A Meditation on the Transfiguration based on Archbishop Sheen’s “Life of Christ”.
Three lessons were given by Our Lord Jesus Christ from a mountain. In His Sermon on the Mount, He challenged the spirit of the world. From Mount Tabor, He gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of the glory that was to come after His Passion and Death. And from Mount Calvary, He taught us most eloquently from His Cross.
We know that Peter, James and John were the Apostles chosen, but why them? Peter was to be the first Pope, James was to be the first Apostle martyred for the faith and John was to be the visionary of the future glory of the Apocalypse. All three were witnessed the miracle of Jesus raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead. Archbishop Fulton Sheen tells us that all three needed to witness the Transfiguration in order to rectify their false conceptions of the Messias and to understand the importance of the Cross. Not long before, Peter had protested strenuously against the Cross while James and John had shared the common misconception that the reign of the Savior would be an earthly one. Our Lord knew that He would need to help them see the future glory beyond the bloody mount of the skull.
A brief glimpse of glory
It was not the full manifestation of Divinity which no man of earth could see; nor was His body glorified, for He had not risen from the dead, but it possessed a quality of glory. His crib, His carpenter trade, His bearing opprobrium from enemies were a humiliation; fittingly there should also be epiphanies of glory, as the angels’ song at His birth and the voice of the Father during the baptism.
Now as He nears Calvary, a new glory surrounds Him. The voice again invests Him in the robes of the priesthood, to offer sacrifice. The glory that shone around Him as the Temple of God was not something with which He was outwardly invested, but rather a natural expression of the inherent loveliness of “Him who came down from heaven.”
The wonder was not this momentary radiance around Him; it was rather that at all other times it was repressed. As Moses, after communing with God, put a veil over his face to hide it from the people of Israel, so Christ had veiled His glory in humanity. But for this brief moment, He turned it aside so that men might see it; the outgoing of these rays was the transitory proclamation to every human eye of the Son of Righteousness.
As the Cross came nearer, His glory became greater. So it may be that the coming of the anti-Christ or the final crucifixion of the good will be preceded by an extraordinary glory of Christ in His members. In man, the body is a kind of a cage of the soul. In Christ, the Body was the Temple of Divinity.
In the Garden of Eden, we know that man and woman were naked but not ashamed. This is because the glory of the soul before sin shone through the body and became a kind of a raiment. Here too in the Transfiguration, the Divinity shone through humanity. This was probably much more natural than for Christ to be seen in any other pose, namely, without that glory. It took restraint to hide the Divinity that was in Him.
“And whilst He prayed, the shape of His countenance was altered, and His raiment became white and glittering. And behold two men were talking with Him. And they were Moses and Elias, Appearing in majesty. And they spoke of His decease that He should accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:29-31).
The Old Testament was coming to meet the New. Moses the publisher of the Law, Elias the chief of the Prophets—both of them were seen shining in the Light of Christ Himself Who, as the Son of God, gave the Law and sent the Prophets. The subject of conversation of Moses, Elias and Christ was not what He had taught, but His sacrificial death; it was His duty as Mediator which fulfilled the Law, the Prophets and the Eternal Decrees.
Their work done, they pointed to Him to see the Redemption accomplished. Thus did He keep before Him the goal of being “numbered with the transgressors,” as Isaias had foretold. Even in this moment of glory, the Cross is the theme of the discourse with the celestial visitors. But it was death conquered, sin atoned and the grave despoiled.
St. Paul said, “Having joy set before Him, He endured the Cross.” What the Apostles noticed as particularly beautiful and glorified were His face and His garments—the face which later would be splattered with blood flowing from a crown of thorns; and the garments, which would be a robe of scorn with which sneering Herod would dress Him. The gossamer of light which now surrounded Him would be exchanged for nakedness when He would be stripped on a hill.
While the Apostles were standing at what seemed to be the very vestibule of heaven, a cloud formed, overshadowing them:
“And as he was yet speaking, behold a bright cloud overshadowed them. And lo, a voice out of the cloud, saying: This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye Him.” (Matt. 17:5)
When God sets up a cloud it is a manifest sign that there are bonds which man dare not break. At His baptism, the heavens were opened; now at the Transfiguration they opened again to install Him in His office as Mediator, and to distinguish Him from Moses and the Prophets. It was heaven itself that was sending Him on His mission, not the perverse will of men.
At the baptism, the voice from heaven was for Jesus Himself; on the Hill of the Transfiguration, it was for the disciples. The shouts of “Crucify” would be too much for their ears if they did not know that it behooved the Son to suffer. It was not Moses nor Elias they were to hear, but Him who apparently would die like any other teacher, but was more than a prophet.
The voice testified to the unbroken and undivided union of Father and Son; it recalled also the words of Moses that in due time God would raise up from Israel One like Himself Whom they should hear. The Apostles, awakening at the brilliance of what they had seen, found their spokesman, as almost always, in Peter.
“And it came to pass, that as they were departing from him, Peter saith to Jesus: Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias; not knowing what he said.” (Luke 9:33)
A week before, Peter was trying to find a way to glory without the Cross. Now he thought the Transfiguration a good short cut to salvation by having a Mount of the Beatitudes or a Mount of the Transfiguration without the Mount of Calvary. It was Peter’s second attempt to dissuade Our Lord from going to Jerusalem to be crucified. Before Calvary he was the spokesman for all those who would enter into glory without purchasing it by self-denial and sacrifice. Peter in his impetuosity here felt that the glory which God brought down from the heavens, and of which the angels sang at Bethlehem, could be tabernacled among men without a war against sin. Peter forgot that as the dove rested his foot only after the deluge, so true peace comes only after the Crucifixion. Like a child, Peter tried to capitalize and make permanent this transient glory. To the Savior, it was an anticipation of what was reflected from the other side of the Cross; to Peter, it was a manifestation of an earthly Messianic glory that ought to be housed. The Lord Who called Peter “Satan” because he would have a crown without a Cross now ignored his noncrucial humanism, for He knew that “he spoke at random.” But after the Resurrection, Peter would know. Then he would recall the scene, saying:
“… we were eyewitnesses of His greatness. For He received from God the Father honour and glory: this voice coming down to Him from the excellent glory: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him. And this voice we heard brought from heaven, when we were with Him in the holy mount. And we have the more firm prophetical word: whereunto you do well to attend, as to a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (II Peter 1:16–20)
This destroyer Pope’s attack on the faith – and the faithful! – has accelerated but we have the indisputable word of Our Lord Jesus Christ that He will not forsake His Church. Let us hold firm to the faith, “the light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day-star rise in our hearts.”
Just as the Transfiguration was only a momentary glimpse of His glory, so too the passion and death of Our Lord in His Mystical Body the Church, are destined to pass and yield to His glorious Resurrection. Let us keep our perspective then, even in these chaotic times, and abide “with Jesus alone”, “Nisi solum Jesum”, accepting all that is given to us from His wounded hands, trusting in Jesus alone.
Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the most Holy Rosary, intercede for us!
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!