Today's Feast: the Transfiguration

Today marks the Feast of the Transfiguration of Christ – a feast well-known but probably not so well-understood. In light of such nebulous circumstances, and like any good blog focused on better understanding the faith should do, we’ll take a look at the significance of the great event we celebrate today.

Perhaps saying ‘event’ is misleading. Certainly, the Transfiguration was an historical event: Jesus walked with some of His Apostles up a mountain, and was shown in glory before them, conversing with Moses and Elijah. (cf. Matthew 17: 1-8) The Apostles were shocked beyond belief (as we can see in Peter’s almost silly, dumbfounded comments), and the whole happening seemed utterly impossible to everyone present – except the Lord. Then, what’s more, Jesus commanded His Apostles not to say anything of the matter once they came down from the mountain. When you leave it at that, it sounds like Jesus was trying to pull off some kind of illustrious scam and then leave his friends totally out of the loop as to what had just happened. But, like any aspect of Revelation, God has given the grace of understanding to the Church (through the Apostles), and we are not as clueless today as Peter was 2000 years ago.

The Transfiguration is more than an ‘event,’ it is the revelation of the true person of Jesus Christ. Not only does God the Father confirm in words the mission of His Son (i.e. “This is my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him”), but Jesus’ mission is physically shown to His disciples by His conversation with Moses and Elijah. Moses, who received from God the Ten Commandments, represents the power of the Judaic Law; the Jews had always been obedient to the Law and many saw Jesus as an opposition to that tradition. On the other hand, Elijah represented the lineage of prophets, who also commanded obedience to the written Law, but did so coupled with unique revelations from the Lord. Together, Moses and Elijah symbolize the whole Judaic tradition until the time of Christ. When Jesus was transfigured before the Apostles, He was in the middle of these two Old Testament figures, speaking with them. This is more than coincidence: Jesus’ conversation lets us know that He is, in fact, the completion of their teaching, which lacked fullness until then. Jesus did not “come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” The glory radiating forth from the transfigured Christ is testament to the beauty of His mission. The Son of God had come to implement a law of love.

The truly mysterious part of this whole reality is that Jesus did not permit his friends to speak of the Transfiguration until the “Son of Man had been raised from the dead.” But why? A simple explanation lies in the fact that love is founded not on testimony, but actions. If the Apostles only recounted Christ’s glorification with their mouths, perhaps others would not have believed, and the message of the Gospel would have been stifled. But God, in His infinite wisdom, accounted for the frailty of their human nature, and commanded them to live the love that Christ came to preach. Thus we, today, understand the Feast of the Transfiguration as a day on which to remember the reason we profess and value the Catholic faith: to love the Lord and our neighbor more and more every moment so that, one day, we might all be with Him in paradise. The foreshadowing of divine glory shown to the Apostles on that day will be as nothing compared to the inestimable bliss, which the Father desires to share with us one day in His heavenly kingdom.