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He is the Light transforming us

By 4 August, 2017January 2nd, 2023No Comments
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By Fr. Luis Casasús, General Superior of Idente Missionaries Identes
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 6-8-2017, Transfiguration of the Lord (Book of Daniel 7:9-10.13-14; 2Saint Peter 1,16-19; Saint Matthew 17:1-9)

The father of a little boy expressed the usual before dinner command: Hurry up, and wash your hands and come to the table so we can say a prayer and eat. As the boy went toward the bathroom, he was heard to mutter: Germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus! That’s all I hear around here, and I can’t see either one of them.

Perhaps our attitude is very much like the child of this story. Sometimes we are so distracted and busy with the details of our obligations (…or distractions) that we do not feel the active presence of God in our soul. Transfiguration is one of the most conspicuous manifestations of this action.

There are two dangers, if we meditate too lightly on the Transfiguration of Christ. Firstly, we might conclude that what happened up there is not as important as what happens in the valley below. But the work of God in us is more important and essential that our humble deeds. But down the mountain, of course, we must go. In a few more verses we see that Jesus, Peter, James and John are confronted by a man whose son is possessed by a demon. Here is a different image of our humanity; not the transfigured humanity that is our destination, but our disfigured humanity only a shadow of the glory on the mountain.

Secondly, we would think that the Transfiguration of Jesus is the only one and “our transfiguration” is mere analogy. But we are partakers of the divine nature. The life that is in Christ will be in us. We tend to take many things in the Gospel metaphorically. When St. Paul refers to life “in Christ” some 140 times, we expect he means a life that looks like Christ’s. We try to imitate Him, and sing of following him and seeking his will. We ask: What would Jesus do? We hope to behave ethically and fairly in this life, and after death take up citizenship in heaven.

There is nothing wrong in doing that. But it appears that Peter had learned to anticipate something more radical and more intimate: true oneness with Christ and personal transfiguration. We partake of the life of Christ. We receive not mere intellectual knowledge of God, but illumination. This participation in “the divine nature” is not for the select few, but God’s plan for every single human life. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world (Jn 1:9). Participation in this light is not a lofty or esoteric path, but one of simplicity and childlike humility. It’s not won by sudden, swooping supernatural experiences, but by daily, diligent self-control. Through prayer, fasting, and honoring others above self, we gradually clear away everything in us that will not catch fire.

In our mystical examination, immediately after our account of Recollection, Quietude and Purification ever-present experiences, we proceed to the next item, Transfiguration, of which we have to say that is permanent as well. It is another matter if I am fully aware of the Holy Spirit work as goldsmith. The Holy Spirit does not have a limited work schedule

The transfiguration that Paul envisioned in his own life and in ours happens from the inside out: our hearts are made new through Purification, our spirits breathe new life, and that new life bursts through our outer crust of self-reliance and self-centeredness. But that crust is pretty resilient, so the Holy Spirit instills in us three powerful instruments to break it: Faith, Hope and Charity, continually enriched by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Let me share with you two powerful examples of our transfiguration:

* There is a famous quote of Oscar Wilde: Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much. In saying this, perhaps the great Irish writer was victim of his sharp wit and acid irony, but I think he was sensing something very certain: when we are repeatedly forgiven (seventy times seven) our more deep-rooted vices and passions are literally dissolved. I, for my part, cannot remember anything so powerful. When I realize that I have been forgiven many times by God and by my neighbors, I feel my Faith, Hope and Charity renewed and strengthened. Of course, we are so complex and self-centered that often we do not accept forgiveness and we miss a golden opportunity to a radical change.

* I remember a scene in a Chicago gangster’s movie, when the protagonist, a heartless thug who just killed dozens of members of a rival gang, returns home puts his machine gun in place and finds his old mother coughing and wheezing. The gangster starts crying as a baby and…has to be comforted by his old mother. Yes, this is only a movie, but reflects the ability of every human being to change from hate to love. The Holy Spirit knows it. Is he not going to use this capacity? We have to remember that every other human being we encounter, no matter how exasperating, is a recipient of the same divine invitation; every person we meet is called to blaze up with glory.

In fact, this is an intuition both of truly religious people and of all people of good will. Remember these words of Nelson Mandela, in his 1994 Presidential Inaugural Speech:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful be­yond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it’s in every­one. And as we let our own light shine, we uncon­sciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Is it not truly illuminating?

Our Father Founder insists on saying that this Transfiguration is a form of Union, a stage in our identification with the Trinity. In a more traditional way, but completely in the same spirit (Virtue of Religion = Union), Henri-Dominique Lacordaire said in his famous Conférences de Notre-Dame de Paris (1844):

The miracle of our transfiguration is accomplished in Catholic doctrine: humility, chastity, charity, and all the interior elevations which result from these are but effects of a higher virtue giving the movement to all the rest. Without religion, without the interaction of soul and God, the whole Christian edifice crumbles– consequently, that interaction, which is the keystone of the arch, is efficacious in a superhuman manner, since it bears man above humanity.

Do you think that the love shared by people who have managed to be together for so long is the same as when they first met? Do you think those people are the same? There is a transfiguration of who we are that we experience in relationships of love insofar as who we are depends on the people who love us and those whom we love.

Think also of the person in a therapeutic relationship, who in and through this relationship is able to experience healing and is able to be with others and to be with oneself in a different way. This is another way of looking at our transfiguration.

On this feast day, nothing has changed for Jesus. Instead, it is the disciples who are changed; us. Christ was transfigured, not by acquiring what he was not but by manifesting to his disciples what he in fact was; he opened their eyes and gave these blind apostles sight. In other words, in the transfiguration we are given a glimpse of the telos (end, goalof humanity: union with God. Transfiguration shows the goal of our existence.

The thing is that this ongoing transfiguration, this unity that God so desires to accomplish with us, requires our consent. When our humanity consents without reserve to be united to the humanity of Jesus, it will share the divine nature, which means that the transfiguration is the revelation of what will happen to us when we approach, as closely as we can, the constant consent that is Jesus’ relationship to the Father. It is because it is consent that is required that it cannot be forced from us (theanthropic action)

In 2 Cor 3:18, we read that all who receive the Spirit are enabled not only to see the glory of the Lord but also to receive that glory as we are “transfigured” into the image of Christ. How does this happen, exactly? First, Paul says, getting the Spirit means getting a new heart and having the Spirit breathe new life into us; it’s what Paul calls the “new creation” (5:17). Second, there’s no participating in the new creation without also becoming a minister of the “new covenant” (3:6). If the light of the Gospel has shone in our hearts, we are responsible to make that light as visible as possible to those around us.

The apostles were able to hear that Jesus would be with them always, after all. Jesus is God Emmanuel, God with us. We do not worship a God whose presence is limited to a particular mountaintop experience, nor to a particular place, nor to a particular time. We worship God Emmanuel, in all times and in all places. God is with us, with you. The disciples realized Jesus was going to abide with them. They didn’t have to stay on the mountaintop, or to go back to a mountaintop experience to be with Jesus. They would be grounded in the light and life and love of Jesus, who was going to stay really present to them always. The presence of the Father and the Holy Spirit made it even clearer. We must go back to those resurrection experiences we encountered, especially when we were bearing our crosses. Unless we relive those moments when we encountered the presence of God and His assurance of love in our lives, we can easily lose hope and fervor.

The last verse of today’s Gospel is a disturbing element of this promising picture: Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Although Apostle Peter had confessed Jesus Christ as Messiah, he and the other apostles were still far away from understanding that the promised Messiah was not only to be a King from the seed of David, but also a suffering servant Who would take upon Himself an ignominious death. Speaking of the cross, Christ did not mean that all the small difficulties which we encounter in life represent such a cross. He spoke primarily of the fact that we have to die within ourselves. This is most difficult, more fearful than all suffering, and seems impossible to man. Now, as in those times, many come to Christ to have Him fulfill all their needs and desires, but the Lord turns out to be the Messiah who requires us to die an ignominious and torturous death within ourselves, killing off our selfish interests. In order to fulfill oneself, one must reject one’s own ego and follow Christ.

The story of the Transfiguration teaches us what we are called to be, the reason for our creation. We must never forget that in Jesus not only do we see God, but we see humanity, but not just any humanity, but humanity as it was meant to be. In Jesus we must see ourselves and what we are called to be. In short, we are called to be transfigured, to reflect the divine light through our very bodies.