The Transfiguration of Our Lord Fr. Peter Crowe

Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John, and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply,”Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice,”This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.


So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

The mountain – Mount Tabor, like Sinai – is the place of nearness to God. Compared with daily life it is the lofty space in which to breathe the pure air of creation. It is the place of prayer in which to stand in the Lord’s presence like Moses and Elijah, who appeared beside the transfigured Jesus and spoke to him of the “exodus” that awaited him in Jerusalem, that is, his Pasch. The Transfiguration is a prayer event: in praying, Jesus is immersed in God, closely united to him, adhering with his own human will to the loving will of the Father, and thus light invades him and appears visibly as the truth of his being: he is God, Light of Light. Even Jesus’ raiment becomes dazzling white. This is reminiscent of the white garment worn by neophytes. Those who are reborn in Baptism are clothed in light, anticipating heavenly existence (cf. Rev 7: 9, 13). This is the crucial point: the Transfiguration is an anticipation of the Resurrection, but this presupposes death. Jesus expresses his glory to the Apostles so that they may have the strength to face the scandal of the Cross and understand that it is necessary to pass through many tribulations in order to reach the Kingdom of God. The Father’s voice, which resounds from on high, proclaims Jesus his beloved Son as he did at the Baptism in the Jordan, adding: “Listen to him” (Mt 17: 5). To enter eternal life requires listening to Jesus, following him on the way of the Cross, carrying in our heart like him the hope of the Resurrection. “Spe salvi”, saved in hope. Today we can say: “Transfigured in hope”.

It’s important to keep this feast day in mind especially as we hit difficulties in life. Our Lord calls us to share in the glory of God in heaven, and to those who are faithful to Him on earth, He will be faithful to them in eternal life. The Mass is heaven on earth and in attending Mass, we participate in the eternal worship of God. In going to Confession our Lord restores the life of grace to our souls. If we want to enter heaven, we need the life of grace in our souls since this is the very life of God! Helpful also is the first reading for today’s feast taken from Daniel 7 of the ultimate victory of God over evil. I think the lectionary does a bit of an injustice in not including the end of Daniel 7:

He shall speak against the Most High and wear down the holy ones of the Most High, intending to change the feast days and the law. They shall be handed over to him for a time, two times, and half a time. But when the court is convened, and his dominion is taken away to be abolished and completely destroyed, Then the kingship and dominion and majesty of all the kingdoms under the heavens shall be given to the people of the holy ones of the Most High, Whose kingship shall be an everlasting kingship, whom all dominions shall serve and obey”. This is the end of the report. I, Daniel, was greatly terrified by my thoughts, and my face became pale, but I kept the matter to myself.

Often times it seems the government and even the whole world are turning against God. So many turn away from the Sacraments, wanting to get to heaven on their own terms. Or deciding for themselves that this is all there is, so may as well live it up while there is still time (talk about the triumph of the devil over these souls!). Of course we cannot get to Heaven on our own terms: Jesus calls us to follow him on the narrow road that opens up to eternal life. The broad wide road of ease and leisure that many want to follow leads only to eternal death. Locally I know we experience the strong attack against the Church by the media and the government. There is great darkness in hearing about how some in the church abused their power to prey upon and hurt others. Certainly there is great darkness experienced by those who may have been abused. There is also great darkness in knowing many are abused by teachers, coaches, family members… (somehow the media mostly turns a blind eye to this). Yet in all this we cannot lose hope, as God uses all of this for His greater glory. We cannot lose heart, and we cannot stop trying to find God in our daily lives, and knowing He uses even our greatest suffering to draw us closer to Him.

Our Lord brought Saints Peter, James, and John to Mount Tabor to have a peek at the glory that truly belongs to our Lord, and which our Lord calls the baptized to share in forever. He did this so that they would not be scandalized at the experience of our Lord’s brutal death on the cross. Through the Gospel accounts and the witness of Saint Peter, we too are brought to Mount Tabor to have a preview of our Lord’s glory in heaven. Through the cross God brings glory. Hidden in our suffering the Lord is preparing his great and final victory. In suffering we can share the cross with our Lord and offer up our suffering as a prayer as redemptive suffering. Our Lord calls us to be warriors in his army of saints. Are you willing to say yes?

The Solemnity of the Transfiguration probably arose from the annual commemoration of the dedication of a Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. In the ninth century the feast spread to the West and later, during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it started to be celebrated also in Rome, in the Vatican Basilica. Pope Callistus III incorporated the feast into the Roman Calendar in 1457, in gratitude for the victory of the Christian armies against the Turks in the Battle of Belgrade on 6 August 1456.

In the Christian East the Transfiguration of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ is one of the greatest solemnities of the year, together with Easter, Christmas and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It expresses all the theology of divinization through grace by which human nature, clothed in Christ, is illuminated with the splendour of God’s glory. If we are united to Jesus, as the office of readings in the Roman rite tells us, he “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.” [4]

With Peter, James and John, in this feast we are invited to make Jesus the focus of our attention: This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. [5] We have to listen to him and let his life and teachings make our ordinary lives divine. Saint Josemaria prayed: “Lord, we are ready to heed whatever you want to tell us. Speak to us: we are attentive to your voice. May your words enkindle our will so that we launch out fervently to obey you.” [6]

Listening to our Lord with the sincere desire to identify ourselves with him leads us to accept sacrifice. Jesus was transfigured so that the scandal of the Cross might be removed from the hearts of his disciples, [7] to help them bear the dark moments of his Passion. The Cross and glory are closely united. The forty days between the feast of the Transfiguration, 6 August, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, form in some traditions a second Lent. Hence in the Byzantine tradition this period is observed as a time for fasting and contemplation of the Cross.