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The Transfiguration and the mystical moment


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Brother Silas Henderson, SDS - published on 08/05/17

The Transfiguration, like his baptism by John, was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother,
and led them up a high mountain by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them;
his face shone like the sun
and his clothes became white as light.
And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them,
conversing with him.

—Matthew 17:1-3

In her Revelations of Divine Love, the medieval mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich wrote:

            I saw Him and still sought Him, For we are now so blind and so unwise that we never seek God until He of His goodness shows Himself to us; and when we see anything of Him by grace, then are we moved by the same grace to try with great desire to see Him more perfectly. And thus I saw Him and I sought Him, and I possessed Him and I lacked Him. And this is, and should be, our ordinary behavior in life.

Unlike Dame Julian and other mystics who experience the reality of God’s presence in a unique way, we are often very quick to try to note the distinctions—the boundaries—between the human and the divine.

Our ways of talking about God can make the divine realities seem far-removed from our daily lives. The Church’s greatest minds and grace-filled mystics have understood that our limited human perspectives, especially our words, fail us when we are allowed even the slightest glimpse of the glory of God.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration this Sunday, it’s easy to imagine Saint Matthew struggling with the limits of language in capturing happened on the mountain that day as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. Although we often think of the Transfiguration of Jesus—the wonderful way in which the divine glory of Jesus was revealed to Peter, James, and John—as having been for the benefit of the disciples, we can also understand that the Transfiguration, like his baptism by John in the River Jordan years before, was a pivotal moment in the life of Jesus.

Henri Nouwen reflects:

Jesus wants us to see his glory, so that we can cling to that experience… When we are attentive to the light within us and around us, we will gradually see more and more of that light and even become a light for others. We have to trust that the transfiguration experience is closer to us that we might think.

A cloud, a sign of God’s presence, overshadowed Jesus as Moses and Elijah (representing the law of the Old Covenant and the preaching of the Prophets) encourage Jesus to continue his journey. And so, in the Transfiguration, Jesus is empowered to continue his journey and mission, knowing that regardless of what lies ahead his Father remains with him, guiding his steps and making his mission bear fruit. This powerful image also connects Saint Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus with the glorified of Man that we hear about in the First Reading (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14)

In the end, as we reflect on the mystery of the Transfiguration on this important feast, we are reminded that the death of Jesus was not an accident of fate or some expression of Divine wrath, but an act of love, freely accepted and offered for the sake of those who are “least” in the Kingdom of Heaven—for you and for me.

When have you been called to make sacrifices for the sake of another person? How was this a moment of “transfiguration” for you?

When you have a special experience of the presence and power of God, do you want to “build a tent” and remain on the mountain or do you feel called to share the gift you have received with others?

How does the notion that Jesus had to come to terms with both his own vocation and the prospect of suffering and death challenge you? How does it inspire you to see God at work in the little crosses that you take up each day?    

Words of Wisdom: “Suddenly from on high the voice of the Father resounds proclaiming Jesus to be his most beloved Son, saying ‘listen to him.’ This word is important! Our Father said this to these Apostles, and says it to us as well: ‘listen to Jesus, because he is my beloved Son.’ This week let us keep this word in our minds and in our hearts: ‘listen to Jesus! And the Pope is not saying this, God the Father says it to everyone: to me, to you, to everyone, all people! It is like an aid for going forward on the path of Lent. ‘Listen to Jesus!’ Don’t forget.”—Pope Francis

Jesus Christ
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