The Sunday Propers: The Transfiguration

One of a child’s favorite pastimes is to hear a story where magical and miraculous things occur.  Unhindered by the years of skepticism and cynicism by children, their mind is awestruck, and they are likely to believe anything as a result of that story.  For these reasons, rightly do we say that nothing is more precious than the imagination of a child.

To many in society today, religion, especially Catholicism is one of these fairy tales.  It is fine for children to believe, but nobody takes it serious after doing their own research.  One might even be so bold to say that even some of our leaders buy this narrative more than they should.  There’s nothing special about Christianity, it’s just a nice tale that should inspire us to do good in the world.

To counter this strong temptation, the Church institutes certain feast days to remind us why we believe.  The solemnity of the Transfiguration is one of these days.  Today we celebrate not a fable, but a real event in history.  Not only did Christ walk this earth, but on the mountain revealed His true dignity to his inner circle within the twelve.  He did this to show His apostles not only who He was, but to prepare them for what was to come.  Once they came down from that mountain, they would see the Son of Man die, and they would be scattered to the corners of the world, cut off from their friends and loved ones, and likely dying a martyr’s death.  If you’re going to sign up for that, you’re going to want a reason.  Christ showed them that He was God, and the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets.

In today’s Epistle Peter makes this point.  He makes clear to the Diaspora that he was not giving them a fable or children’s tale.  This was not Greek poetry which often is elevated to hyperbole for artistic effect.  Peter is telling them Christ really did appear transfigured before John, James, and himself.  If they trusted that He was from God, they had to trust that He wasn’t lying.  If you believed him about the Transfiguration, then you had to believe everything else He said.  What’s tougher to believe?  That God can become man and transfigure himself on a mountain, communing with Elijah and Moses, or that God can forgive any sinner of their sins, and bring them to everlasting life?  Which sounds like the harder feat?

Another effect of the Transfiguration is that when they encountered Christ transfigured, any doubt in their minds as to His identity was revealed.  The light of Christ enlightened their paths.  The Introit picks up on this theme, telling us that God “enlightens the world.”  When something is enlightened, you can see it better.  With so much that doesn’t seem to make sense in this world to even the brightest of minds, Catholicism makes a bold claim when she says that the Gospel allows you to perceive things as they really are.  Yet that claim is true, and we know it to be true, because we have the witness of those men who Christ appeared transfigured to.

Another way the Transfiguration gives us certainty is by meditating upon who Christ appeared with.  When the Apostles saw Him, they also saw Moses and Elijah standing next to him.  Moses was the great lawgiver, and Elijah the greatest of prophets.  The two central figures of Judaism stood as heralds to Christ.  The Collect describes this event as confirming “the Mysteries of the faith by the witness of the fathers.”  We can go even further than this.  Anything in the world that is true or good points to Christ.  While man may have corrupted some of that truth that truth still points to Christ and only Christ.  We need to announce that message to the world.

Unfortunately, that is a message that we have difficulty preaching today.  While we profess a belief in the Transfiguration, we don’t profess much of a belief in the Gospel message.  Sure, we say “I believe” every Sunday at Mass, but do we?  Do we believe that message is possible to be lived by everyone?  Do we believe that message is not only a good story, but something which can transform the hearts of anyone who hears it?

As much as we want to say we believe, there are trends in the Church which suggest otherwise.  There are those who want to stop emphasizing certain aspects of Church teaching, because we cannot realistically expect them to be observed today.  A call to salvation is too judgmental, far better to simply “love” someone instead.  How often are we Catholics out there sharing the Gospel in our everyday lives?  If we aren’t following and sharing the Gospel with our every breath, then we might as well be believing a fairy tale.  Peter’s words are in vain in such a case, as Christianity without the power of the Gospel is just a nice fable.  A Christianity that cannot convert the heart is a Christianity of words only.  Finally, a Christianity that cannot transform the hearts and actions of the converted is empty and a waste of time.

That was the Christianity Peter preached against in his epistle.  This isn’t a waste of time, because God revealed Himself to us.  He revealed Himself to us, and told us after Jesus rises from the dead to share it with the entire world.  As crazy as dropping everything for the sake of the Gospel might seem, is it crazier than the idea God became man and appeared to us?

image: Zvonimir Atletic /

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Kevin Tierney is the Associate Editor of the Learn and Live the Faith Section at Catholic Lane. He and his family live in Brighton, MI. Connect with him via FB  or on twitter @CatholicSmark.

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