The Gospel according to St. Matthew, Chapter 17
1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The transfiguration of the Lord leads us to reflect on one of the main mysteries of our Faith: the Incarnation of the Word.
Indeed, who could imagine the possibility of one of the Persons of the Holy Trinity uniting its divine nature with to human nature, and – without ceasing to be true God – also becoming true Man?
Never, by simple reasoning, would any man conceive of such a union between Creator and creature. To know this beautiful and attractive mystery, it was necessary that God Himself revealed it.
There are countless episodes in the Gospel where the human nature of Jesus shines through: His having to flee to Egypt, taken by Mary and Joseph, in order to save himself from Herod’s sword; his working as a humble carpenter until he was 30 years old, avoiding attracting the attention of the people; his doing penance for 40 days in the desert, enduring the hardships of a terrible fast; his shedding blood in the Garden of Olives, amidst the fear and anguish before the Passion; his expressing physical weakness during his scourging and while carrying the cross to the top of Calvary. Finally, his death, like that of any human being, and in the worst of tortures.
Without the special assistance of grace, it would be inevitable for anyone, hearing the narration of these facts, to conclude that Jesus was no more than a mere human creature.
Therefore, to sustain our faith, the Only-begotten Son of God made His eternal and uncreated origin patent in many other facts and circumstances: the annunciation to the Blessed Virgin by an Archangel; the warning to St. Joseph in a dream of Mary’s virginal conception; the appearance of a multitude of angels to the shepherds near the cave of Bethlehem to announce to them the birth of Jesus; the supernatural motion within the Holy Kings about the providentiality of that Child.
Above all, his glorification by the Father and the Holy Spirit at the moment of the baptism in the Jordan was categorical.
The Savior himself, when he said “He who believes in me has eternal life” (John 6:47), was not referring to his human nature, but to his divinity. The multiplication of miracles, the culmination of which was the resurrection of Lazarus, made Jesus’ full power over nature evident to all.
Although these manifestations were more than enough to lead men to the act of faith in the divinity of Our Lord, heresiarchs appeared to deny it, already at the beginning of Christianity.
In fact, one of the reasons why St. John, the beloved disciple, wrote his Gospel, between the 80s and the 100s of our era, was to reaffirm that Jesus is true God.
And the whole of the Gospels, seeking to underline the same truth, more than fifty times give Him the title Son of God.
It is necessary to keep these considerations in mind, in order to better analyze and understand the Transfiguration of the Lord.
Convenience of the Lord’s Transfiguration
Jesus could have come down to Earth accompanied by legions of angels, and manifested His infinite divine greatness in all its splendor. However, He didn’t act this way. He revealed His uncreated nature to us in a progressive way, and little by little He became more categorical.
A purely doctrinal teaching is not capable, by itself, of moving man to transform his life. An old adage illustrates this truth in a lapidary way: “Words move, but examples drag.
Especially when the example is upright and splendorous in truth and goodness, it has such a force that it acts on the tendencies of the soul, inviting to a certain path – and sometimes imposing it.
A dazzling transfiguration of the Lord to endure the hardships of Calvary
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches us: “Therefore it was fitting that he should manifest to his disciples his luminous clarity; and such is the Transfiguration, which he will also grant to his own, according to the Apostle (St. Paul): He will reform our downcast body to make it conform to his glorious body. Hence, (St.) Bede says: it was the consequence of a pious providence that, having enjoyed the contemplation of eternal happiness for a short time, they should tolerate adversities more strongly” (3, q. 45, a. 1, c).
The Transfiguration of the Lord was an exceptional mystical grace granted to the three chosen apostles, on top of Tabor. Its remembrance remained as a source of solid confidence, which enabled them to endure the greatest sufferings, because, witnessing it, they had a glimpse of the full and refulgent light of eternity.
The Transfiguration of Jesus strengthened the virtues of faith and charity in the Apostles. While faith makes us believe in the divinity of Christ and in his promises, charity leads us to a deep union with God.
These two virtues are extremely interdependent. Without faith in the splendorous eternal life that awaits us, charity tends to disappear.
But if the faith and charity of the apostles profited so much from the Lord’s Transfiguration, isn’t there something along these lines that can help the spiritual life of each one of us?
The answer is entirely affirmative. God pours out mystical graces on all those who walk the paths of salvation, in greater or lesser intensity, according to the case. But no one is excluded from receiving them. Of course, these mystical graces do not exempt anyone from making the proper efforts to practice the virtues.
A transfiguration of the Lord in our hearts
Two Doctors of the Church, Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross, masters of the spiritual life, say that Providence usually grants mystical graces to beginners that they will experience again only at the end of their lives.
This divine procedure aims to strengthen these souls to get through the periods of aridity. It is a common way of God’s acting: He gives us consolations – Tabor – so that when the hour of Gethsemane (of suffering) comes, we will have strength, knowing that the end will be more full of joy and hope.
These are graces that encourage us to face the sacrifices of this life.
Thus, throughout our earthly existence, we will already experience a little of the eternal delights, and the tents so desired by St. Peter on the mount of the transfiguration, Jesus will raise them on the “Tabor” of our hearts. For this, He demands only one condition from us: that we do not put obstacles in His way.