St. Joseph Catholic Church - Toledo, OH

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February 25, 2018 - Transfiguration

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When one looks at a painting or a photograph of mountain scene, the eye is naturally drawn from one mountaintop to the next without much thought or focus on what lies between - the valleys, low points.

Last Sunday we entered into the desert with our Lord to be tempted.  As the final temptation the Enemy takes Jesus to a high mountain where our Lord ultimately overcomes him and is ministered to by angels.  This Sunday we find ourselves on yet another mountaintop - Tabor for another “mountaintop experience”.

The “mountaintop experience” is any real, personal, encounter with God in which He may act or move in our life in a way that we have never experienced, anticipated or imagined.  I’ve certainly had my share of these types of experiences and witnessed them in the lives of others.  The thing about these mountaintop experiences, however, is our tendency to lose hope when the eventual valley and low point.

Between the mountain of temptation and Mount Tabor (along with the great mountaintop experience to which the Transfiguration points - the Resurrection) there were a great many valleys and low points for our Lord.  The relief of having overcome the temptations of the enemy was meet with the ‘drudgery’ if you will of daily ministry of proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven.  Certainly there were many good days successes during his Galilean ministry; but there were also those days when his growing band of Apostles and disciples just didn’t get it, along with the consistent and growing tension with the Jewish leaders.

Just a few days prior to the mountaintop experience of the Transfiguration Jesus was with his Apostles in Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16, Mk 8, Lk 9).  Asking the people’s thoughts on who the Son of Man was produced mixed understandings.  But turning the question to themselves Jesus received the enlightened response of Peter: “You are the Christ the Son of the Living God.”  This euphoric moment of Peter’s confession of faith and Christ’s praise for Peter having listened to the Heavenly Father is quickly dampened by Jesus’ declaration that he must suffer and die.  This prediction combined with Jesus’ sharp rebuke - “Get behind me Satan” to Peter’s affectionate appeal that this not be the case, not to mention being told they too must suffer; all must have weighed heavily on the hearts and minds of the Apostles.

Thus, the traditional interpretation of the Transfiguration as a moment to encourage and strengthen the faith of the Apostles following this revelation of his passion and o to point forward to the “glory to be revealed” (1Pt 5:1) the “glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14) in the coming Resurrection..  Great saints of the Patristic era show the way

John Chrysostom saying:  “The Lord had already spoken a great deal about perils, about His Passion, about the violent death that awaited His disciples, and had laid upon them many hard and arduous commands. Moreover, these were for the present life and already imminent, while the good things to come were still in hope and expectation - as, for example, that they would save their lives if they lost them, that He was to come in the glory of his Father and give rewards. Hence He wanted to confirm their faith by the testimony of their own eyes by showing them in this life in the measure in which they were capable of grasping it, the glory in which He is to come.  He unveiled it to them, therefore, lest they - Peter especially - should grieve over death, either their own or the Lord’s.”[1]


As well as Pope St. Leo the Great - “The primary purpose of the Transfiguration, was this: that His disciples should not be scandalized when He died on the Cross and that the humiliation of the Passion He so freely embraced would not trouble their faith, since the majesty of His hidden dignity would previously have been revealed.”[2]

  Last year Pope Francis pointed out in a 2nd Sunday of Lent homily the multiple faces of Christ - two glorious faces from the mountaintop experiences of Tabor and the Resurrection - and a third: “between this Transfiguration so beautiful, and that Resurrection, there will be another face of Jesus: there will be a face not so beautiful, disfigured, tortured, despised, bloodied by the crown of thorns.... Jesus’ whole body will be just as something to be discarded. Two Transfigurations, and between them Jesus Crucified, the Cross.”

Thus the mountaintop experience exists not for its own sake, but in juxtaposition to the valleys around and between.  

Brothers and sisters, just as last week I reminded us that we cannot avoid all temptation but that some temptation can even be meritorious - so this week we recognize that we cannot avoid all suffering.  In fact suffering is the path of the disciple.  We are called to willfully take on suffering “whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).

This suffering is not without reason though, not without effect.  The suffering is meant to destroy and negate that which disfigures the glory we are to possess - sin.  It is sin which disfigures the face of Christ and is the cause of his suffering.  But by becoming sin for us, and undergoing his suffering he is able to enter into his glory as He reminded the disciples on the way to Emmaus “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things so to enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:26).

Suffering and Glory.  Mountaintops and Valleys.  Such is our life.  While we would like to say with Peter “It is good that we are here.  Let us make tents.”  We know we must endure the difficulties.  May our Lenten journey be a continual uniting of our sufferings and difficulties so to experience more fully the Glory to be revealed.

[1] S.t John Chrysostom. Homily 57 on Matthew.

[2] Pope St. Leo. Sermon on the Transfiguration.

Last Updated on Sunday, 04 March 2018 19:07  

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