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The Transfiguration: Awakening to Christ’s Glory
August 6th Readings Reflection: Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
Today, the Church celebrates the Feast of Our Lord’s Transfiguration, and the Gospel reading tells the story of this great event. It occurred on a mountain with only three of Jesus’ closest disciples: Peter, John, and James. Before these three disciples, Jesus revealed His glory and divinity.
The three disciples had initially accompanied Jesus to the mountaintop to pray. However, just as they would in the Garden of Gethsemane the night that Jesus’ Passion began, the disciples became very drowsy. St. Luke wrote of their suddenly “becoming fully awake,” enabling them to behold Christ’s divine glory in the Transfiguration. It would seem that this sleep has a symbolic meaning, as much of Sacred Scripture does.
In the preceding verses, Jesus had just told His disciples that He must suffer and die, and that after three days, He would rise again. This revelation greatly upset the disciples, to the point of St. Peter rebuking Jesus, saying, “Lord, far be it from [T]hee, this shall not be unto [T]hee” (Mat 16:22b DRB). Jesus, in turn, told Peter that he was thinking as men do, not as God does.
Peter and the other Apostles had been asleep, in that their eyes were not yet opened to the hope in Christ’s words. They became so distraught at the prophecy of His Passion and Death that they could not see the hope and promise of the Resurrection. It is for this reason that Our Lord revealed His glory to them in the Transfiguration, as St. Leo the Great explained. This saintly pope from the fifth century wrote:
And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the offense of the cross from the disciple’s [sic] heart, and to prevent their faith [from] being disturbed by the humiliation of His voluntary Passion by revealing to them the excellence of His hidden dignity.
Thus, the Transfiguration served as a reminder of Christ’s identity as the divine Son of God, the Father’s beloved. However, St. Leo the Great also saw in the Transfiguration a beautiful hope for the Church:
But with no less foresight, the foundation was laid of the Holy Church’s hope, that the whole body of Christ might realize the character of the change which it would have to receive, and that the members might promise themselves a share in that honour which had already shown forth in their Head.
Just as after Christ’s Death on the Cross came His glorious Resurrection, so too we who die in Christ have the hope of one day rising with Him and sharing in His glory for all eternity (cf. Rom 6:8). If we die in the state of grace, our bodies shall be reunited with our souls at the end of the world, glorified as was Our Lord’s Body in the Transfiguration. May this feast serve as a reminder to us to awaken and recognize Christ as the Son of God, filling us with hope for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
St. Leo the Great, “Sermon 51,” in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 12, trans. Charles Lett Feltoe (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1895), at New Advent, www.newadvent.org.
Painting by Raphael, “The Transfiguration.” Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.