Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord
August 6, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
There are times in life when we wish we were somewhere else–anywhere else.
But there are other times when everything comes together,
and we wouldn’t trade the present moment for anything.
Times when we know that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be
–even if we don’t fully understand why,
or don’t particularly like the situation,
we know we must stay.
In today’s Gospel reading we find the great Sts. Peter, James and John
in just such a situation.
In the words of St. Peter to Jesus: “Lord, it is good that we are here!”
Tradition tells us that the mountain of the Transfiguration is Mt. Tabor.
While we don’t know for sure that this is absolutely accurate,
we do know that the Transfiguration is true story.
As St. Peter testifies in today’s 2nd reading:
it’s not a “cleverly devised myth” but an “eyewitness” account.
At the time they went up Mt. Tabor,
the apostles had probably been with Christ for several years.
Still, they weren’t really sure who this man, Jesus, really was.
They had always known that he was different from the other teachers,
and they had even begun to believe that He was the Messiah
–but He was not the kind of Messiah that they had expected.
They had heard his moving words and seen him perform all sorts of miracles,
even raising the dead, but he was still a poor wandering preacher
who fled from the people when they tried to glorify Him as their king.
How did this fit with the prophecy of Daniel,
as we read in today’s first reading, that the Messiah,
whom Daniel called “the Son of Man”,
would come on a cloud and receive all glory and kingship forever?
The apostles knew Jesus, but they didn’t really believe in Him.
They saw him, but their eyes were closed.
So He took His three principal apostles, Peter, James and John
up Mt. Tabor to pray.
But, once again their eyes were closed,
Literally, but also heavily symbolically, as they fell asleep.
But when they finally awoke,
their eyes were finally opened to truly see the Messiah promised by Daniel.
This was the one glorified by God:
“His face shone like the sun
and His clothes became white as light.”
Here, for one brief magnificent moment it became clear to them
that Jesus’ repeated claim to be “the Son of Man”
was in fact his claim to be the Messiah promised by Daniel.
Moreover, as they heard the voice from heaven say,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him,”
they understood for the first time
that were truly in the presence not only of the Son of Man but also of the Son of God–Jesus Christ.
And so, it became absolutely clear that, “it is good that we are here!”
Why did Christ do this–why did He choose to reveal Himself in this way?
As Christ reveals Himself on the mountain to the three apostles,
He stands in glory with Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the prophet.
And what do these three talk about?
The other Gospels give us a little more information saying:
“they…spoke of his passage, which He was about to fulfill in Jerusalem.”
Jerusalem is the focus of Christ on Mt. Tabor.
Because His ultimate Glorification happens not on Mt. Tabor
but on the other mountain
–which is Jerusalem, built on Mt. Zion,
outside of which stands a hill called Mt. Calvary.
In Jerusalem waits the Cross
and it is to the Cross that Christ looks
as He stands before Peter, James and John
in the company of Moses and Elijah.
It is only through the Cross that He
fulfills the Law of Moses
and the words of the Prophets like Elijah.
And it is only through the Cross that He is resurrected in eternal glory.
Understanding this we better understand
what appears to be a confused statement by St. Peter:
“Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
The other Gospels tell us Peter, “hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.”
But this does not mean that Peter was just stumbling over himself and muttering useless meaningless words.
No, it means that Peter was so overwhelmed by reality of the Transfiguration
that all he knew was that “it is good for [them] to be here”
and that he didn’t want this moment to end.
For a brief moment, everything was clear
—Jesus was the Christ standing in glory with the lawgiver and prophet.
And seeing this true glory the 3 apostles
“fell prostrate” before Him and worshiped Him.
But at the same time, nothing was clear
–St. Peter couldn’t even begin to articulate the meaning
of what he had seen.
All he can say is “it is good for us to be here,”
and asks to pitch 3 tents, for the glorified ones
so they could stay:
he didn’t want them to leave–he did not want it to end.
But it had to end,
and Christ had to go to Jerusalem and to the Cross on Mt. Calvary.
And Peter would be strengthened by what he saw that day on Mt. Tabor.
For as Jesus tells Peter at the Last Supper:
“Simon, Simon,…I have prayed that your own faith may not fail;
and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.”
By this moment on Tabor,
Peter is strengthened so that months later
he would be able to hold his brother disciples together in Jerusalem
as they awaited the Lord to come and tell them what to do,
waiting for those 3 days when Jesus was in the tomb
–for he would know that this man who had died on the Cross
was no ordinary man, but the glorious Son of God.
As Christians, we hope for the Glory of heaven
–we hope that some day we will stand with the Glorified Christ
along with Moses and Elijah, and Saints. Peter, James and John.
This is our quest, our goal, our ultimate reason for living.
Like Peter, we seek to be in the presence of God in all His Glory forever.
And even those who don’t know that they seek this, do in fact seek it.
Look around today.
We live in a world seeking glorification, satisfaction, and fulfillment.
We need this–in our heart of hearts we cannot live without the hope of fulfillment.
We are in so many ways empty–we long to be filled.
This is the Glorification of Christ.
For we can only be fully filled–or fulfilled–by Him
who is the delight of God our Father–Christ Jesus.
We seek this glory, but we do not understand it.
We do not always see that to attain this glory we must follow Christ
not just up the mountain of transfiguration
–but first we must follow him on the road to Jerusalem
–even up the hill of Calvary, and up on the Cross.
We cannot have the glory if we do not take up our cross daily and follow Him.
Christ knows that the Cross is heavy and He knows that the nails are painful.
He knew that as He was taken down from the Cross
Peter, James and John and the other disciples
would be nailed to their own private crosses
as they struggled with the despair of Jesus’ apparent failure on the Cross.
Knowing this, in His mercy and love,
Jesus reveals His glory in his Transfiguration to John, James and Peter.
Christ knows that our crosses are also heavy.
This is why He constantly reminds us of the Resurrection.
This is why He constantly offers us hope through the foretastes of that glory
in the consolation and peace we find in prayer,
in the large and small miracles of daily life,
in the love and support He brings us
through our family, friends, and Church
and in the grace He reveals to us through Gis Word
and gives to us in the Sacraments.
But He never takes away the suffering His Cross and our daily crosses,
but instead always unites them to the glory of the Resurrection.
In effect, He transfigures our daily crosses in the hope of the resurrection.
And as a sign and source of this hope,
and as a real revelation of and sharing in His glory and His cross,
Jesus also gives us His glorified, crucified and transfigured Body
— in the Holy Eucharist at every Mass.
Through it He strengthens us as He strengthened Peter
with all the divine power which belongs by right to Him
as the glorious Son of God.
Today, in this Mass we go up with Peter, James and John to pray with the Lord,
We go up to Mt. Tabor then,
–we go up and hear the Prophets witness to the glory of Jesus
through the word of God proclaimed in Sacred Scripture.
And “we go up” to the altar to be with our Lord
on Mt. Tabor, Mt. Zion and Mt. Calvary.
–to truly be in the real presence of
the transfigured, glorified and crucified Body of Christ.
But as we do all this at this Mass, at this Eucharist,
do we yawn and look at our watches and wonder what’s for lunch?
Or do we fall prostrate before our Lord in adoration and AWE
not wanting this moment to end
but longing for it to go on forever?
Do we fall asleep like the apostles did at first
and miss the wonder taking place before our eyes?
Or do we wake up, and see the Lord of Glory before us
and say from the depth of our hearts with St. Peter:
“Lord, it is good that we are here.”