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Our conversion and the Transfiguration

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Gospel Commentary Mt 13:44-52


In the time leading up to Our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, we can find three separate occasions when Jesus foretold His Passion and death to His Apostles. Perhaps this is in an effort to prepare them for the tragedy they will soon witness. We note, too, that while in revealing His future suffering, Jesus did not leave His Apostles without hope. In particular, He gave this promise to the Twelve: “[T]here are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom” (Mt 16:28).

Our first thought may be that this is a reference to the Second Coming, “when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him” (Mt 25:31). Likewise, we may think it refers to the post-Resurrection appearances of Jesus Christ, when the Apostles encountered Him in His glorified body. However, this promise came just one week before the Transfiguration of Our Lord on Mount Tabor, the feast we celebrate this Sunday. It was on that mountaintop that Peter, James and John saw Jesus in all of His glory, fulfilling the promise that Jesus had given them after foretelling His death for the third time.

The glory of Jesus was revealed on Mount Tabor in the dazzling brightness, in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice of the Heavenly Father coming from a cloud saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him.” The experience showed the Apostles that Jesus, through Whom all things are created, is greater than anything in this world. The presence of the two prophets witnessed that He even had authority over death, which had taken Moses and Elijah centuries before. The majesty and immensity of God is beyond anything we can imagine.

While Peter denied and abandoned Jesus during His Passion and death, we cannot deny that Peter was transformed by his experience of the Transfiguration. “We have been eyewitnesses to His majesty,” Peter wrote decades later, describing how seeing God’s glory “on the holy mountain” was proof of God’s divinity and the authority of the Gospel message (2 Pet 1:16-18). Peter remained steadfast in his faith through the sufferings he endured as an Apostle, even to the moment of his own martyrdom in Rome.

We, like St. Peter, are called to be transformed by the Transfiguration, and there are two spiritual truths in this event that can strengthen us even when it is hard to see the glory of God in our lives. The first truth is that just as the Transfiguration is a result of the announcement of Christ’s suffering and death, all glory must come through the Cross. Our Lord tells us, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). Crosses are inevitable when we will when we live the Christian life, but our faith tells us that suffering is not a punishment, but is instead a means for our salvation and a preparation for our glory.

We find the second spiritual truth at the conclusion of the scene on Mount Tabor. After Peter, James and John are overwhelmed by the glory of God, everything fades away — the dazzling white clothes, Moses and Elijah, and the voice of the Father coming from the clouds. All that remains is Jesus, which is all that matters as followers of Jesus. Our salvation does not depend on miracles or signs of God’s glory, but instead it depends on the relationship we develop with Jesus through prayer and the Sacraments, the recognition we have of Him in our neighbors, and how we “listen to him” when He speaks to us through the Scriptures and through His Church.

For the Apostles, and for us, the Transfiguration is a sign of what is to come. And while we are not there yet, we can still take hope. Jesus is near to us, to offer us hope, to accompany us in our trials and sufferings, and to draw us into the great love He has for each of us. Let us pray each day that we seek Him and Him alone in our lives, that we may always be united with Him in faith, hope and charity.

Fr. Wagner is Arlington Bishop Michael F. Burbidge’s secretary.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017