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Peter John Cameron, O.P.
1. Subject Matter • Why was Jesus transfigured? What is the significance of the Transfiguration for our life? • The Transfiguration is a foreshadowing (forelightening?) of Christ’s resurrection (I know of a painting of the Transfiguration in which Christ is depicted bearing the wounds of the Passion in his transfigured body). • The mystery of the Transfiguration is an invitation to the radical change by which we receive our true self through Christ who “reveals man to himself.” • Prayer as the means to transfiguration. • The instrumental role of beauty in the mystery of the Transfiguration. 2. Exegetical Considerations • “About eight days after…” (Lk 9:28a) – see Lev. 23:36 (vs. Mark: “after six days”) • The other privileged events in Luke that include Peter, James, and John: see Lk 5:10; 8:51ff • Luke stresses how Christ’s Transfiguration first appeared in his face. This is the face that Christ sets toward Jerusalem (Lk 9:51). • Christ’s dazzling form will reappear on the day that the Son of Man will come like lightning (Lk 17:24). Language similar to that employed in reference to Christ’s appearance at the Transfiguration is used to describe the magnificent robe in which Herod send Christ back to Pilate (Lk 23:11). Perhaps when the disciples saw it, they were reminded of the Transfiguration, consoled, and readied for the Passion.
• The reason why Jesus goes up the mountain is to pray. The mountain is a place of communion with God, and for Luke in particular, a place of prayer: Lk 6:12; 19:29; 22:39. “It is a place where Jesus puts himself in contact with the Father” (J. Fitzmyer). • “they saw his glory” - CCC 294: “The glory of God consists in the realization of this manifestation and communication of his goodness, for which the world was created.” • “a cloud came and cast a shadow over them” – recall the Annunciation; see also Acts 5:15 where the people hope that Peter’s shadow will fall on them. 3. References to the Catechism of the Catholic Church • CCC 52: “God, who ‘dwells in unapproachable light’, wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son. By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of knowing him and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity.” • CCC 555: “For a moment Jesus discloses his divine glory…. Christ’s Passion is the will of the Father: the Son acts as God’s servant; the cloud indicates the presence of the Holy Spirit. The whole Trinity appeared: the Father in the voice; the Son in the man; the Spirit in the shining cloud. ‘You were transfigured on the mountain, and your disciples, as much as they were capable of it, beheld your glory, O Christ our God, so that when they should see you crucified they would understand that your Passion was voluntary, and proclaim to the world that you truly are the splendor of the Father’” (Byzantine Liturgy). • CCC 556: “On the threshold of the public life: the baptism; on the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration. Jesus’ baptism proclaimed ‘the mystery of the first regeneration’, namely, our Baptism; the Transfiguration ‘is the sacrament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection…. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body.’ But it also recalls that ‘it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.’ • CCC 568: “Christ’s Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles’ faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the ‘high mountain’ prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: ‘the hope of glory’.” • CCC 1000: “Our participation in the Eucharist already gives us a foretaste of Christ’s transfiguration of our bodies.” • CCC 2583: “Only on the mountain of the Transfiguration will Moses and Elijah behold the unveiled face of him whom they sought; ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God [shines] in the face of Christ,’ crucified and risen. 4. Patristic Commentary and Other Authorities
• St. Ephrem the Syrian: “The disciples upon the mountain beheld two suns, one, to which they were accustomed, shining in the sky, and another, to which they were unaccustomed; one which shone down on them, and from the firmament gave light to the whole world, and one which then shone for them alone, which was the face of Jesus before them.” • St. Leo the Great: “Through the Transfiguration the whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift.” • St. Gregory of Nyssa: “In the seeking of the beautiful, the man who has purified the eye of his soul is able to look at such things and forget the matter in which the beauty is encased, and he uses what he sees as a kind of basis for his contemplation of intelligible beauty. By a participation in this beauty, the other beautiful things come into being and are identified…. In this way, the soul, rising and leaving behind all notice of unimportant things, arrives at a knowledge of the grandeur beyond the heavens.” • St. Gregory of Nyssa: “But in truth the finest aspect of our mutability is the possibility of growth in good; and this capacity for improvement transforms the soul, as it changes, more and more into the divine. And so what appears so terrifying (I mean the mutability of our nature) can really be as a pinion in our flight towards higher things, and indeed it would be a hardship if we were not susceptible of the sort of change which is towards the better. One ought not then to be distressed when one considers this tendency in our nature; rather let us change in such a way that we may constantly evolve towards what is better, being “transformed from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18), and thus always improving and ever becoming more perfect by daily growth, and never arriving at any limit of perfection. For that perfection consists in our never stopping in our growth in good, never circumscribing our perfection by any limitation.” • St. Ambrose: “Only three, three chosen, were led to the mountain: Peter, who received the keys of the kingdom; John, to whom Christ’s Mother was entrusted; and James, who was the first to mount a bishop’s throne. • St. Gregory the Great: “In the heights of heavenly splendor all the saints will cling to him as they shine brightly with the light of righteousness. For his clothes signify the righteous, whom he will unite to himself.” • St. Bede: “By Christ’s loving foresight, he prepared his disciples to endure adversity bravely be allowing them to taste for a short time the contemplation of everlasting joy.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “Christ wish to be transfigured in order to show people his glory and to arouse people to a desire of it.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “It was fitting for Christ to manifest his glorious splendor (i.e., to be transfigured), according to which he will configure those who belong to him.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “The splendor of the Transfiguration was a kind of image representing that perfection of glory according to which the body will be glorious.”
• St. Thomas Aquinas: “The splendor of the transfigured Christ’s clothes signified the future splendor of the saints.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “In order to encourage his disciples in view of his passion and death, Christ brings before them Moses and Elijah, that is, those who had exposed themselves to death for God’s sake.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “Christ wished his disciples to imitate the meekness of Moses and the zeal of Elijah.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “God the Father uttered the words ‘This is my beloved Son’ in order to show the different ways by which people can participate in the likeness of the eternal sonship.” • St. Thomas Aquinas: “At the time of the Transfiguration, which is a mystery of the second regeneration, the entire Trinity appears—the Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Spirit in the bright cloud.” • Nicholas Cabasilas: “When men have a longing so great that it surpasses human nature, and eagerly desire and are able to accomplish things beyond human thought, it is the Bridegroom who has smitten them with this longing. It is he who has sent a ray of his beauty into their eyes. The greatness of the wound already shows the arrow which has struck home.” • Ven. Louis of Grenada: Consider the remarkable stratagem which the Savior used to draw us to himself. He knows that men are more moved by the enjoyment of present goods than by the promise of those which are to come…. He revealed to them a part of the accidental glory, namely, the clarity and beauty of a glorified body, and he did this for a good reason. The flesh is our greatest impediment in the journey of life. It most frequently leads us away from the imitation of Christ and prevents us from carrying the cross. Therefore, in order to encourage us, it was fitting that Christ reveal the splendor of the glorified body so that we would more readily apply ourselves to the struggle of the Christian life…Consider also that the Lord was transfigured while he was praying and understand that in the practice of prayer devout souls are frequently transfigured spiritually. They receive a new spirit, new light, and such strength of heart that they seem to be changed and transfigured.” • Byzantine Liturgy: “Through your Transfiguration, O Lord, you returned Adam’s nature to its original splendor, restoring its very elements to the glory and brilliance of your divinity.” • Msgr. Hugh Benson: “See how full are the Gospels of this desire of Jesus Christ! There were indeed splendid moments when the God within the humanity blazed out in glory…. It is these moments, probably, above all others, that have endeared Jesus Christ to humanity—moments in which he displayed himself as truly one of us. It is when he is ‘lifted up’—not in the glory of triumphant divinity, but in the shame of beaten humanity, that he draws us to himself.” • Fr. Maurice Zundel: “To be fully human means to be transparent to God. When man is transfigured by this divine thought he lets it show through himself; that is the moment one can truly speak of humanity. Therefore, we must not oppose God against human ways, because
human ways are truly human only through this contact with God. And since, before this transfiguration, God is unknowable to us, we can know God only through this transfiguration of man, as man is truly man only at the moment he surrenders himself to this dialogue of love by losing himself in God.” • Fr. Gerald Vann, O.P.: “Transfiguration is not something we can achieve; it is something which only he who is mighty can bring about in us…. There are times when action is irrelevant, impertinent, a nuisance; but deeper than that, the activity which is in fact essential, the daily tasks and struggles, the taking up of the daily cross, all this is of value only in so far as we are led to it and in it by the Spirit, that Spirit on whom we are dependent for the kindling within us of the divine fire, the transfiguring love.” • Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Everything conflicting and raging within us is melted together in the crucible of the Creator’s might. I thank you that everything in us which is ambiguous and which, therefore, gleams seductively, is reconciled in You and beams with the redemption that makes two into one. You transfigure enigma and replace it with mystery.” • Jacques Maritain: “If people remain in the world of their sentimental egos, they do not understand each other. Let them touch the beautiful, then contact is made, souls communicate.” • H. D. Lacordaire: “When God appears, when he deigns to come to us, it is manifest that, at the first glance, there should be in his appearance something exclusive of doubt…. As soon as he appears, every intelligent being…should bend before him and exclaim: It is God!” • Msgr. Luigi Giussani: “It is the exceptionality with which the figure of Christ appears that makes it easy to recognize him. It corresponds—unexpectedly!—to the needs of your heart in a way you could never have imagined or predicted. The exceptional is, paradoxically, the appearance of what is most natural for us.” • Msgr. Luigi Giussani: “Within the man to whom Christ draws near and who freely desires and accepts the relationship with him…his nature as a man changes….In the life of the Church, Being, God, the Word made flesh, Christ communicates to man the gift of a more profound participation in the origin of everything. In this way, man remains man but becomes something more. Man within the Church, is offered a ’supernatural’ participation in Being.” 5. Examples from the Saints and Other Exemplars • Example of St Maximilian Kolbe: The Nazi jailers who witnessed the condemned Fr. Kolbe in the starvation bunker praying, singing, and comforting the others there with him were heard to remark, “That is a man.” • Example of St. Elizabeth of Hungary: “When she was coming from private prayer, some religious men and women often saw her face shining marvelously and light coming from her eyes like the rays of the sun” (Conrad of Marburg, her spiritual director—from the second reading of the Office of Readings for the memorial of St. Elizabeth of Hungary).
• Example from The Cloud of Unknowing: “Contemplation seems to transfigure a person even physically so that though he may be ill-favored by nature, he now appears changed and lovely to behold” (ch. 54). • Example of St. Francis taming the very fierce wolf of Gubbio in The Little Flowers of St. Francis, ch 21—a story about how grace perfects and transfigures nature. • Example from a film: Enchanted April is a striking tale about how three miserable women become radically transfigured by love and beauty at an Italian villa called San Salvatore; the last shot of the film says it all–a walking stick–no longer needed by a character who was formerly lame–is stuck in the ground and blossoms into a magnificent tree. 6. Quotations from Pope Benedict XVI • “The Transfiguration only renders visible what is actually taking place in Jesus’ prayer: he is sharing in God’s radiance and hence in the manner in which the true meaning of the Old Testament—and of all history—is being made visible, i.e., revelation. Jesus’ proclamation proceeds from this participation in God’s radiance, God’s glory, which also involves a seeing with the eyes of God—and therefore the unfolding of what was hidden…The entire person of Jesus is contained in his prayer.” • “The essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality and this core was his dialogue with the Father…. Only by participating in what is most personal to Jesus, his communication with the Father, can one see what this most personal reality is; only thus can one penetrate to his identity.” • “When one has the grace to sense a strong experience of God, it is as though seeing something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration: For a moment they experienced ahead of time something that will constitute the happiness of paradise. In general, it is brief experiences that God grants on occasions, especially in anticipation of harsh trials. However, no one lives “on Tabor” while on earth. Human existence is a journey of faith and, as such, goes forward more in darkness than in full light, with moments of obscurity and even profound darkness.” • “The Transfiguration invites us to open the eyes of our hearts to the mystery of God’s light, present throughout salvation history. At the beginning of creation, the Almighty had already said: ‘Fiat lux - let there be light!’ (Gn 1: 2), and the light was separated from the darkness. Like the other created things, light is a sign that reveals something of God: it is, as it were, a reflection of his glory which accompanies its manifestations. When God appears, ‘his brightness was like the light, rays flashed from his hand’ (Heb 3: 3ff.)…. In the New Testament, it is Christ who constitutes the full manifestation of God’s light. In our time too, we urgently need to emerge from the darkness of evil, to experience the joy of the children of light!” • “The beautiful is knowledge in a superior form since it arouses man to the real greatness of the truth…. Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction.”
• “The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments.” • “My life is tending toward the will of God, that is to say, toward a life more closely in agreement with truth and with love. It’s not a matter of doing something to please God…. Accepting that nothing finite can be my goal or determine the direction of my life, but that I myself must pass beyond all possible goals…. God always takes up exactly what seems unimportant and shows himself to man in what seems like a speck of dust…. Thus God always corrects our standards of judgment.” 7. Other Considerations The mystery of the Transfiguration is meant for us. It is a testimony to what happens to humanity when it is totally one with the Father. The transfiguration reveals the possibility of our configuration to Jesus Christ. “Good must be shown to us in order that we may yield to the inclination that bears us toward it” (Louis Lavelle). God who dwells in inapproachable light in the Transfiguration appears in the form of light so that we will approach him and, in that light, see the possibilities for our own life. Thus, the event of the Transfiguration serves as a kind of mirror in front of us that beckons: Become what you behold! The Transfiguration stands as a continuation and perfection of the mystery of Epiphany in which magi were led to the manifestation of Christ by the light of a star…but now Christ himself has become the star that draws us to himself, to his Passion, and to the realization of the otherwise impossible possibilities of our life. Recommended Resources: BENEDICT XVI, POPE, Benedictus: Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI Yonkers: Magnificat, 2006. CAMERON, PETER JOHN, To Praise, To Bless, To Preach: Spiritual Reflections on the Sunday Gospels—Cycle C Huntington: Our Sunday Visitor, 2000 RAYA, JOSEPH, Transfiguration of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ Combermere: Madonna House Publications, 1992 TOAL, M.F. Editor, The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers Swedesboro: Preservation Press, 1996 VON BALTHASAR, HANS URS, Light of the Word San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993
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