Today the Lord was transfigured
and the voice of the Father bore witness to him;
Moses and Elijah appeared with him in glory
and spoke with him about the death he was to undergo.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Transfiguration, a mystery of Christ’s earthly life recorded by all three Synoptic Gospels (Mt 17:1-9, Mk 9:1-9, Lk 9:28-36) and the Second Letter of St. Peter (1:16-18). Though the event of the transfiguration is not mentioned in John’s Gospel, the theme of Christ’s glory pervades his entire text.
To enter more deeply into the grace of this feast, the Office of Readings has us meditate on a sermon written by St. Anastasius of Sinai, a seventh-century bishop and abbot of St. Catherine’s Monastery near Mt. Sinai. He is the subject of a famous Rembrandt portrait. In his homily, Anastasius ponders the spiritual significance of Christ’s transfiguration:
Upon Mount Tabor, Jesus revealed to his disciples a heavenly mystery. While living among them he had spoken of the kingdom and of his second coming in glory, but to banish from their hearts any possible doubt concerning the kingdom and to confirm their faith in what lay in the future by its prefiguration in the present, he gave them on Mount Tabor a wonderful vision of his glory, a foreshadowing of the kingdom of heaven.
These are the divine wonders we celebrate today; this is the saving revelation given us upon the mountain; this is the festival of Christ that has drawn us here. Let us listen, then, to the sacred voice of God so compellingly calling us from on high, from the summit of the mountain, so that with the Lord’s chosen disciples we may penetrate the deep meaning of these holy mysteries, so far beyond our capacity to express. Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and–I speak boldly–it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.
Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: Lord, it is good for us to be here.
It is indeed good to be here, as you have said Peter. It is good to be with Jesus and to remain here for ever. What greater happiness or higher honor could we have than to be with God, to be made like him and to live in his light?
In revealing his glory to Peter, James, and John, Jesus reveals to us his care for souls. This brief glimpse through his flesh into the very light of his glory prepared the three apostles for the upcoming rigors of his passion and death. So too do exalted moments of grace operate in our lives. Those instances in which faith is clear and almost tangible serve to confirm us in the truth of Christ’s love. The consolation can be gratifying, but it is not meant simply for comfort. The intense pleasures of grace are meant to strengthen just as much as they console. The comforts help us not to rest but rather to look forward to the trials that lie ahead, to those participations in Christ’s cross that await us. In good God’s providence for our salvation, every trial in the Christian life has its prior moment of strengthening consolation, a type of graced calm before the storm.
On a side note, it was on this day in 1221 that St. Dominic passed from this world to his eternal reward. We will celebrate his feast day in two days.
For more on the mystery of Christ’s transfiguration, click here.
God our Father,
in the transfigured glory of Christ your Son,
you strengthen our faith by confirming the witness of your prophets,
and show us the splendor of your beloved sons and daughters.
As we listen to the voice of your Son,
help us to become heirs to eternal life with him,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.