The scene of the Transfiguration recorded in this week’s Gospel is surely a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus and His disciples. Jesus had reached the point in His public ministry when He was being opposed by many of the religious leaders of the Jewish community, and the reaction of the crowds was far from enthusiastic acceptance of His teaching.
He could count on a handful of faithful disciples only: His messianic career seemed to be a total failure. In addition, the hill of Calvary was looming before Him. He began to speak of it to His disciples around this time, and to them He offered the Cross and a life of self-denial. This is more than apparent failure: it is a real stumbling block, where even the faith of the most loyal followers could be shattered.
Against this background, Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James and John, and is transfigured before them. These three Apostles (and through them, all of us) receive a glimpse of our Lord's divine glory shining through His humanity, and they hear the Father's voice, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Moses and Elijah, personifying the Law and the Prophets, appear and speak with Jesus about His approaching death the “passage” He is about to fulfill in Jerusalem, a passage to which the Old Testament points.
Christ's Transfiguration made a lasting impression on the Apostles: it strengthened their faith and prepared them for the Lord's death on the Cross. This is how our Lord always behaves toward those He loves: in the midst of the greatest sufferings and trials, He gives us the consolation and strength we need to keep going forward and never to doubt His promises to us. This is also the reason why the Church places this moment of the Transfiguration before us so early in the Lenten season. We are given hope that by persevering in our Lenten penance and mortification, we will come to share in the Lord's glory. Through the discipline of Lent, we are being purified, and we experience our own transfiguration into the disciples Jesus calls us to be.
The flash of Jesus's glory swept the Apostles up into an experience of overwhelming joy. “Lord, it is good that we are here,” Peter says. He wanted to make that moment last longer, but the Transfiguration came to an end, and the only person the Apostles saw before them was Jesus: the Jesus Whom they knew, Who was sometimes tired, sometimes hungry, Who tried to make Himself understood. They saw our Lord without any special manifestations of glory.
This is the Jesus we must find in our ordinary life, in the midst of our work, on our streets, in our families, in the people around us, in our prayer. We have to find Him when He forgives us in the sacrament of penance, and above all, in the sacrament of the Eucharist, where He is truly, really and substantially present. Normally, our Lord does not show Himself to us with any special revelation; instead, we have to find Him in our everyday activities and routines.
We should never forget that the Jesus whom the three Apostles were with on Mount Tabor is the same Jesus who is daily at our side. When He speaks, we should be ready to listen to Him; when He calls, we should be ready to follow. If crosses and trials appear in our lives, we should understand that He gives us the strength to bear them and not be defeated by them. The transfigured Lord of glory, the humble Jesus of Nazareth and the crucified victim of Calvary are one and the same. It is this Jesus Who is constantly present to us, and how good it is that we can be with Him each day!
What really matters is to unite ourselves with Jesus always, wherever we are, and to see Him behind all the circumstances in which we may find ourselves. If, during this Lent, we can live habitually in our Lord's presence, would not our lives be different? If we listen to Him each day and strive to put His words into practice, how changed we and our world would be. Then the Transfiguration would be something that happened not just in our Lord's life; it would also happen in ours.
Fr. De Ladurantaye is director of the Office of Sacred Liturgy, secretary for diocesan religious education, a professor of theology at Notre Dame Graduate School and in residence at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington, Virginia.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)