The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ commemorates the event wherein Jesus took the three closest disciples of Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor and was transfigured before them.
One detail which is so telling of this feast relates to the face of Jesus: The evangelist Matthew recounts the following: And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light (Mt 17:2). Thus, the first and most powerful sign of the transfigured Jesus, the Consecrated One, is his shining face! On this fact Peter the Venerable (1092-1156), the abbot of Cluny, had this to say in his Sermon 1 for the Transfiguration:
What was surprising about Jesus’ face becoming like the sun since he himself was the sun? He was indeed the sun, but a sun hidden behind a cloud. Now, for a moment, the cloud dispersed and he shone out. What is this cloud that dispersed? It was not so much the flesh but the weakness of the flesh that disappeared for a moment. This is the cloud spoken of by the prophet: “See, the Lord will ride on a swift cloud” (Is 19:1): the cloud, the flesh that covers his divinity; swift, because this flesh bears not a trace of evil in itself, a cloud concealing the divine splendor; swift, because it is to rise up to the eternal splendor. This is the cloud of which it is written in the Song of Songs: “I was seated in the shadow of him for whom my soul longs” (cf. Sg 3:2). It is a swift cloud because this is the flesh of “the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29) and, once these have been removed, the world is carried up to heavenly heights, divested of the weight of all its sins. The sun concealed by this flesh is not that “which rises for good and bad alike” (Mt 5:45) but “the Sun of righteousness” (Mal 3:20), which rises only for those who fear God. Veiled, normally, by the cloud of the flesh, this light that “enlightens everyone” (Jn 1:9) shines out today in all its brilliance. Today it gives glory to this same flesh, it displays itself deified to the apostles so that they, the apostles, might make it known to the world.
Jesus, who is the ‘sun’ that shines every person, is there to be shared with all those who are open to his grace. The transfigured Christ is to be shared because by His victorious life, death and resurrection over sin and death He fortifies us in our struggle to overcome sin and death ourselves. Obviously, provided that we are united with him. Pope St Leo the Great (400-461) teaches us:
No-one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice, no-one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. Christ has taken on Himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in Him and in our love for Him, we win the victory that He has won, we receive what He has promised.
On the same note the Venerable St Bede (673-735) says: By His loving foresight, He allowed them to taste for a short time, the contemplation of eternal joy, so that they might bear persecution bravely. Hence, the transfigured Christ offers that much sought eternal joy that makes you and I withstand every harsh trial we have to bear in life because we are Jesus’ disciples.
We share with others the Transfigured Christ so that in all our lives we give our love to Him who created us. St Anastasius (+ 628) tells us:
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 . . . 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.’”
We share a Transfigured Christ because He restores our fragility into the mighty stature of His greatness as shown in his transfigured body. St Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), Doctor of the Church, encourages us with these words: At His Transfiguration Christ showed His disciples, the splendour of His beauty, to which He will shape and colour those who are His: ‘He will reform our lowness configured to the body of his glory.’”
But, in order to share the transfigured Christ to everyone we must be faithful hearers and adherers of his life-giving Word. In his homily at Holy Mass in Santa Maria Dell’Orazione, on Sunday 16 March 2014 Pope Francis said:
What are the duties of the Christian? Perhaps you will say to me: to go to Mass on Sundays; to fast and abstain during Holy Week; to do this…. Yet the first duty of the Christian is to listen to the Word of God, to listen to Jesus, because he speaks to us and he saves us by his word. And by this word he makes our faith even stronger and more robust. Listen to Jesus! “But, Father, I do listen to Jesus, I listen a lot!”. “Yes? What do you listen to?”. “I listen to the radio, I listen to the television, I listen to people gossip”.
We listen to so many things throughout the day, so many things…. But I ask you a question: do we take a little time each day to listen to Jesus, to listen to Jesus’ word? Do we have the Gospels at home? And do we listen to Jesus each day in the Gospel, do we read a passage from the Gospel? Or are we afraid of this, or unaccustomed to reading it? To listen to Jesus’ word in order to nourish ourselves! This means that Jesus’ word is the most nourishing food for the soul: it nourishes our souls, it nourishes our faith! I suggest that each day you take a few minutes and read a nice passage of the Gospel and hear what happens there.
And what is the ending result of listening to God’s Word? It is the purification of our eyes! Within the same homily Pope Francis said:
I am invited to listen to Jesus, and Jesus manifests himself, and by his Transfiguration he invites us to gaze at him. And looking at Jesus purifies our eyes and prepares them for eternal life, for the vision of heaven… This is what we asked today of the Father, who teaches us to listen to Jesus and to gaze at Jesus. To listen to his word, and think about what I was telling you about the Gospel: it is very important! And to see, when I read the Gospel imagining and looking at what Jesus was like, how he did things. And thus our minds, our hearts go forward on the journey of hope on which the Lord places us, as we heard he did to our father Abraham. Always remember: to listen to Jesus, to make our faith stronger; to gaze at Jesus, to prepare our eyes for the beautiful vision of his Face…
Let us keep sharing the Transfigured Christ by our lives, both words and deeds!