The Transfiguration of the Lord – August 6, 2023
Catholic Charismatic Conference Closing Mass 

It’s not often that today’s great feast – the Solemnity of the Transfiguration of the Lord – falls on a Sunday and takes precedence over the regularly scheduled Sunday readings.  But today, it does.  And it carries with it great significance for all of us and especially you who have been together for this blessed annual conference. 

For all of the very sensational imagery discovered in today’s gospel passage, the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is also significant insofar as it is recounted almost identically in three of the four gospels – Matthew, from which today’s gospel was proclaimed, as well as Mark and Luke – and also in the second letter of Saint Peter, today’s second reading.  Scholars are pretty much in agreement that something significant happened on that mountain top that the writers of the sacred scriptures wanted us to know. 

So let’s talk about the Transfiguration for a moment.   But let’s do so with the help of a visual aid.  …  Have you ever seen this image before?  I suspect that you have.  If you’re from the Diocese of Scranton or if any of you have visited our cathedral, which is just three blocks from this campus, you’d recognize this as the image that serves as the backdrop of the cathedral sanctuary.

Thanks to this image originally created by the great Renaissance painter Raphael, the story of the Transfiguration really does come to life, doesn’t it?   It depicts a transfigured Jesus, flanked by Moses and Elijah on a mountaintop, with Peter, James and John on the ground beneath Jesus. 

In the painting however, beneath that scene, another biblical story is depicted which seems to divide the canvas into two parts – the upper image of the Transfiguration and a lower image of a crowd of people gathered around an obviously struggling young boy.  What Raphael does is paint on one canvas two consecutive biblical passage.  For you see, in every gospel writer’s version of the Transfiguration, after Jesus was transfigured, he, along with Peter, James and John, come down from that mountaintop experience only to encounter a suffering young boy in need of Jesus’ healing touch.

Now, back to today’s gospel.  Peter, James and John accompanied Jesus, at his invitation, to a mountaintop, where Jesus was transfigured – where he appeared in glory flanked by the two great figures from the Old Testament – Moses, the lawgiver – and Elijah, the prophet.

In that mountaintop experience, the three disciples were given a foreshadowing – a foretaste – of the glory that would be given to Jesus, following his resurrection.  This foreshadowing of Jesus’ glory was important for Peter, James and John as they tried to come to terms with Jesus’ consistent teaching that as Messiah, he would embrace a cross, suffer and die in order to fulfill his father’s plan and win life and salvation for God’s people.

But why was this “foretaste” or “foreshadowing” of Jesus glorification and resurrection so important?  Simply put, this moment, for Peter, James and John was vital in order for them not to lose hope – something that we all need and understand in these challenging days, don’t we?  We can endure a lot – a lot of sickness, suffering and disappointment and all of the struggles that we have been up against these past few years, both globally and personally as long as we have something to give us a reason to hope.

For the disciples, Jesus’ transfiguration was that hopeful sign.  It pointed to the fact that he would be glorified by his Father – that his suffering on the cross and his eventual death would not be the end but would give way to life.  …  But the experiences that they encountered in the events both prior to and subsequent his glorification were sobering.  Jesus’ glorification would indeed come at a price – the cost of his life, given on the cross in loving service for the sake of the people his Father had entrusted to his care – you and me!.  …  And for his disciples, they slowly began to see that their peace and consolation as followers of Jesus would also come at a price – the cost of discipleship.

Which brings us to the bottom half of the painting by Raphael – and his depiction of the scripture passage that immediately follows Jesus’ mountaintop experience.

After Jesus was transfigured and we get a glimpse of the glory that would be his following his passion, he left that mountaintop experience and was immediately confronted with the reality of a suffering, broken world.  People brought a possessed young boy to Jesus and, consistent with the mission entrusted to him by his father, he extended himself, set aside his own needs and healed the young boy. 

The glory that would eventually envelope Jesus because of his willingness to embrace his paschal mystery through his suffering, death and resurrection – a glory that he promises to his followers, including you and me – is linked inextricably to his willingness to immerse himself in our suffering world.  Therein, brothers and sisters, we begin to see, quite tangibly, the cost of discipleship and are reminded of Jesus’ words in Saint Matthew’s gospel found in verses just prior to the transfiguration event:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” 

It’s not enough for us to simply say that we have faith and to meticulously execute proper rituals, recite prayers and self-righteously point out the flaws in the lives of others as we attempt to justify our own existence to the Lord.  …  Nor is it enough for us to simply bow reverently to the cross of Christ.  We need to face it, embrace it and accept it when it lands in the middle of our lives, no matter how much we’d all like to avoid it. 

And you know every bit as well as I that when crosses come into our lives, they don’t necessarily generate pious thoughts.  They demand every bit of our strength to confront our relationship with God and to trust that his power and grace will sustain us.  

Friends, if nothing else, today’s gospel of the Transfiguration and the passage that follows of a suffering boy and Jesus’ response compel us to give our faith a life – to practice what we preach – to be the voice and the heart and the hands of Jesus in our world today, no matter the heaviness of the crosses that land upon our shoulders.

In serving the lives that God gives to our care and through our acceptance of the crosses come our way, the mystery of God’s saving plan for our world and our lives will unfold.  And in its unfolding, we will find our peace through the love and mercy of Jesus abiding within our hearts.