As the feast of the Transfiguration, Aug. 6, occurs on a Sunday this year, it will be celebrated in place of the usual Sunday of Ordinary Time. The Transfiguration is a significant feast, but since it usually falls on a weekday, many do not have the opportunity to celebrate it at Mass. However, we do commemorate the Transfiguration on the Second Sunday of Lent each year, since the Gospel of the day is that of the Transfiguration. This year, the Gospel passage, both for the feast of the Transfiguration and for the Second Sunday of Lent, is that from the Gospel of St. Matthew.
The Transfiguration of the Lord takes place about halfway through His public ministry. Jesus takes three of His apostles, Peter, James and John, up to the mountain where He is transfigured, and they are caught up in His glory, which shines before them. Moses and Elijah appear speaking with Jesus, and the apostles are so taken by this experience that they do not want to leave. The voice of God the Father is heard from heaven announcing Jesus as His Son. This is a very special and privileged moment for the apostles, as they are experiencing the divinity of Jesus in a unique and powerful manner.
However, there is a fear which grips the apostles in their ecstasy before the glory of the Lord. They move from joyful elation to a trembling fear. This is because they are experiencing the glory of the Lord, which would reveal itself in His suffering on the cross. This is overwhelming for them to understand and especially to know that they would participate in that suffering. Having been part of the awesome moment of Christ’s Transfiguration, Peter, James and John have a new insight into Christ. As they now move with Jesus toward the culmination of His ministry on the cross, they better understand that suffering is to be an integral part of that glory, which will be revealed at His Resurrection. They also know that they are to be involved in that suffering and, despite the unique vision which they experienced, recoil from Christ’s suffering. It is hard to imagine how the apostles could forget the experience of the Transfiguration when they would encounter suffering for themselves, but they do.
As we reflect upon the Transfiguration, we need to realize that the Lord reveals His glory to us in so many ways. We experience it in the Eucharist, the sacraments, the beauty of His creation and all the many joys of our lives in the people He has given to us. Nevertheless, the difficult times of life may overshadow the joys that we experience and cause us to lose sight of them. It is in those difficult moments that we look to the glory of the love of God, which is revealed in the cross of Christ, and realize that He overcomes our suffering through His suffering and brings us to joy. We cannot rely upon ourselves, but only upon the Lord and His loving power.
On the Second Sunday of Lent this year, Pope Francis, reflecting upon the Transfiguration, reminded us that we must appreciate the joyful times of our lives, not as passing sentiments that dissolve, but as the very core of our lives in Christ. He said, “Jesus’ beauty does not alienate His disciples from the reality of life but gives them the strength to follow Him all the way to Jerusalem, all the way to the cross. Christ’s beauty is not alienating. It always brings you forward. It does not make you hide. Go forward!”
As we celebrate the Transfiguration, we do go forward. It occurs more than halfway through the year as we find ourselves in August preparing to return to school and to a more normal routine. It is the revelation of Christ’s glory, especially as revealed to us in different ways, that enables us to go forward, reminding us of our journey to the fullness of His revelation in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is Christ who bears our suffering and transforms it into the glory of His life. Pope Francis reminded us that the Transfiguration, “teaches us how important it is to remain with Jesus even when it is not easy to understand everything He says and does for us.” It is only by staying with Jesus that, “we learn to recognize on His face the luminous beauty of love He gives us, even when it bears the marks of the cross.”
May we recognize that, in our lives, the Transfiguration is always before us!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
August 4, 2023