Pastoral Reflections

Solemnity of The Transfiguration – August 6, 2017

The Gospel account of the Transfiguration is a very colorful one. It conveys a momentary intersection between Heaven and Earth and how the glory of Heaven powerfully touches those who enter into it. My suspicion is that the account of the Transfiguration falls far short in describing the reality and beauty of the actual event. This isn't the fault of Peter, James and John minimizing their experience, or the evangelist failing to adequately describe it, but rather the simple reality that the finite human mind cannot comprehend the fullness of what was experienced, let alone find the words to describe the indescribable.

How can anyone adequately describe an encounter with God? This was the dilemma of George W. Bush during the campaign of 2000. At one point, Mr. Bush was asked who his personal hero was. He replied with, ‘Jesus Christ’. When asked how did this come about for him? Mr. Bush responded with, ‘I became a born-again Christian’. He went on to say, ‘if you have had this personal experience, then no words are necessary.’ He concluded with, ‘if you have not, then there are no words which can adequately describe this experience’.

In today’s gospel lesson, we hear that Jesus took Peter, James and John to a mountain top. These were three of the original apostles who left everything behind to follow Jesus. They were invited to share in this glorious and somewhat intimate moment in which the infinite glory of Heaven broke through the finite reality of this world. Jesus becomes dazzling white and his face shone like the sun. Out of nowhere Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus and the three began a conversation of which we are not told its' subject. There is a tradition, which suggests that Jesus was reflecting over his coming passion and death and was receiving encouragement from both Moses and Elijah. This tradition arises out the fact that shortly after the Transfiguration experience, Jesus engaged the Apostles in a conversation about his pending suffering and death.

The Apostles knew that something extremely beautiful and important was taking place during this event, so Peter says, "Lord, it is good that we are here.” He then offers to build three tents, one for Jesus, and one each for Moses and Elijah. The Apostles seemed to be comfortable with this experience and did not want this moment to end.

Perhaps, it was the voice of the Father that brought some fear or anxiety into their hearts. The message of the Father was a beautiful affirmation of who Jesus is. This is the same message the Father gave when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

What led to their fear? It could have been hearing a disembodied voice that probably surrounded them and filled them. A voice with which they were not familiar. Jesus comforts them and says to them a line that they will hear numerous times from him; "….do not be afraid.” For Peter, James and John, this was the mountain top experience that affirmed their closeness to Jesus, and prepared them for what was to come. They would not truly comprehend the significance of this until after the resurrection, and even then could never find the words to adequately express what they experienced.

To this day, when someone has a powerful religious experience it is sometimes referred to as a mountain top experience. These are experiences in which God touches us and it seems that we are in Heaven. They put our fears, anxieties, problems and struggles in the perspective that, in God's presence, they will be handled and in some way we will get through them. It is an experience that fills us with renewed faith and fervor, and with joy and hope. These are experiences that we sometimes seek, but that more often occur when least expected. It could be at a Mass while we struggle to be attentive, a Baptism or a Wedding, or during the Sacrament of Confession. It could be while on a retreat or day of recollection, or listening to a song or hymn.

It is not necessary to climb a mountain in order to have a mount top experience. All one has to do is be attentive, so that we don't miss the time and place when God wants to enter more deeply into our lives. We might never find the words to describe our experience, but we will know that we had an encounter with God.
How might we enable such an experience? We begin by enabling the experience of silence. Creating a moment free of distraction allows God to step into our lives in a more dramatic fashion. We have come to expect life as something that should be full of exciting experiences and pleasures. We often seem to tire of things, we wrestle with boredom if something isn’t always moving and challenging us. Solitude and quite are fundamental requirements to hear and experience God. As we move into our new week, let us endeavor to set aside some quiet and contemplative moments, wherein we can relish a mountain top experience.

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