Summary: The words of Mary in John’s Gospel are a clear call: “do whatever Jesus tells you.” But to know what that is, we must really listen.
Feast of the Transfiguration 2019
The visions of the prophet Daniel pertain to a community under persecution by a vicious, almost atheistic state. To encourage and console that community, Daniel pulls the curtain on what is really happening, to show the divine power and judgement on those persecutors. Our reading today is chopped right after the words “the court was convened, and the books were opened.” What is missing is the destruction of the evil ruler, called “the beast,” who is persecuting the faithful. What remains, though, is a vision of the conquering Messiah, whom we know as Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Mary.
The Gospel–indeed, all three of the Synoptic Gospels–tells very clearly of this transfiguration of Our Lord, and the presence of the three leaders of the Apostles, Peter, James and John. Peter, we all know, had self-control issues. He’s the one who whacked off a servant’s ear when Jesus was arrested–prompting the final physical healing Jesus performed. Peter was also the one who, right after this manifestation of Jesus’s divinity, when Jesus foretold His passion and death and resurrection, said “God forbid” and got reamed out by Our Lord for opposing God’s plan. So here we see Peter proposing that all six of them remain on the mountain forever in ecstasy, with three tents for Jesus, Elijah and Moses. In other words, once again Peter missed the whole point.
Because before the final triumph of Divine Goodness, before the final establishment of the kingdom of God, the Messiah had to suffer the indignity of arrest, a kangaroo court, torture, and execution. Prophets are not well-liked during their lifetimes, because they speak words of accusation to the corrupt and powerful, and shake people out of their comfortable lifestyles. Moses had come down from his mountain with a divine gift–the Ten Commandments–only to find his people, whom God had freed from slavery, carousing in a pagan orgy. Elijah had come multiple times down from mountains to find God’s people–his people–in similar rebellion against the commandments of God. So the true Messiah–Jesus–also was opposed as He preached the Gospel of selfless Love. And ultimately the ones in charge conspired to get rid of both the preacher and the Gospel. But they failed, and the Resurrection of Jesus was the other theophany that bookends this Transfiguration and validates for all time the Divine Mission and the Divine Person of Christ.
So with about three decades or so of his own ministry and reflection, with daily prayer and frequent celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, St. Peter, our first Pope, waxes poetic in this last of his encyclical letters. He tells his readers that the prophetic message of Christ is completely reliable. What does he tell us to do? Be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in the darkness of this world. How long must we do that? Until “day dawns and the morning star” [who is Jesus Christ] arises in our hearts. In other words, until the day of our own death and resurrection.
I believe the Holy Spirit, whom we all received in baptism, acts to give each of us the opportunity for one or more moments of personal transfiguration. Those may be moments of ecstasy, of vision such as the deacon Stephen had while the Jews were stoning him to death. He saw the heavens open, and the glorified Jesus at the right hand of the Father. Remember that Jesus experienced His own transfiguration as a prelude to His passion, and Luke tells us that He was conversing with Moses and Elijah about His own Passover in Jerusalem, a conversation overheard by Peter, James and John.
In my personal life, I believe I have had several times that I call “moments of clarity.” Often they were in the midst of a personal or family crisis. Once I had such an experience while mowing the lawn. It lasted only a moment, but it was like Jesus revealed to my mind that all the teachings of His Church are true. But to have such moments, we need to clear away the clutter, the texts, the video games, the constant noise of our daily life. Only in silence can we hear the small, lovely voice of Our Lord, just as Elijah did on Sinai.
So let’s go forth from here with a clear plan to bulldoze away some of the temporal clutter in our lives, and make space for silent prayer, for careful listening. The words of Mary in John’s Gospel are a clear call: “do whatever Jesus tells you.” But to know what that is, we must really listen.