The reason why the Feast of the Transfiguration is the only one celebrated twice every year (on the second Sunday of Lent and August 6th) is because it is the feast of our eternal future in Christ Jesus. As opposed to analyzing and dissecting the event as a Scripture scholar would, we should attempt to contemplate it.
Before a masterpiece, any art lover sits comfortably and slowly, unhurriedly becomes one with the picture, enters into the picture, lives in the picture. Accordingly, before we join Peter, the disciple with a penchant for sticking his foot in his mouth, as well as James and John, the fiery, intolerant, impatient brothers who were so ebullient that Jesus nicknamed them “sons of thunder,” we have to try to experience what these three representatives of the Twelve had been feeling for the last six days.
Six days earlier, Jesus had jolted his chosen Twelve by telling them that he, as Son of Man, i.e., the one with flesh and blood like theirs, with weaknesses and emotions and limits like theirs, would be captured, tortured, nailed to a cross and then raised up three days later. This disheartening prediction of unspeakable pain must have caused the Twelve incredible anguish and palpable fear. Indeed, Jesus had followed that prediction with a simple statement: he, the Son of Man, would be leading the way carrying his cross and every single one of those who dared to consider themselves his follower had to pick up their crosses and follow him to Calvary, to death and, then, to glory.
This is what the Twelve had been tossing around in their hearts and minds for those six long days.
In the course of those six days it became painfully clear that not only was it impossible to make Jesus change his mind, but it looked as if they were all heading for a most horrific end themselves. Their anxiety must have been so intense that they could not go past that to consider the “rising to glory” after their demise. For this reason, in his infinite compassion, Jesus had taken his closest three with him on the mountain to show them a glimpse of the glory that would be his on the third day after the crucifixion and theirs, too, after their own death. So, as our contemplation begins, we can ascertain that Jesus is fully aware of whatever anguishes us. Nothing escapes his sensitive heart.
Secondly, as we begin to absorb the beauty, the comfort, the intimacy of this precious moment of closeness and oneness with our Lord, we, like Peter, would wish to make it last, and last, and last.
“Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” As if to say: “Jesus, let us freeze this magic moment of joy and glory and hold on to it for as long as we can.” A reasonable request, right? After six days of anguish, it must be so for sure; yet this “reasonable” request, Peter’s and ours, goes unheeded.
We are instead led to the core of the event.
The presence of the cloud is always a guarantee of God’s closeness as well as of the inaccessibility of his mystery to our human insignificance. The core of the event turns out to be an explicit order: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
That’s it. The secret to getting over our anguish, our fear, our panic, sometimes even despair, is to be achieved by listening to Jesus, by heeding God’s Word: the Old Testament represented by Moses and Elijah, as well as the New Testament fulfilled and completed in Jesus our Lord. It is not a suggestion; it is not a recommendation; it is an explicit order: “Listen to him.”
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, as a priest, I try to listen to Jesus a little bit more than your average believer and I can assure you of something that might go a long way towards winning your hesitation to truly buckle down and begin to take Jesus as God’s Word seriously. Whenever we truly, seriously listen to him we, like Peter, John and James, will get just enough comfort, light, guidance, momentum, motivation, courage to get over the hump right in front of us currently, but just barely.
God’s Word is doled out to help us in just a sufficient measure to overcome whatever stands in our way, but never enough to give us a sense of security bordering on complacency. However, that is what we would want because we have been anguished and worried and scared so often and for such prolonged periods of time that we claim the right to a decent degree of certainty, lasting comfort and secure guarantee. What will have to suffice instead is the echo of the words “my beloved Son.” It reminds us of the words of God to Abraham: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah.” (cf. Genesis 22:2)
As our contemplation draws to a close, we are learning an important lesson: there is a different guarantee given us, as St. Paul suggests in Romans 8:31-34: Abraham did not sacrifice his only beloved son Isaac, while God the Father did sacrifice his only beloved Son Jesus.
Therefore, in the little “transfigurations” that we will be given by God’s compassion and mercy we shall rely on the comfort and reassurance of God’s Word. And whenever our anguished and worrisome heart will not find sufficient rest in the Word assigned to any particular day, we shall repeat to ourselves the following inescapable conclusion:
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”
Our Heavenly Father has deemed this certainty sufficient to sustain us until the Day of our own final Transfiguration.
REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.