Note: Fr. Ed’s homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration is now available online! Click here to listen.
Many of us have heroes, or at least people that we look up to, maybe even famous people that we would like to meet someday. One of my heroes was St. John Paul the Great. The year that he came to the United States for the first time was the year that I was ordained to the priesthood. All of the priests who were ordained that year were invited to Miami to celebrate Mass with the Holy Father, since he was particularly commemorating priesthood during his stop in Miami.
There I was with several hundred priests awaiting the arrival of the Holy Father. We were all making idle new priest chatter—what’s your pastor like, what kind of benefits do you get, etc., etc.—when suddenly the Popemobile arrived. All of us who had been acting all cool and newly-ordained swank erupted in shouts of joy and greeting, yelling at the top of our lungs to greet the Holy Father. All pretenses of sophistication gone, just full-hearted (and full-throated) jubilation at his presence.
A few other times in my life I was blessed to be with him. Those heroes who have deeply touched our lives are a source of inspiration for us and to meet them is like a dream come true.
So, imagine you are a first century Jew. In your mind there would be few heroes as important to you as two of the greatest figures in your history: Moses and Elijah. Peter, James, and John accompany the Lord Jesus to the top of Mt. Tabor, and there they observe a set of circumstances they would have never dreamed possible. First, the Lord Jesus, Whom they thought they knew so well, begins to glow with a brilliance rivaling the noon-day sun. Then, who appears to Him, but those two Jewish mega-heroes, Moses and Elijah. Then this amazing encounter is topped off by their hearing the very voice of the Father Himself! “It is good for us to be here.” If that isn’t the most monumental understatement of all time!
Faith to Endure
Why this stupendous event? As the Gospels and the prayers for the Feast imply, part of this was to impart greater faith to Peter, James, and John so that the horrendous events of the Passion of the Lord did not destroy their faith. After seeing what was done to the Lord Jesus, would any of the disciples be able to believe that He could actually rise from the dead after that? It is difficult enough to watch Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but in fact, Gibson’s portrayal was a very sanitized and dialed-down version of what the Lord Jesus actually went through. The disciples, on the other hand, would have witnessed or at least been told of the real thing. The difficulty that they had in accepting the fact of the Resurrection demonstrates just how difficult it was for them to believe that the Lord could come back from that. So these three are given a special gift, a special inducement to their faith. This was especially important for Peter, as the Lord Jesus would specifically commission him, after he had recovered, to strengthen the brothers.
The facts of the Transfiguration would be used by the preachers in the early Church to catechize the new community on several important facts. First, Moses and Elijah appearing to the Lord Jesus was like the stamp of approval of the Law and the Prophets, two of the key divisions of the Scriptures and way of life of the Jewish people. The ultimate “stamp of approval,” of course, was the voice of the Father Himself, Who not only affirms His mission, but identifies Him as the Son, and therefore as the Son of God. This whole event was calculated to maximize the graced response in those who paid attention to it.
The same gift is offered to us. If we open ourselves to this wonderful mystery, we too can grow in our faith through this gift!—Fr. Ed