The subject of the fourth luminous mystery of the rosary is one of the most dramatic scenes in all of Scripture. It places Jesus between Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) as the Lord of all history and the fulfillment of God's promise of a savior. This moment made such an impression on the disciples of the Lord that it is one of the few stories common to all three synoptic Gospels.
In St. Luke's version of this event, there is a detail contained in the story unique to his account: Jesus was transfigured while he was praying. This seemingly minor detail presents some insights into the power of prayer and the relationship between the Transfiguration and the sacrament of penance.
Just as Jesus was transfigured while He was praying, we are called in a similar manner to be transformed into saints. Throughout the ages, many saints and theologians have offered different definitions for prayer, but in its simplest terms, prayer is, "the elevation of the mind and heart to God in praise of his glory; a petition made to God for some desired good, or in thanksgiving for a good received, or in intercession for others before God" (CCC Nos. 2559-2565).
As the soul is drawn in closer union with God, it is steadily transformed by grace and becomes a more perfect image of God Himself, sharing in the Trinity's inner life. Not only does prayer have the power to secure favors — more importantly, it has the power to transform our will and desires to conformity with God and His loving, providential plan. So, no matter whether our petitions are "answered" or not, the person transformed by prayer will have greater insights into God's will for them, especially if that plan includes a participation in the Passion through suffering.
Not only does the Transfiguration remind us of the transforming power of prayer, it also invites us to consider the transforming power of the sacrament of penance. When Jesus was transfigured on Mt. Tabor before Sts. Peter, James and John, these three apostles caught a glimpse of Christ's divine glory. In a sense, Jesus uncovered for them an insight into His divine nature. They were able to see Jesus in a unique and highly-privileged manner. It was as if they could see a part of Jesus beyond what mere human sight could discern.
In a similar fashion, this is what can happen for a contrite penitent in the sacrament of penance. When one approaches our Lord's tribunal of mercy in making a good confession, all of the masks and appearances that we assume in life can be taken off. We lay bare our souls before Jesus' mercy; He sees us as we truly are. No longer must we "put on airs" or "present ourselves" in order to cast a certain image that we would like others to have of us. In effect, we reveal our true self. We allow the grace of Christ's mercy to take our frail humanity and permit it to be purified, strengthened and transformed, so that we become as transparent to Him as He was to the three apostles.
The challenge for us after confession is to integrate that true self known to Jesus with the perception that we want others to have of us. The integration of Christ's two natures, held in perfect balance, calls us to become whole and integrated persons.
In the season of Lent, we do well to pray for the grace of prayer to transform us, so that we can become as transparent as the Transfigured One through the sacrament of penance.