“After six days, 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.. A bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud camea. voice that said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him’.” – Mt.17:1-3,5
Today’s feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord celebrates an event which must have been both wondrous and perhaps terrifying for the three Apostles, Peter, James and John, who were present to witness it. But what does this event mean?
First of all, the Transfiguration of the Lord is a sign; it is a sign that Jesus truly is fully divine as well as fully human, that He really is what He claims to be – the Son of God. The heavenly voice of the Father confirms this to emphasise the point and to demand that we ‘listen to Him’. In other words, everything the Lord has said and has done up till this point is true – and His teachings bear heavenly authority, the seal of God.
And if this is so, then we should indeed ‘listen to Him’ for He is ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God’ (cf.Mt.16;16) and Peter’s earlier confession of Faith is well-founded, for Christ truly is the Holy One and His words ‘have the message of eternal life’ (cf.Jn.6:68).
In His Transfiguration, Christ is shown to be the great (and only) bridge between Heaven and Earth, between the temporal and the spiritual, between this life and the next. On that mountain, Heaven and Earth join in His Person and His divinity shines like the sun before the Apostles – and, through their accounts, before us, too. We, too, must then confess our faith in Him, our belief that He is truly the Son of God.
In doing so, we come to the second point – the Transfiguration of the Lord is a promise for us; it is confirmation that if we truly believe that He is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (cf. Jn.14:6), then we can hope to share in that eternal life which He offers us, for our faith in Him is well-placed. In the Transfiguration, the Lord shines with the very light of eternity and in this sense, this event foreshadows the Resurrection – and His Resurrection is our promise of eternal life in His Presence.
Speaking in 2014, Pope Francis commented on the location of the Transfiguration – the mountain-top (generally considered to have been Mount Tabor). In the Bible, the mountain-top is used as a motif; it is the place where the Divine meets the human, where God directly contacts His disciples. Commenting on this, the Pope said –
“From the event of the Transfiguration I would like to take two significant elements that can be summed up in two words: ascent and descent. We all need to go apart, to ascend the mountain in a space of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. This we do in prayer. But we cannot stay there! Encounter with God in prayer inspires us anew to ‘descend the mountain’ and return to the plain where we meet many brothers weighed down by fatigue, sickness, injustice, ignorance, poverty both material and spiritual. To these brothers in difficulty, we are called to bear the fruit of that experience with God, by sharing the grace we have received. And this is curious. When we hear the Word of Jesus, when we listen to the Word of Jesus and carry it in our heart, this Word grows. Do you know how it grows? By giving it to the other! The Word of Christ grows in us when we proclaim it, when we give it to others! And this is what Christian life is. It is a mission for the whole Church, for all the baptized, for us all: listen to Jesus and offer him to others.”
In 2006, Pope Benedict also spoke of the Transfiguration and this contact between the Divine and the human, and what it means for our every-day lives –
“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. While we are here, our relationship with God develops more with listening than with seeing; and even contemplation takes place, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light lit in us by the word of God.
The Virgin Mary Herself, notwithstanding the fact that She was the human creature closest to God, walked day after day as though on a pilgrimage of faith (cf. ‘Lumen Gentium,’ 58), keeping and meditating constantly in Her Heart the word that God addressed to Her, whether through the Sacred Scriptures or through events of the life of Her Son, in which She recognized and accepted the Lord’s mysterious voice.
This is, therefore, the gift and commitment for each one of us .. to listen to Christ, like Mary. To listen to Him in the word, preserved in Sacred Scripture. To listen to Him in the very events of our lives, trying to read in them the messages of providence. To listen to Him, finally, in our brothers, especially in the little ones and the poor, for whom Jesus Himself asked our concrete love. To listen to Christ and to obey His voice. This is the only way that leads to joy and love.”
In contemplating today the mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord, let us ask for the grace to be touched and transformed, strengthened and renewed, by the grace and the light of Christ, for He is indeed ‘the Light of the World’ (cf.Jn.8:12) and if we follow Him, we will never walk in darkness. In the quiet of that mountain-top, let us truly encounter the Lord – and then may that encournter change who we are and show itself in all that we do, and especially in the way we engage with those around us.