we are called to follow Jesus – which means following him down the mountain of the Transfiguration and up the mountain of the Crucifixion. The way of the Cross is the way to eternal glory.
St. Augustine, pondering Peter’s limited understanding at the Transfiguration, addresses him in one of his sermons. His words to Peter also speak to all of us who long for glory, but without the Cross. “It has been reserved for you, Peter, but for after death. For now, Jesus says: ‘Go down to toil on earth, to serve on earth, to be scorned and crucified on earth. Life goes down to be killed; Bread goes down to suffer hunger; the Way goes down to be exhausted on his journey; the Spring goes down to suffer thirst; and you refuse to suffer?’” (St. Augustine, quoted in CCC 556).
Today we rejoice at our opportunity to listen to the Lord, to follow him in sacrifice, and to share in his divine glory. “How good it is for us to be here!”
Is it difficult to accept that to share in the glory of the Lord, I must follow his way of the Cross? How am I preparing to share in the glory of God destined for me from all eternity? Have I experienced that listening to his word changes me from within and makes me more like him?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.