The following is taken from an "Opening the Word" column I wrote for the February 28, 2010, edition of Our Sunday Visitor:
In sum, in the days leading up the Transfiguration, Jesus had directly confronted and demolished any false notions the disciples might have had about the nature of his mission. He strongly expressed the unwavering commitment he had to offering himself as a sacrifice for the world. His kingdom was not of this world, and he was not a political leader or a military warrior; he was not promising comfort and wealth. On the contrary, Jesus was promising a cross: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk. 9:23).
We can only try to imagine how disorienting and confusing this had to be for the disciples. Suffering, rejection, and rapidly approaching death were not parts of their plan! In the midst of this confusion and anxiety, Jesus took Peter, John, and James, the inner circle of the disciples, up to the mountain to pray, ascending, as it were, toward the heavenly places. There, above the tumult of the world and an ominous future, Jesus revealed his glory and gave them a dazzling glimpse of their eternal calling.
But the glory witnessed by the three apostles was not just about the future. “The Transfiguration,” notes Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis in Fire of Mercy, Heart of the World (Ignatius Press, 2003), “is the experience of the fullness of divine Presence, action, communication, and glory now, in our very midst, in this world of passingness and disappointment.” It is about the fullness of life now—not ordinary, natural life, but extraordinary, supernatural life. The Transfiguration is about the gift of divine sonship, which comes from the Father, who says of Jesus, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, in considering whether it was fitting that Jesus should be transfigured, observed that since Jesus exhorted his disciples to follow the path of His sufferings, it was right for them to see his glory, to taste for a moment such eternal splendor so they might persevere. He wrote, in the third part of the Summa, “The adoption of the sons of God is through a certain conformity of image to the natural Son of God. Now this takes place in two ways: first, by the grace of the wayfarer, which is imperfect conformity; secondly, by glory, which is perfect conformity…”
Peter and the disciples had to learn that Jesus’ death was necessary so his life could be fully revealed and given to the world. “On Tabor, light pours forth from him,” writes Leiva-Merikakis, “on Calvary it will be blood.”
Today also marks the 36th anniversary of the death of Pope Paul VI. Here is some of what Pope John Paul II said about Paul VI and this great feast day in 1999:
Today, the Eucharist which we are preparing to celebrate takes us in spirit to Mount Tabor together with the Apostles Peter, James and John, to admire in rapture the splendour of the transfigured Lord. In the event of the Transfiguration we contemplate the mysterious encounter between history, which is being built every day, and the blessed inheritance that awaits us in heaven in full union with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.
We, pilgrims on earth, are granted to rejoice in the company of the transfigured Lord when we immerse ourselves in the things of above through prayer and the celebration of the divine mysteries. But, like the disciples, we too must descend from Tabor into daily life where human events challenge our faith. On the mountain we saw; on the paths of life we are asked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel which illuminates the steps of believers.
This deep spiritual conviction guided the whole ecclesial mission of my venerable Predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, who returned to the Father's house precisely on the Feast of the Transfiguration, 21 years ago now. In the reflection he had planned to give at the Angelus on that day, 6 August 1978, he said: 'The Transfiguration of the Lord, recalled by the liturgy of today's solemnity throws a dazzling light on our daily life, and makes us turn our mind to the immortal destiny which that fact foreshadows'.
Yes! Paul VI reminds us: we are made for eternity and eternity begins at this very moment, since the Lord is among us and lives with and in his Church.
From the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, here is the Troparion for the Feast of the Holy Transfiguration:
You were transfigured on the mountain, O Christ our God, revealing as much of Your glory to Your Disciples as they could behold. Through the prayers of the Mother of God, let Your everlasting light also shine upon us sinners. O Giver of Light, glory be to You.
And here is part of reflection on the Feast and the tropar, written by a Byzantine Catholic monk:
The union of Christ's humanity and divinity is complete and full, and as we meditate upon the feasts of the Lord's life we always benefit by focusing on this wonderfully unity in his person. Let us, as disciples might, bask in the brightness of this mystery, begging our Savior God to reveal Himself more fully to us. For what we see is beautiful and alluring. The tropar proclaims that Christ reveals His glory to his disciples. But the glory is not the divinity, nor is it the humanity, both are glorious in Him! Let the light shine upon us sinners (for the glory of humanity is marred in us by sin), that enlightened and purified through this feast, we too may shine through His generous gift of mercy.