Today, the Church celebrates the feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord. To me the word “transfigured” – as in he was transfigured before them [Mark 9:2] – has always sounded way too technical. Like “transubstantiation,” a technical word we now in effect reserve to refer only to Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist, “transfiguration” is a word with no other reference except for this totally unique event in the life of Christ. So mysterious was that event, however, that it was described in such a way as avoid any precision as to what it actually entailed. What it meant, however, is another story. To the disciples, it represented a unique, one-time manifestation of Christ’s divine glory otherwise hidden during his earthly life.
In Israel in the summer of 1993, I visited the Mount of the Transfiguration. After an adventurous taxi-ride to the top, I was tempted to echo – out of relief at having made it - Peter’s famous words “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” [Mark 9:5]. The temptation to open with that line was well nigh irresistible 12 summers ago, when I celebrated my first Sunday Mass as parochial vicar at St. Paul the Apostle parish in New York on this date. Not really such a good idea, however, given that the Gospel account quickly informs us that Peter hardly knew what to say [Mark 9:6].
On that awesome occasion on that high Galilean mountaintop, it was God himself who spoke to Peter to clear up his confusion – and ours. With Jesus’ passion and death inexorably approaching, God the Father spoke to identify Jesus as his Son in a kind of fast-forward to what would only become clear after the Resurrection.
Indeed, according to some traditions, the transfiguration was thought to have occurred 40 days before the crucifixion. That may account for the western liturgical usage, which associates the transfiguration Gospel with the beginning of Lent. (In the Roman Rite, the Gospel account of the transfiguration is read each year on the Second Sunday of Lent. Anglicans and Lutherans read it on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.) And It also just so happens that August 6 comes 40 days before the feast of the Holy Cross!
In any case, no wonder Jesus himself charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead [Mark 9:9]. In the meantime, they were told by God to listen – This is my beloved Son. Listen to him [Mark 9:7].
Obviously, it wasn’t some isolated saying or some particular parable they were being told to listen to. Jesus himself is the message. He himself shows his disciples who God is and what God is about. Christianity has no place for some generic “spirituality.” It’s about a person – the one and only person, who directly links the world with God.
So, before I can have anything of use to say to anyone else, I must first be overpowered and transformed by God’s unique Word to the world, his Son. Only then, like Peter himself, overpowered and transformed in head and heart by the Risen Lord, alive in his Church, then one will have plenty to say to the world.
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