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“The word of God has bestowed upon us the divine life which transfigures the face of the earth, making all things new (cf. Rev 21:5).” These words of Pope Benedict’s letter, Verbum Domini, should frame our thoughts about the great feast we celebrate today. The Transfiguration of Jesus on mount Tabor is actually celebrated twice in the liturgical year. The first celebration is actually in Lent–on the second Sunday. It is a logical preparation for Holy Week, because on Tabor, Jesus was heard speaking to Moses and Elijah of His Passover in Jerusalem. Today’s feast actually remembers the date on which the great basilica on top of Mt. Tabor was dedicated, many centuries ago. When you go to the Holy Land, and visit that beautiful church, you will celebrate the Mass of this day, no matter when you are there. You will also see that there are three churches connected to each other, one dedicated to Moses, one to Elijah, and the big one to the Lord Jesus.
The story of the Transfiguation appears only in the Synoptic Gospels. This is ironic, because none of them–Matthew, Mark or Luke–were on the mountain with Jesus. John was, but he does not recount the story directly. Peter was, but we only later saw his very brief direct testimony in his epistle. Since Mark’s Gospel is probably derived from Peter’s verbal preaching, the Word of God to us today is filtered through Peter’s experience and memory. That’s the experience and memory of the Vicar of Christ, but it’s also that of a penitent, one who had betrayed Jesus three times, but had turned and had been healed by the Master’s loving glance, and by His post-Resurrection appearance.
Remember what Jesus was doing on the mountain. He went up the mountain with his disciples to pray, that is, in the words of St. John Vianney, to be in union with God. Now the person of Jesus was always in union with God. Jesus was divine. So what He was doing is bringing His human nature more into union with God. In a sense He was using this time on the mountain, as He did on many mountains, to perfect that hypostatic union. The icon shows the contrast between the serene person of Christ and the chaotic condition of the three disciples.
What was the real difference between the experiences of Jesus and the disciples on Mt. Tabor? What left Jesus radiant and in union with the Father, and in rapt communication with the great Lawgiver, Moses, on His mountain, and the great Prophet, Elijah, on his? The secret is in the prayer that Jesus later taught the apostles on another mountain, the Mount of Olives. It’s the prayer that Jesus, on the night before He suffered, prayed in the Garden of Olives. It is the prayer, “Thy will be done.” “Not my will, but Thine be done, O Father.” It is the prayer of Jesus, the Suffering Servant, the Suffering Son. Jesus made that prayer, that commitment, the center of His being. Peter, James and John were still fighting it, demanding that God do their will.
But after they saw Jesus persecuted, spat upon, dead and buried, they experienced His Resurrection. They saw that, as St. Paul taught, in weakness, power reaches perfection. They made that prayer their own, and in time realized that the
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