By courtesy of Fr. Stephen,o.f.m.
Epistle: 1 Thess 4:1-7
Gospel: Mt 17:1-9 — Traditional Calendar
The Church by choosing for us this Gospel passage today wants us to join the Apostles in their experience of Christ’s Transfiguration. Our Lord wished to strengthen the faith of his Apostles for their great mission to turn the hearts of many to God in the world. The Apostles did not at this time know yet, but soon they would be eye witnesses to Christ’s suffering and death, which would be a heart wrenching experience for them, so Our Lord wanted them to witness ahead of time his divine glory the foretaste of his resurrection after his suffering and death on the cross. Witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration would be one of their most important schooling in the faith before they would be ready to break the greatest news to the world in need of turning to God, which experience requires a radical change in the hearts of men, indeed to be prepared to receive and benefit from God’s gift of their salvation. The Gospel tells us that Jesus made the connection between the transfiguration, what the Apostles witnessed today and Christ’s future Resurrection when he told them not to reveal the vision to anyone until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. To be sure at this time they had no understanding yet what his resurrection meant, much less did they understand yet that their Master had to die. But Our Lord granted them today’s experience that would nevertheless be the necessary foundation for their future faith in God’s work, of which they soon would witness to the world. Let us consider what Our Lord’s transfiguration is, what its meaning is. To be sure the Transfiguration of Christ witnessed by the three Apostles is an altogether unique revelation of Christ’s unity with the Father and of the glory Christ has in union with God, his Eternal Father. St John the Apostle later would testify to this very event revealing to the future Christian faithful in this way: He would say to them: We have seen his Glory. The transfiguration of Christ is his revelation of his supernatural glory and the foretaste of what heaven is.
Peter was so overjoyed that he wanted to stay there forever, and so he suggested to Jesus his desire and willingness to build a tent for each of the three persons: Jesus, Moses and Elijah. So overwhelmed Peter was by the glory of the Transfiguration. One day God in heaven would welcome his faithful children who loved and served him in their journey through their earthly lives. He will reward them with their capacity to see God face to face in the beatific vision, the most precious gift of God for man. This is what heaven consists of, namely, to behold the infinite glory and beauty of the Eternal God. This is what St Paul refers to in his teaching when he said: “eyes have not seen, ears have not heard, the mind of men cannot fathom what God has in store for those who love him.” What Christ taught to the Apostles in today’s Gospel by his Transfiguration is a glimpse of, a gift, and a foretaste of what heaven is. The Gospel written not by any of the three Apostle, but by another Apostle, Matthew, who only later had heard of it after the death and resurrection of
Jesus. So here in his written Gospel he gives but a brief description of this stupendous event. His words are brief. Yet even so, they are revealing. Peter, the leading figure among the Apostles was overjoyed to the point of forgetting his human nature with its limitations, as well as the world around him, for God’s glory seen by him, even in a foretaste, made Peter oblivious of everything else in the very universe he still lived in. He sought not to return to the world, but to remain enveloped in the glory that possessed him. At that very moment the Eternal Father, who forever is in union with his Son, was being heard, breaking through any and all barriers by speaking only for the third time to men. First to Moses in the burning bush revealing his name forever, secondly, at Our Lord’s baptism and now, today, bearing testimony to His only Begotten Son, whom He is one with in eternal glory and joy. In whom He is well pleased. At that moment the three Apostles fell on their faces, recognizing the immense distance between themselves and the Eternal God, who even now is hidden by the white cloud, they could only hear his voice. The three Apostles’ experience becomes full in their realization that they were in the presence of God the Father and God the Son, the Holy Trinity not yet being revealed to them. The vision becomes terminated by the Apostles becoming aware of their own limited state in the grip of total fear. Jesus gently raises them to their feet and reassures them not to fear. They just experienced their Savior God in glory. This is what the beatific vision is like, that awaits each deserving faithful soul in heaven. Our Savior himself confirmed it for them, when he called it a “vision,” a blessed vision granted to no other Apostle. We may ponder of some details that preceded their singular privilege. Let us consider them one step at a time. The Transfiguration, which is like beholding God face to face in Heaven is not a right, but a reward for those who love God and are chosen by Him. Here we notice what the Gospel says so, it says that Christ “took” three Apostles with him. Notice that each is privileged and was hand picked or chosen by Christ. Each is named personally by their own name and only these three, the closest friends of Christ, who were not to speak of their experience until after He rose from the dead. The second note is that Our Lord took them out of the hustle and bustle of the noisy world. Away from the world, where they would not be distracted by the ways of the world, and no one else would be allowed with them. God and the soul require silence to meet for the special and deep union that allows no outside interference. The soul is to possess God and is to be possessed by God. For our prayers, Jesus teaches us, to shut the door and keep away from the noise of the world, so as God may be our focus and He could be discerned, heard without any distraction. Hence the need for the soul for private, personal prayer for union with God. Thirdly we note that Christ took them to a very high mountain. Height is where God dwells, above this world. Height means transcendence, the beyond, the supernatural zone above the created order of this world. Revelation tells us that God lives is light, in “highest” heaven. We must also take note of the light, that Jesus’ face was as bright as the Sun is radiant in splendor.
Even his clothes were so radiant that it only could be compared with snow, when the brilliant sun shines on it.
To be sure the state of the Apostles was a state of joy they did not wish to end. Heaven’s joy caused by the sight of the splendor of Christ divine nature, in which God does not fade nor will diminish for the soul created for Him. Only God can fill the soul created and destined for His sight. What the Lord teaches the Apostles and ourselves is that heaven is awaiting those who long for Christ and His Father in love and are willing in this life to serve and surrender all else for Christ, and to follow him. Here the Epistle comes to our aid. For it tells us in the words of St Paul, the teacher of the nations, how to attain heaven, what road leads to this greatest reward. In other words today’s Epistle and Gospel tell us what our purpose, our goal is and how to reach or arrive to our union with our Ever-loving Good Father in heaven. Heaven is the joyful union with our Good Father, which union is eternal, never fading, never growing old, therefore, our spirit beholds the very Spirit, who God is. Jesus said so: “God is spirit and wants worshippers who will worship him in spirit and in truth.” This leads us to St Paul’s letter. Our soul, being a spirit, seeks and hungers for truth, finds its eternal joy only in what is true, and what is true is holy. Hence God wills that you be sanctified, seek the way of holiness. For as He said, “Be holy, for I, the Lord am holy.” Our Savior tells us this same truth when he says, “I want my servant to be where I am.” In other words since Christ is holy, and longs to be one with us, we need to rise above our earthly desires, to sanctify ourselves so as to be in union with him. Here is St Paul’s precept: “seeking friendship and union with Christ, do not choose the things that offend him: hence stay away from offending him: lenten fasting means abstaining from sin, “stay away from immorality.” Jesus reveals in the beatitudes: “the pure of heart shall see
God.” In other words the innocent, the pure shall enter heaven and will behold the face of God, the pure of heart shall see Him. “For you were created for God and not for uncleanness” says St Paul to complete our lesson today. We know where we are called to. Heaven is our eternal home to see and to behold our God forever. Therefore, our daily sanctification is our way to enter into the joy of our God, to love and live with Him forever. This is our goal, and we know the way, it is the example and teachings of our Lord. May our lenten discipline bring us closer to our goal, Christ, preparing ourselves by observing Jesus’ loving command, namely our sanctification, from one day to the next, each day moving closer to our goal, each day rejecting those things that would only distract, deter, and deprive us of our joy, union with Christ our Savior Lord. Amen.