Transfiguration, Transformation, and Conversion
The Gospel we just heard from Mark recounts the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, an event that the Church generally agrees took place in late summer. The Eastern Church celebrates the Transfiguration around the time it actually occurred, and we too celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6th of each year. So it wouldn’t be too unreasonable to ask why we’re hearing it in our Gospel today.
But if you think about it, the story of the Transfiguration — Jesus TRANSFORMED into a shining figure full of Heavenly glory before the very eyes of His disciples — fits very well here in the season of Lent. After all, a key theme of our Lenten journey is about rebirth and change, about transformation, about answering OUR Lenten call to CONVERSION, and putting our faith in the hands of God.
The readings today are very much about having complete trust and faith in our Heavenly Father, and the obedience to do His will. In our first reading, Abraham answers God’s command and sets out in his old age to sacrifice his only son, the son through whom the Lord had promised Abraham that he would become the “father of nations. ” For those of us who are parents, it’s hard to imagine the anguish Abraham must have felt as they approached the altar, when his young son asked, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” But Abraham never wavered in his faith. And because of that faith, God bestowed upon Abraham the glory and honor he had promised. Through his unwavering faith, Abraham’s life truly was transformed and he became the Father of the Jewish people.
In the Transfiguration in our Gospel, Jesus comes into the direct presence of God, to allow him to understand fully God’s plan for his passion, death, and resurrection. It’s this direct presence that allows the blinding brilliance of his Divine nature to manifest to his disciples, much as Moses’ face shone so brightly after his encounter with God in the Burning Bush in Exodus that he had to wear a veil. And through the Transfiguration Jesus accepted his Father’s will, and the path that would lead to the cross on Calvary. But, as Paul assures us in our second reading, it was by that perfect obedience to the will of his Father, expressed in his willing suffering and death, that Jesus was glorified by the Father and made our Heavenly intercessor. And Paul also reminds us that God’s love for US truly has no limits, as He offered His Son to die for us.
Christ’s Transfiguration shows us a tiny glimpse of what awaits us in heaven, of the glorified being God is calling us to become. But I’d argue we’ve been blessed at other times to glimpses of that glory. I’ve always been struck by the story of Fatima about how, when the Blessed Mother appeared to the children and they went into a trance, nothing could distract them. People stuck pins in their fingers, and held a burning candle to their hands, and the children remained totally oblivious. And there was a bright light in their eyes that amazed everyone watching. Supposedly that same kind of detachment and light was also present on the face of Saint Padre Pio whenever he offered the Mass or prayed on his own. I suspect that the divine light they saw was much like what the disciples saw in Christ’s Transfiguration.
The presence of Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration of Jesus was also a means to prepare them, to make them aware of Christ’s Divine nature so that they might be strengthened in their time of trial and better prepared for their future calling. But the manifestation of Christ’s Divine glory was not limited to Peter, James, and John at the Transfiguration. We also have been blessed with a share.
Every sacrament we receive transforms our lives to some degree - it TRANSFIGURES us in little ways. Baptism washes away Original Sin; Confirmation seals us with the Holy Spirit; and Reconciliation restores us in communion with God. But it is especially through the Eucharist that we are blessed to experience the transfiguration for ourselves. In fact, a transfiguration, a transformation occurs at each Eucharistic celebration of the Mass through the transubstantiation of the Body & Blood of Christ. Peter, James, and John were blessed and strengthened by the blinding glory of the Divine Christ at the Transfiguration. We are equally blessed to receive a small spark of that same Divine Christ each time we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
Just as through the miracle of the Transfiguration, Christ’s disciples were strengthened for their path ahead, so also are we strengthened and transformed each and every time we receive the Body and Blood of Christ through the miracle of the Eucharist.
So what do we take away with us today?
During this blessed season of Lent we are called to Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting - but more importantly we are called to CONVERSION, to be transformed in our hearts to embrace the will of the Father. When I was a much younger man, I used to pray to God; “Lord, give me the grace to change the world.” As I grew older and into middle age, I realized how naive and arrogant I was in my youth, and my prayer became, “Lord, give me the grace to change those I come in contact with - my family, my friends, and my coworkers.” But now, as the pepper in my beard has turned to pure salt, I realize how foolish even that prayer was. These days, when I pray for conversion and transformation, my prayer to God is simply this: “Lord, give me the grace to change myself.” And that, my brothers and sisters, should be the Lenten prayer we all embrace.