Scripture Readings: Book of Genesis 12:1-4; Second Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy 1:8-10; Gospel According to Saint Matthew 17:1-9
I like to call the second Sunday of Lent “Transfiguration Sunday,” for its focus on that great mystery in the life of Christ and its effect on his Apostles Peter, James and John. These three Apostles witnessed the Transfiguration on the mountain and were chosen to tell others, including us, what took place and what it is to mean for the building up of our faith.
We celebrate a specific “Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord” each year on August 6th in the Liturgical Calendar of the Church, so we are really given two opportunities in the course of the Church Year ear to contemplate the great “Vision of Glory,” as the Transfiguration is sometimes called.
The Transfiguration Christ, presumed to have occurred on Mount Tabor, though Scripture does not tell us precisely which mountain, was an event that left the Apostles deeply moved for its clear revelation of the divinity of Christ as they were being prepared to face the scandal of their Lord being betrayed and undergoing his passion and death. The Apostles clearly needed fortification to face the events soon to come.
Saint Matthew tells us that while Jesus on the “high mountain,” the appearance of his face changed and his clothing became dazzlingly white. Then there appeared Moses and Elijah conversing with the Lord. They all were arrayed in glory and the experience was something transcending time and space, yet real nonetheless, since all three Apostles saw the same thing. Next a cloud overshadowed those present and a voice was heard from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him.” After that Jesus was there alone once again. How long did it all last? We do not really know, but obviously it had a profound impact on Peter, James and John, who never forgot the experience.
What is the meaning of this event in the life of Christ and his Apostles? There are various levels of meaning, rich in their application. First and foremost is the glimpse and assurance the Apostles are given that their Master is indeed more than a mere man, in fact he is the Son of God, and therefore the Way, the Truth and the Life, for them personally and for all followers of Christ.
Secondly, the Transfiguration carries with it the conviction that Christ will return in glory, just as he promised, with saving power for all who put their trust in him. Thirdly, the Transfiguration is an encouragement that even though the Lord would undergo rejection and death, that is not the end, but the way to the Resurrection and the bestowal of eternal life on the world.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, representing and summing up all of the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant, are reminders to followers of Christ that the Lord is the fulfillment of all that was taught and prophesied in the past.
In the voice that was heard on the mountaintop, there is a confirmation that Christ indeed came forth from the side of God and would pass through suffering and death, but ultimately rise and ascend, to be seated once again and for ever at the right hand of the Father.
“Master, how good it is for us to be here,” was the exclamation of Saint Peter on the mount of Transfiguration. This sentiment should be ours as well, with words such as these: “How good you have called us into being, Lord, brought us to the Sacrament of Baptism and incorporation into your mystical body the Church, and sustained us to this present moment. How good we have faith and a parish or monastic community to support us with a firm hope that we will all one day share in the bliss of eternal life in heaven, in the company of those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith and with those who will come after us for this brief sojourn on earth.”
The history of humankind is the story of the search for meaning and happiness. It is also the story of trial and error, success and failure, sinfulness and repentance and ultimately forgiveness from God. It is probably the story of each of us individually as well. So often the search for happiness is sought where happiness cannot be found: in wealth and beauty, eternal youth, a giant bank account or a faster car, things that don’t in fact last. In the end, none of these satisfy the human heart, nor endure for very long.
Only faith, hope and love are lasting, and the greatest of these is love, as Scripture tells us. Christ came to teach us and show us that the path of true happiness is found in the way of dispossession, self-forgetfulness, compassion and doing good for others. That was the way of Christ and the road on which he wishes to lead us too.
Christ is our happiness, who was transfigured in splendor on the mountaintop, but also who washed the feet of his disciples, eating with the poor and sinners, healing the sick and the broken of body, mind and spirit. The same Christ took on the sufferings of the entire world and died for the life of the world, silently but truly transforming the lives of men and women of all times and places, calling us from sin and death to glory and life everlasting.
As Saint Paul puts it in the second reading at Mass this Sunday: “God has saved us and has called us to a holy life, not because of any merit of ours, but according to his own design—the grace held out to us in Christ Jesus before the world began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our Savior.”
May we always seek our true happiness in Christ, in the Gospel and in his Church, and may we discover there that which will sustain us in the present and unto life eternal.
In a real and special way, in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist transformation for our lives takes place, by the humble presence of Christ in our midst, in the Sacred Scriptures and under the form of bread and wine, given us as his Body and Blood, soul and divinity.
May the regular celebration of the Eucharist increase our joy and draw us closer to God and one another, renewing our hearts in love and may that be a leaven of transformation for the world in which we live.
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB