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The Transfiguration of Our Lord

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

Light is the prime element of life. It was the first to be created by God. It nurtures plants, animals, and humans. Longevity of life is connected to spendings lots of time in the sunlight. Depression is sometimes linked with its absence. Before a baby opens its eyes to the world, it sees the light and shadows of people and things moving around it. When we die, the last thing that we see as our soul ascends to heaven is a blinding white light.

Light permeates everything and it is as much a part of our daily existence as air. Without light, the world ceases to exist. Without light, our lives become unbearable.

Twenty centuries ago, four men scaled Mount Tabor. There eight more at the bottom of the moutain probably taking their mid-day rest since the sun has a way of stinging people in southern climes that cannot be appreciated unless one lives there. These four ascend the mountain and stand at the top. One of them, clearly, their leader begins to pray.

As He prays, the other three see Him transformed. In fact, He radiates light and becomes something more than what they had known of Him before. They are so frightened of what they are seeing that they fall flat on their faces and shield their eyes. He, however, is oblivious to this. He is talking to two figures standing on either side. One of them is Elijah and the other is Moses.

When the four of them descend the mountain, one of the older men looks at Him and says, “Lord, it was good for us to be here.”

If you are familiar with the Bible, then you know this story. Every year, the Catholic Church commemorates it on August 6th. In Greek, the word for this feast day is “metamorphosis.” In Slavic languages, it is “preobrazhenie.” In English, we tend to translate that term as “transfiguration.” 

What Sts. Peter, James, and John saw before them was a great mystery. Our Lord became something more than He had been before and they could not comprehend what they had seen. It was only after the Resurrection that they would understand. Our Lord was showing them His glorified Body and what would happen to those same Apostles when they went to heaven on the Last Day. There, their bodies would also be glorified. They, too, would become subsumed in the light of His presence and become something more.

During his exile on the island of Patmos, St. John the Evangelist wrote in his prologue about that light. He wrote, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of all men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).

In his old age, St. John had continued living in the Light He had seen on Tabor. Its shadow had permeated his entire life since the day of the Resurrection. He went on countless journeys. He was tried before emperors and put in boiling vats of oil. He had seen the light, touched it, and felt it. It had encompassed him and transformed. It had given Him that vision of the future that was so awesome that even he could not describe it any other way except in metaphors so cryptic that we cannot understand them.

That light which was seen by the Apostles on Mount Tabor is a part of our lives as well. As the priest intones during the midnight service on Easter Sunday in various Eastern Rite Churches, “The light of Christ enlightens all.” Not just the empty tomb, the cradle, or the cross, but everything and everybody in this world. God is Light and that Light has entered into all of us at some point in our lives.

Each of us has experienced His light. I remember sitting on a bench one brisk October evening last year. I was waiting for the bus to come and take me home from work. I took out my breviary and began to pray Vespers. As I prayed, the rays of the setting sun lit the gold embossing of my breviary. I felt my prayer becoming slower and more discursive. My breathing slowed down and I felt at peace. For a moment, an instant, I felt that I was being embraced by His light. I was there in His presence for that one moment and it transformed my life.

I still get glimpses of that Light as I continue going down the path of life. The Light draws me towards Him. It pushes me and pushes me until I can’t go on anymore. The Light is what shows me my sins and how utterly unworthy I am of all that He has done for me. The Light illuminates His Passion and makes me realize what a precious gift salvation is and how easy it is to lose. It is the Light that draws me forward towards the vocation He has planned for me from all eternity. It is the Light that brings me to the doors of the confessional and the communion rail. The Light encompasses my life and the Light is my life as well as that of all other men.

Yet we are people who often obscured the Light. It is a fact of the human condition that we are sinners. As the Psalmist writes, there is not one person who has not sinned. All of us have in one way or another. All of us are guilty because of the concupiscence we inherited when Adam and Eve took the fruit of the forbidden tree and tasted it for the first time. 

In that state of sin, the Light becomes obscured. We do not see Him and we do not hear Him. The only thing that we do is stumble. Like so many people who wake up in the middle of the night and don’t turn the lights on, we walk around dazed and confused. We trip over things and we blaspheme His name. Other people try and help us, but we turn them away. God tries to speak to us, but we ignore Him. Life without Light is no life at all. It isn’t life. It is death and so many Christian writers have said that one of the worst torments of hell is the absence of God’s presence.

Yet there are ways for us to remain in the Light, to use the title of an album that was popular in the 1980s. We have the Sacraments that Our Lord instituted. Each of them is there to help and strengthen us in our journey. In Holy Communion, Our Lord comes to us in the accident of the Host and wine consecrated at Mass. In the tribunal of the confessional, the Light speaks to us through His representative on earth. In the Last Rites, the Light is there to escort us to the judgment and then to our final destination.

St. John wrote that Light was the life of all men and that is so true. We are nothing without Him and we can do nothing without Him. If we don’t know Him, we are merely like so many others that just continue living day to day, month to month, and year to year. We don’t appreciate Him and He does not exist for us. Yet to know Him means to love Him and to see ourselves transformed in Him. We become part of that Light and then, one day, we will see that Light in all of its glory.

Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!

St. John the Evangelist, pray for us!