Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
Today the Church celebrates the Transfiguration of the Lord, and the Mass readings for today’s feast draw together Old Testament and New Testament visions of God’s glory. The First Reading is part of the prophet Daniel’s vision of God enthroned in heaven and the Messiah receiving dominion and glory from God. In the Responsorial Psalm, we join our voices to those of the faithful throughout the ages acclaiming God’s majestic reign as king over all the earth. In the Second Reading, we hear Peter’s eyewitness account of the Transfiguration. And in the Gospel, of course, we hear the full story that is so familiar to us: Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up the mountain, His glory revealed, Moses and Elijah appearing to speak with him, and the voice of the Father speaking from the cloud: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
These visions of heavenly glory are impressive, but not exactly comfortable—with a flaming throne and wheels of fire in Daniel’s vision of the heavenly throne room, and a Jesus so changed in appearance on Mount Tabor that His closest friends are scared out of their wits. They are fascinating images and interesting historical anecdotes, but what relevance do these accounts have in our day-to-day lives?
Indeed, it is precisely the other-worldly nature of these visions that make them so relevant to us here and now, for there is actually nothing more relevant to our daily lives than the glory of God! This is why Peter urges us in today’s Second Reading to
“be attentive to [this message], as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19).
The revelation of Christ’s glory in the Transfiguration and the promise of His return in glory (the dawn and rising morning star that Peter references; see also 2 Peter 3:8-13)—along with our share in that glory in Heaven—are not merely an old story and a distant promise. Rather, the glory of the Lord’s Transfiguration is a radiant light of encouragement in any present trouble and a blazing beacon of hope pointing the way to our full participation in that glory.
In a sermon on the Transfiguration of the Lord, the 7th century bishop St. Anastasius of Sinai said:
“Jesus goes before us to show us the way, both up the mountain and into heaven, and–I speak boldly—it is for us now to follow him with all speed, yearning for the heavenly vision that will give us a share in his radiance, renew our spiritual nature and transform us into his own likeness, making us for ever sharers in his Godhead and raising us to heights as yet undreamed of.”
As we contemplate more and more the glorious face of Christ—in Scripture, in the sacraments, in prayer—we are transformed by his glory. Just as Moses’ face shone so brightly after he beheld a glimpse of God’s glory that he had to cover it with a veil, so also we “beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).
While Peter didn’t get to pitch a tent and stay up on the top of Mount Tabor basking in the glory of the transfigured Lord, we have many opportunities to do so: at Mass, in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, in the Temple of our own heart in quiet prayer, while reading Scripture, etc. And so on this feast day, let us say with Peter, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” as we gaze upon the glory of our God and allow Him to make us more and more like Himself.