by Deacon Michael Bickerstaff | August 6, 2020 12:04 am
The Transfiguration of Christ (Matthew 17:1-9) stands prominently as an encouragement along the walk from Baptism to Resurrection; a walk that must pass through the Cross.
Place yourself in the position of the Apostles—they have journeyed with Jesus since he began his public ministry and I am sure that they could not have been more astonished at what they had witnessed since the Lord’s baptism.
Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes, walked on water, calmed storms, healed the sick, cast out demons, and restored a girl from death to life.
He forgave the sins of those he encountered. He taught with a compassion, wisdom and authority not previously seen. He turned the world upside down!
And during it all, he faithfully made time to be alone in prayer.
What does it all mean? Just who is this Jesus? These questions were not just being asked by the crowds, but also certainly by the Twelve. Eventually Jesus asked them at Caesarea Philippi, “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” (Matthew 16:13-20)
So they told him what was being said about him, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:14).
Can you imagine for a moment, Jesus hearing their response and then turning the tables, so to speak, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15)
Of course we know that Peter answered with the correct words, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). We know from Matthew’s account that this knowledge was given to Peter from God. This knowledge also comes to us from God through the apostolic witness of the Church. Yet, like Peter and the rest of the Apostles at that time, our knowledge does not necessarily rise to understanding.
After this event, Jesus foretells of and prepares them for his coming suffering, passion and death. He did not need to be God to know that these men did not yet understand. And so they make a long journey and he takes Peter, James and John, those disciples whom he most loved, to witness a short moment when the veil would be withdrawn and his divinity would shine through from his human soul and divine spirit and be evident in his glorious human body; a glorious body in which his glory had previously been hidden.
The message should become clear—the trials and sufferings to come are necessary, but should not diminish or shake their faith, for the glory of the resurrection awaits him after the Cross… as it also awaits us—those who remain in his love to the end. For he is our God, and as St. Paul tells us, we are his fellow heirs, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17).
The glory of the Transfigured Christ not only awaited him at his resurrection, it also awaits us at ours. This understanding led St. Paul to proclaim, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).
The three Apostles who would possess such a great responsibility as leaders of the Church at its very institution needed to be equipped to meet the challenge ahead. For a brief moment, Jesus revealed his glory to them, helped them to begin to come to the necessary understanding of just who he is. And these three, representing the “two or three” witnesses customary to the times, would spread the word of Christ’s glory when the time came to do so. And thus, we too have that knowledge and the beginning of understanding.
This experience allowed St. Peter to proclaim, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” (2 Peter 1:16-17).
It is this knowledge of the proclamation of the Good News that led to our baptism and the life of grace, and should also prompt us to an ever deeper conversion from sin to God.
1. Meet the Lord in Sacred Scripture
The four gospels in the New Testament, as well as the entirety of the books of Sacred Scripture, are available to our generation like never before. The cycles of readings for Sunday and daily Masses provide the opportunity to hear nearly all the Word proclaimed in a liturgical setting. The printed texts of the bible are available to most of the literate world. They need to be read, not just with an academic approach, but also devotionally—prayerfully.
Too often, we become bogged down by losing sight of the context of the particular text and miss the larger picture. So on occasion read an entire Gospel, as you would a novel—and be astonished by the Lord.
2. Imitate the Lord in His Humility
Our God is the source of all glory. Jesus is God. Thus, Jesus always possessed God’s glory. Yet, he chose not to rely upon his divinity as the God-man Jesus went about his work. He first walked the path that he asks each of us to walk—a path of joy, but not one devoid of hardship. We are instructed by Jesus to take up the Cross and follow him—wherever he may lead. He not only taught of the glory to come for us, he gave us a glimpse of it, first in his Transfiguration, then in his resurrection and finally in the Assumption of Mary.
Yet in all of this, he walked the path of humility and thus asks us to walk the same path. Surrender to Christ does not come to the proud until they too empty themselves in humility.
3. Imitate the Lord in His Service
The apostles witnessed the love and mercy—the undying compassion and tenderness of their God—as they accompanied the Lord. He instructed them that they were to be servant leaders who placed others’ needs before their own. He demonstrated this by the way he cared for the downtrodden, the outcasts, the sick, and the forgotten. His ministry was one of healing and forgiveness as he revealed the love and mercy of his Father (and our Heavenly Father) to those he met.
If we are to surrender to Christ in difficult times, we must imitate him in ordinary times—welcoming strangers, assisting those in need—whoever they are, and never turning our backs on our own.
4. Be Not Afraid
Surrender requires trust. He says to each of us, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Again, Jesus is God and he revealed himself to us. Maybe we just need to remind ourselves of this occasionally. Then listen again to his invitation. Of what are we afraid? St. Paul proclaims, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
5. Know Yourself
Practice a daily examen to assess how well you live your life of faith. Identify ways and examples in which you fail to surrender to Christ. Look for the causes of these failures and take active steps to modify the factors that lead to failure. Is it pride, fear or a lack of selfless love? Are distractions other than these the cause? In order to seek to remedy the cause, one must identify the cause. Particular vices or sins have corresponding virtues for their treatment. Once you identify the bad habit, you can practice the corresponding good habit.
6. United to Christ in Prayer and Sacrament
None of these keys will be effective without a life that embraces prayer and sacrament. Frequent the Sacrament of Reconciliation, guided by an honest and humble examen, to remain in God’s grace. Active, particularly interiorly active, participation in Holy Mass and worthy reception of Holy Communion will nourish the life of faith.
And remind yourself at the start of each day that we cannot be people of God and not be people of prayer. Prayer is time spent in the presence of God, wherever you are. It is natural and necessary to spend time with the one you love. This is true in our human relationships; it is especially true in our relationship with God who alone can satisfy our every need.
We praise him, we adore him, we thank him, we give him all glory… and we never forget that it is only by his grace that we live lives that are pleasing to him, so we should continually, urgently, faithfully and expectantly pray for his strength in our weakness, particularly when we fail to surrender.
Into the deep…
Reflection on the Mass readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (Year A) — DN 7:9-10, 13-14; PS 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 PT 1:16-19; MT 17:1-9.
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