We just celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6. The Transfiguration is a significant event in the life of the Lord which occurs about midway through His public ministry and reveals to His disciples who He is and what His mission is all about in a moving and mystical manner. The account of the Transfiguration is found in the three synoptic Gospels of Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke from which we read not only on the Feast of the Transfiguration, but also on the Second Sunday of Lent each year.
As Jesus takes three apostles, Peter, James, and John, up the mountain where He is transfigured, time seems to be suspended. On the mountain, the Lord’s appearance changes, and the three apostles are able to dwell upon the glory of the Lord as His radiance shines before them. In this moment of divine transcendence, Moses and Elijah appear speaking with Jesus. The apostles are so caught up in this experience they do not want to leave. As Pope Francis emphasized to a group of newly ordained bishops, “The ‘brightness’ that characterizes this extraordinary event symbolizes its purpose to enlighten the minds and hearts of the disciples so that they may clearly understand who their Teacher is. It is a flash of light that suddenly opens onto the mystery of Jesus and illuminates His whole person and His whole story.”
Having been part of the awesome moment of the Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John have a new insight into Christ. As they continue to move forward with Jesus toward the culmination of His ministry on the Cross, they understand better that suffering is to be an integral part of the glory that is to be revealed in His Resurrection. They also know that they are to be involved in that suffering. However, as astounding as the experience of the Transfiguration was, they will still shriek from Christ suffering. They will fall asleep when Jesus takes the same three apostles with Him to His agony in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Crucifixion. These apostles remind us that even such an exceptional moment as the Transfiguration can be forgotten. We realize that this is true for all of us in our lives and experiences. We can often lose sight of what God has done for us.
This year, on the Second Sunday of Lent, Pope Francis spoke comforting words for all of us in regard to the Transfiguration. He spoke his words during his Sunday audience via live stream due to limitations imposed by the coronavirus. The Pope emphasized that Jesus’ choice of Peter, James, and John to be witnesses of the Transfiguration was not made because of their merits but according to “a free initiative, a divine friendship that asks for nothing in return.” Pope Francis emphasized how Peter would deny Jesus during the Passion and how James and John ambitiously sought the first place in the Kingdom. He stressed that, “Our calling is a gift that we have not deserved; and although we may feel inadequate…we cannot back out with the excuse of our incapacity.”
As we face so many challenges within our lives, especially at this difficult time, the Transfiguration reminds us that we are on a journey which leads to the glory of the fullness of life through the Resurrection. God loves us and reveals Himself to us, not because of our merits, but because of His goodness. The Lord shines His glory upon us even when we least expect it and do not recognize it.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 7, 2020