daily biblical sermons

We shall be transfigured, spiritually now, but ultimately in resurrected bodies, when Christ returns in glory
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Thursday, the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, August 06, 2020
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Psalm 96, 2 Peter 1:16-19, Matthew 17:1-9

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to him Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is well that we are here; if you wish, I will make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces, and were filled with awe” (Matthew 17:1-6).



The transfiguration of the Lord before his three favorite apostles, Peter, James, and John, is one more miracle to confirm their faith in him as the divine Son of God and Savior of the world. First they saw his many healings and exorcisms, then they saw him multiply five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand men, besides women and children, then they saw him walk on water and enable Peter to also walk on water, and finally, after prophesying his death and resurrection, Jesus gives them a foretaste of his resurrected and ascended glory, which he will have as the Son of God, when he returns to his heavenly Father.



Jesus did not leave his disciples without proofs and demonstrations of the truth of his claims to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world. This is one more proof, but it is different from the others in that in his transfiguration they actually see his majestic glory shining through his humanity and even through his clothing, turning them white as snow so that they shine like the sun, as his face also shines like the sun.



The transfiguration is also important because it is a clear and striking demonstration that there is a glorious life after death that the faithful will experience after they die, for we will not have to wait until the final resurrection to come to life again after death. Peter, James, and John see Moses and Elijah “who appeared in glory” (Luke 9:31). Moses had been dead for many centuries, and Elijah had centuries ago left the world in a fiery chariot, and yet the disciples see them alive, discussing with Jesus his saving death, which he will undergo in Jerusalem (Luke 9:31).



Peter, James, and John will remember the transfiguration, and their faith will be strengthened and confirmed that after death they will have the possibility of living in glory, as did Moses and Elijah.



Jesus had often predicted his death by crucifixion. When it comes about, the memory of his transfiguration will strengthen these three apostles so that they will not lose faith in him.



The transfiguration is also important for us in the sense that we too are to contemplate Christ’s glory and will be spiritually transformed or transfigured thereby into the very glory of Christ that we are contemplating. We will be spiritually transfigured from one degree of glory to another as we grow spiritually (sanctification), as St. Paul says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).



Christ is the likeness, image, or icon of God that shows God to us, but “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). The light is there, and it is to be seen spiritually and interiorly. Those with faith will see the light of Christ shining in their hearts. But unbelievers have been blinded so that they cannot see it. “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).



Seeing the light of Christ, who is the image of God, shining in our hearts is our spiritual transfiguration that we experience through faith in Christ, when we contemplate his glory. This contemplation changes us little by little into the likeness of Christ himself, from one degree of glory to another, when we behold his glory with an unveiled face. This is our spiritual transfiguration, our being conformed to the image of Christ, “For those whom he [God] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).



Therefore “Let us run with confidence and joy to enter into the cloud like Moses and Elijah, or like James and John. Let us be caught up like Peter to behold the divine vision and to be transfigured by that glorious transfiguration. Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator, to whom Peter in ecstasy exclaimed: ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here’” (Bishop Athanasius of Sinai, 630-701, Office of Readings).



The fruit for ourselves, I think, of this reading about the transfiguration is that we who have been justified by our faith in Christ, because of his atoning death for our sins on the cross that made reparation for them, should now be in a process of sanctification whereby we are progressively transformed or transfigured spiritually in the image of Christ. We do this by contemplation, which requires a style of life that is conducive to contemplative prayer. This means a life that is detached from worldliness that dissipates our affective energy so that it has no strength to reach God.



This is why Bishop Athanasius of Sinai, the seventh century abbot of St. Catherine’s monastery at the base of Mount Sinai, when speaking of the transfiguration, tells us that we should be detached from the world in order to be transformed from one degree of glory to another by contemplating the glory of Christ. That is why he says, “Let us retire from the world, stand aloof from the earth, rise above the body, detach ourselves from creatures and turn to the Creator” (Office of Readings).



This is why monks from the very beginning, following the example of John the Baptist, detach themselves from the world, as we see in the striking example of the Desert Fathers of Egypt and Palestine in the third and fourth centuries AD. They retired from an active life in the world in order to “stand aloof from the earth” and detach themselves from creatures, to the degree that this is possible, so that they might better contemplate the glory of God on the face of Christ in their hearts.



But contemplation is not only for monks. Just two days ago we celebrated the memorial of St. John Vianney (1786-1859), who was a parish priest that spent a tremendous number of hours each day in the confessional, and people from all over France that heard of his reputation for holiness would come to seek counsel from him. He also spoke of the beauty of contemplative prayer, saying, “If you pray and love, that is where a man’s happiness lies. Prayer is nothing else but union with God. When one has a heart that is pure and united with God, he is given a kind of serenity and sweetness that makes him ecstatic, a light that surrounds him with marvelous brightness … Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us. Prayer never leaves us without sweetness. It is honey that flows into the soul and makes all things sweet. Some men immerse themselves as deeply in prayer as fish in water, because they give themselves totally to God. There is no division in their hearts” (From the catechetical instructions by St. John Mary Vianney, Office of Readings, August 4).



Contemplative prayer is communing with God in our heart in love, silence, and peace. When God wishes and he sees us in such a posture of prayer, he fills us with heavenly peace. Not that we experience this every day, but the daily practice of contemplative prayer is an important spiritual discipline enabling us to experience God’s heavenly peace and divine love when he wishes to grant it to us. But if we do not daily practice this type of prayer, God will find that he doesn’t have much opportunity to visit us with such a gift. St. Paul tells us to pray and make our needs known to God, “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

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