August 6, 2023
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14; Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 9; 2 Pt 1:16-19; Mt 17:1-9
So why would we care about the Transfiguration? What difference does it make now? Did it even really happen?
Think about the people with whom you spent the last 177 hours of the week and the ones with whom you will spend the next 177 hours. These are likely the most important people in your life. When was the last time you discussed the Transfiguration? How did you apply it to your lives? If it never reached the point of a developed conversation with the people most important to you, then it must not be tooooo important, right? Interestingly, the Transfiguration gospels appear twice in our annual liturgies, once on August 6 and also on the Second Sunday of Lent. The Church, after 4000 years of Tradition, still thinks it’s important.
So, what does that mean for us? What’s the point?
If there is a point, then we have to put a little work into these readings.
- Daniel had a vision that came to pass.
- The Transfiguration happened.
- Then Peter recounts his personal witness of what he saw and heard.
- And now we are talking about it 2000 years later.
Daniel from the first reading was one of the Hebrews held in captivity in the desert after Babylon had destroyed Jerusalem. The captivity or the exile took place during the 6th century BC. It was a catastrophic period for the People. Most scholars believe that the book of Daniel actually gotten written down in the second century BC during the Greek occupation of Palestine/Israel. Another period of great suffering and persecution for Israel. And then the Transfiguration occurs during the Roman occupation of the Holy Land. Another period of foreign oppression and suffering. A couple decades after Peter is telling his account of the Transfiguration, Jerusalem would again be destroyed this time by the Romans in 70AD.
Vision, transcendent experience, first-hand witness. All occurring during times of great suffering and catastrophe. This transcendent experience is God’s way of demonstrating that He is above the human experience and myopic way of thinking. God, in fact, is always revealing His transcendent self to us, though usually we are not paying attention to the big picture. We are preoccupied with the littler things we think we can control. But when things get bad and it’s pretty obvious that we are NOT in control or when we might feel the unconscious stress of impending doom, that’s when we might likely be open to God’s bigger world.
However, we don’t have to wait for catastrophic events. God has made us to yearn for transcendent existence. It’s called Heaven. The Kingdom of God is at hand, it’s among us and within us. Just like Peter, James and John had an EXPERIENCE of Jesus appearing in an altered state with famous ancestors from over a thousand years previously, we too live in an experience that transcends our usual sense of time – past, present and future.
Our experience of the Mass especially brings us into ‘eternal time’ when our participation in the Eucharist combines our sacrificial offering of our own lives with the sacrifice of Jesus two thousand years ago. We do this as a community of believers who we call the Body of Christ. This is not a private or anonymous experience, but one of an interdependent community with a long common history of being called into relationship by God. We have been called to a specific mission to go forth and tell the truth. To give our personal witness or testimony to the bigger world that God is calling us back to.
As we read and recall the testimonies of our ancestors, going back 4000 years to Abraham during the ‘liturgy of the word’ at Mass, we are able to string the history of people in the past, present and future together in a way that makes our lives bigger and more meaningful.
Just as things were unraveling quickly during the time of Jesus, the disciples were given hope and inspiration by the recuring experience and visions of God’s holy people. Their ability to recognize Moses and Elijah as important people in their tradition helped them understand that there is life after earthly existence and death. In fact, the Kingdom of God was accessible in the present…. At least for a while.
The disciples wanted to stay, but they could only handle so much. They saw the transfigured Jesus and heard the voice booming out of Heaven. It must have been overwhelming. Wonderful and terrifying at the same time. They needed to be led back down the mountain to tell the other disciples. It would probably take the rest of their lives to ‘digest’ this whole experience. They knew it was real, though very mysterious. Peter says in the second reading today, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable.” (2 Peter 1:16-19) A people SENT.
USCCB commentary on Book of Daniel explains that: History unrolls under the watchful eye of God, who does not abandon those who trust in him and will finally deliver and re-establish them. That’s very important for us to remember.
Visions, recollections, experiences, community collaboration. We still need this same pattern to keep us organized and focused.
We need the history and the transcended experiences to keep us on track with God’s mission. We need this experience and purpose to avoid being discouraged with what is transpiring in the ‘human’ world, i.e., the Kingdom of Satan which has us under interpreting everything.
The Transfiguration is a profound sign of God’s Kingdom even as foreseen centuries before Christ…. As depicted in the Book of Daniel among others.
Our religion, the Mass in particular, has us regularly moving outside the ‘normal’ realms of experience so it’s very important that we can explain this in a way that is relevant. We will always be inadequate in our verbal explanations, but it’s essential that we try. What is more important is that we live our lives as a people with a greater sense of clarity, purpose and order. We will have less of a need to act erratically and destructively. It will be obvious that we are living by a higher level of truth and wisdom and understanding. Peace and joy are self-evident.
What is restricting our fuller experience of the Transcendence?
- Ignorance that we are able to experience the transcendent?
- Emotional and Spiritual woundedness?
- resistance to conversion and interior life
- resistance community building
Consider reading, This is My Body, by Bishop Robert Barron. This explanation includes a good description of the common experience of sacrifice which helps open us up to the Transcendent.
https://praymoreretreat.org/ healing retreat…. Common experiences of grief and confusion and pain. ‘Only say the word and my soul shall be healed.’
Homily Reflection Questions:
When did you have a ‘Transfiguration moment’ in your life that seemed to open up the world and give you the hope of the Kingdom of God? Who did you share it with? How did it change your life? How did it change your relationship with the Church? How did it change your prayer life specifically?
“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Ptr. 1:16)
What ‘cleverly devised myths’ have captured your attention during the different periods of your life? How did you break out?
Real quick, without looking at your phone: Who was Moses and Elijah and what did they represent on the mountain?
Especially for VISITORS: How has attending Mass throughout the country or throughout the world affected your understanding of being the Body of Christ?