Transfiguring Humanity—Reflections on the Transfiguration of Christ

Among the most bizarre, mysterious, and interesting accounts in the New Testament is the event of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The dictionary defines the word transfiguration as “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. Common synonyms for transfiguration include:  metamorphosis, changeover, transformation, development, adjustment, and even mutation!! Growing up Catholic I have listened to the Gospel telling of this mysterious occurrence a myriad of times, however, I will provide Matthew’s version in case it has been a why since you have read and/or Mass for the Feast Day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord!

The Transfiguration of Jesus.* 1a After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.* 2*b And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. 3* And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5c While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,* then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6* When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.” 8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.

1. Foretaste of Heavenly Reality: The primary purpose of the glory of Jesus shown [shone] to Peter, James, and John was meant as a means to prepare them for the glorification of God after the Resurrection and to hint at the beauty of transfigured humanity. According to Saint Pope Saint John Paul II in his 1999 homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, “In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

2. Humanity’s Home in Heaven: Similar to the previous point is that fact that man is on a pilgrim journey, a sojourner on Earth—whose ultimate destination is union with God in Heaven. John Paul II echoed this truth as well, “We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries. But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith. On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.”

I imagine the incredible letdown the Apostles must have felt in the moments after the dazzling and inexplicable event of the Transfiguration. Going back to following Jesus in an ordinary way, traveling from town to town, learning from him, and assisting the poor certainly did not compare to the splendor they witnessed on Mount Tabor. It definitely would have been challenging to transition back into that routine! Heck, Peter even desired to stay in the holy place when he declared, “If you wish, I will make three tents* here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Coming out of Sunday liturgy, I leave with a similar wonder and awe as the inner circle of Jesus received on that original Transfiguration event. Housing the Real Presence of Lord after reception of the Eucharist provides me incredible peace and patient strength. In a way, we all undergo a momentary transfiguration—a foretaste of Heavenly reality in the Mass. Going back to our worldly affairs, we quickly lose sight and memory of our close encounter with God. May we continue to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us with clarity and strength on our pilgrimage toward Heaven!

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