Feast of the Transfiguration

Scripture Readings: Dan 7: 9-10, 13-14; Mk 9: 2-10.

If we were to write our autobiographies with honesty, we would have to include all those turning points that moved our lives in certain directions.  Some were really good: advice from a parent or teacher, success in an effort that uncovered a talent we didn’t know we had.  Others were not so good: personal failures, when perhaps our ambitions were bigger than our abilities; sickness, or death of someone we counted on; losing a job.  Our whole self is called into question and life is asking for a fundamental decision about who we are.  We are touched by reality that breaks in (breaks up?) our lives and calls us to hold our whole lives in our hands.  We have an opportunity to be “fully born”, as Thomas Merton said.  We are called to live out of an inner experience and ground that roots our outer selves in a response to what we now sense as the Holy.

The Gospel account of the Transfiguration is a revelation of the real dimensions of that humanity we share in and with Christ.  As Christ manifested the transforming communion with the Godhead while remaining a responsible and unique person, he manifested the scope of the vocation of humanity in which we share.  He revealed that it is the very nature of humanity to share life and flourish in communion with God.  Humanity and the body are not cloaks or barriers to this communion.  They are the visibility of the Holy Spirit whom the Father sends as an inner impulse to the faithful, leading them to love God and one another as Christ loves them (Lumen Gentium).

The Transfiguration occurs at a midpoint of the Gospel.  It represents a turning point in the life of Christ.  There was a similar theophany at Christ’s baptism.  He was born in the Spirit and acknowledged as Son of the Father.  But in the Transfiguration, that communion is carried further into the movement of Christ’s suffering and passion.  The scandal of the Cross is not removed.  The very scandal is made a sign of God’s presence and holiness.  The New Testament is very clear about Christ’s own abhorrence to the cup he was given to drink. He would still be Son if he chose another way.  Since you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, change these stones into bread.  It is easier to avoid the demand of the moment which leads to utter nothingness and destruction than to move into the new experience of the demands of God’s holiness.  How much better back in Egypt.

Jesus took three disciples, led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.  Why these three?  Why me?  It is not a question of personal qualifications, just the choice of the Lord, even though it seems outlandish to our sense of fairness and justice.  To be led up a mountain without any information, with only trust and obedience to pull one into the future.  To be apart by themselves, but there to witness the consummate convergence of heaven and earth, of the human and divine glory, of fractured humanity with itself.  The glory of God is His presence and holiness permeating human nature and coaxing it to recognize the Spirit manifested in the flesh and in even the scandal of the Cross




Feast of the Transfiguration

Scripture Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14;  Mk 9:2-10

In 1981, my younger sister, Cindy, died of Leukemia and I remember, after her death, my brother and sisters and my parents were recalling one day certain of Cindy’s mannerisms; a distinctive way she had of speaking; of using her hands; a distinctive walk and way of standing. Her physical grace and femininity were memorable and we delighted in remembering those. But it was also heart-wrenching and a cause of deep reflection. Cindy had been “Homecoming Queen” in her senior year in High School. It is a coronation which many young women might consider her “arrival in the world”. Who could have imagined that this event would be followed three years later by Cindy’s departure from the world at age 21?

Not long after Cindy’s death, I joined the monastery and had more time to think about these things. Specifically, spending my days in silence and solitude, I found myself pondering the mystery of Cindy’s condition in the next life. I wondered especially about the fate of such a beautiful young woman in eternity. I shortly realized that, in the absence of her very distinctive physical grace and beauty, Cindy wouldn’t be Cindy. It became very clear to me that the person Cindy is cannot be met; Cindy cannot be known as who she really is apart from the body by which she expressed to us the mystery of her person.

I believe today that the unfolding of this vision in my imagination of Cindy in eternity was my first glimpse of the mystery we celebrate in today’s feast: the mystery of the Lord’s bodily transfiguration. What I and my family began to understand is that a person is not transfigured by a bolt of lightning or by doctrinal exactitude. The human body is that “cleft in the rock”, that “hiding place” where the Bride is discovered and romanced by the Bridegroom. A human body is transfigured by love. Love changes us. Divine Love transfigures our bodies: makes us more what we are and perfects us in accordance

with what our Creator always intended us to be. It is Love that effects this change; a love stronger than sin and death. This is the love of a Bridegroom who won’t take “no” for an answer, but approaches, draws near and allures us unceasingly, from the moment of our conception until death and beyond. He has been called “The Bridegroom” He is a lover and his desire is not only for your soul. Your whole humanity is the object of his delight and he will have it all for himself and for all eternity. Your transfiguration, ultimately, is not effected for other human beings to see, but for God’s own pleasure. He will have you show yourself to him. He will have you naked, your glory resplendent and in plain view; He will not have it any other way.

Give yourself to prayer on this Feast. Listen, and you will hear his voice, the voice of the Bridegroom whose desire is for you: “My dove – in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.”


Feast of the Transfiguration

Scripture Readings: Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9

Brothers and sisters, on this Feast of the Transfiguration, we celebrate what is surely one of the most significant moments in the history of our salvation, and one might ask: Where are the angels? In the bible, angels typically appear when the glory of God is manifest at a moment in history. An angel appeared to Mary at the Lord’s annunciation. An angel visited Joseph one night shortly after the Lord was born, and on the night Jesus was born there were angels everywhere, filling the sky with their songs.

Interestingly, as Jesus grows in stature before God and men, as he grows to manhood, the angels do a slow fade out; their voices are hushed and they don’t come around anymore. At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, no angel appeared. No angel choir accompanied the meal at the Last Supper. It is true that, on the night before Jesus dies, some nameless angel, moving in the shadows, visits him but this exception only proves the rule that, following Jesus infancy, the angels of heaven make themselves scarce and their voices are hushed.

And so, on Mount Tabor, at Jesus’ transfiguration, Moses and Elijah are in attendance, Peter, James, and John lie face down on the ground in adoration, but there isn’t an angel in sight. As we marvel at the spectacle of Jesus’ transfigured humanity, it might be an occasion to reflect on the attitude of the heavenly angels to the Incarnation of the Word of God – a mystery that has engaged theologians since the earliest years of the church and up till as recently as St. Therese of Lisieux. One Christmas night, St. Therese put on a play for her sisters in which several angels gather round the crib of the newborn Jesus, including the “Angel of the Last Judgment” and he excitedly praises the child whom he says will shortly throw off his disguise and terrify the whole world by punishing all the sinners who have despised and disobeyed him. But the “Angel of the Holy Countenance” begs the child Jesus to have mercy on sinners, and in response, Jesus assures her that he will save all sinners, at which point the Angel of the Last Judgment, disconcerted and speechless, falls on his face in adoration. The other angels, marveling at all this, come to the most amazing decision together: they decide they’re going to ask God if they might be permitted to forsake their angelic natures and be born into the world as little children. We know their request was denied. No angel is born in a human body. An angel cannot sin. An angel cannot be forgiven. An angel cannot die or be raised from the dead. An angel cannot be lifted out of a dung heap and glorified. An angel cannot be redeemed.

Only you and I, brothers and sisters; only we who are born in the flesh, defeated, made wretched by sin, and baptized into the death of Christ can know what it is to share the victory of Christ and be redeemed. An ancient tradition suggests that the spectacle of our redemption in Christ causes astonishment and even envy in the heavenly angels. What if their absence and silence at the Transfiguration was understood as betraying their wonder and envy of human creatures favored by God with the destiny that you and I enjoy? What might the rest of your day be like; what might the rest of your life be like, if you left church this morning aware of the grace that has been bestowed on you as a sinful human being restored to God by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? May we who celebrate this Feast of the Transfiguration, be dazzled by the light of God’s mercy shining from Mt. Tabor and may our eyes and hearts be opened to know who God is and what God has done for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.


Feast of the Transfiguration

[Scripture Readings: Dan 7:9-14; Mt 17:1-9]

During these weeks of August, Fr. Mark has been asking each monk to talk with him about his situation in the community, his hopes and fears for himself and for the community. To explain “where I was” when I went in to see him, I found it illuminating to divide my monastic life into different chronological periods. I had never really seen the movement of my life in that way before. It had just seemed like one event tumbling on top of another. Now I could see a movement and transitions brought about by certain events. It takes a little perspective (age?) to see the movement, a bit of a vision.

We seldom avert to the movement in the liturgy. It can seem like a lot of pieces put together for one event or “product.” But the liturgy is a continuing movement, from the assembling of the people to the formation through the Word of God to the presentation of gifts through the Eucharisitic consecration of bread and wine to the offering and acceptance by the Father of Christ's sacrifice of love. The Great Doxology is the climax of this movement which is then shared again in a communion sending us back into the world. All the elements are integral to the whole. In the former rite of the Mass, the celebrant would hold the host as high as possible at the moment of consecration. It seemed that this was the climax, or at least the apex. The least we can say is that this ritual obscured an awareness that we were participating in Christ's movement of love back to the Father.

I think the Transfiguration also should be understood in terms of a movement. I have never been persuaded by the typical patristic commentary that the Transfiguration was meant to give the disciples courage and faith in the face of the coming passion of Christ. In fact, it didn't seem to have this effect: they deserted Him. And there were only three witnesses who were sworn to secrecy. So they couldn't tell the others. The Transfiguration occurs at a midpoint in the Gospel, at the beginning of Jesus moving from Galilee into Jerusalem and almost equidistant from His Baptism and the Resurrection. It is in tension with these two events and draws much of its meaning from them. All three are manifestations of the Trinitarian presence of God, designating and consecrating Jesus Christ as the Word of life for our world. “Listen to Him.”

The Preface of today's Eucharist underlines the real meaning of the mystery we are celebrating. “He filled with the greatest splendor that bodily form which he shares with humanity … that he might show how in the Body of the whole Church is to be fulfilled what so wonderfully shone forth first in its Head.” The Transfiguration is not merely an ecstatic fulfillment to cause wonder in those who might witness it, an authoritative confirmation to rely upon in times of doubt, a sort of celestial peak experience which will pass. It is a manifestation of the fullness of the Spirit already and always being offered through the humanity of Christ. But this is the same humanity he shares with us and in which we already participate. This is our humanity which is glorified in the Transfiguration. The roots and dynamism of our humanity reach down past the limits imposed by a fearful and selfish egoism. Our own roots and origin are in this humanity we share with Christ which has once again been freed to know its roots in God. God is the experience of our existence being sustained by the present mercy of His love. It is an experience which moves us to follow the movement of Christ back to His Father.

When the bread and wine are raised after the words of consecration, they are not yet lifted up to the Father. The new rubrics only say that the presider “shows” them to the congregation. An important part of the liturgical movement is that the Body and Blood of Christ be shown to us. In the absence of any more authoritative explanation, it seems to me that this movement of “showing” is meant to express an inclusiveness: we are included in this gift and sacrifice. The bread and wine, the Body and Blood, have been broken an poured out for us. Our gifts have been transformed, transfigured in this consecration. In looking at the transfigured body of Christ, we are invited to recognize ourselves. We are the bearers and communicators of this divine glory and Spirit. The final moment is to be touched by Christ with that love which casts out fear and, rising, walk with Him

Feast of the Transfiguration

[Scripture Readings: an 7:9-14; Lk 9:28b-36.]

When someone approaches us and says they have something confidential to share, our ears usually perk up. We are being drawn into a private area, learning what had been a secret, being given some emotionally significant information we would not otherwise know. There is a bit of a sense of privilege, of being selected, almost “anointed.” But there is another side to this intimacy. It can also be a burden that we now share. Knowing this information changes the relationship. We have had to move out of our own limited personal space, into that of another. The world will look a little different. The risk and vulnerability in this sharing involves both the one giving the information and the one receiving it.

This sense of the dynamics of sharing and intimacy gives me a wedge to enter into the mystery of the Transfiguration. Christ took the initiative in selecting three of of disciples. He had selected these same three for other events (healings, the agony before his passion). It is likely that there was a human basis to his choice; that he felt supported by these three; that they were likely to be attentive, sensitive, empathetic; that they wouldn't be skeptical, cynical, disbelieving. There was already a human relationship of sharing and intimacy which preceded this choice.

And he invited them into an experience of intimacy with his Father in prayer. Here is where he stood before the face of God, with no secrets, totally open and vulnerable to the desire and will of God. His mind, heart, will, and body were totally unified in this personal presence. The response of the Father was the giving of the Spirit which totally transformed and transfigured Christ from within. His humanity manifested the energy of the Spirit and became the sacrament and bearer of the divine glory. He had put on humanity like a garment, and now it manifested his belonging to God and to the world.

But our understanding is incomplete if we do not recognize that we share in that same humanity. The Preface of today's Eucharist proclaims that what was manifest in Christ is to be fulfilled in the Body of his whole Church. Our body and humanity, which we too easily demean, abuse, exploit, or see as an obstacle, principle of individuating separateness, and marred by sickness, aging, and mortality: this body is the means and sacrament of our sharing in the life of Christ's spirit. It is now the instrument of communion, presence, and transformation. Christ was speaking with Moses and Elijah of his exodus, of his journey of suffering which was being transformed into a path to glory and freedom. The word of the Law and Prophets sheds a light of interpretation on the experience of human life, it allows us to understand the mystery and secret of God's working to bring humanity to salvation. We are privileged to be chosen to share in this mystery, in this confidence placed in us. But this knowledge now binds us in a new way to the mission and suffering of Christ. Our intimacy with the word in prayer and life is both deeply personal and shared through the Body of the Church. The voice from the cloud telling us to listen to his son is summoning us to be transformed and transfigured by that truth which he manifests. That it is the deepest and only truth of our human lives.

During our last retreat, Dom Erik recounted the story of Primo Levi in a concentration camp. There was one man who did not succumb to the degrading inhumanity of the prison. “By seeing him, I managed to remember that I am myself a man.” Listening to Christ reminds us of what it really means to be human, of the immersion of our humanity into the paschal mystery of Christ.