On the feast of the Transfiguration the Church blesses the first-fruits of the harvest both as a giving back to the Lord what is His and has come from Him (1 Chronicles 29:14) and as a celebration of the promise of the final transfiguration of all things in Christ. The Divine Light glimpsed by the Apostles on Mount Tabor will transform all creation to its most perfect flowering and fruitfulness
Let us consider some aspects of the gospel account of the Transfiguration. Jesus takes his three most intimate disciples with him. Sometimes God reveals Himself to sinners in an extraordinary way, but in general, the privilege of contemplating God, and of entering into the joy of the Transfiguration is reserved for those who have followed the Master long and faithfully. Jesus leads His disciples to a high mountain. Before attaining the light of the Transfiguration, the hard path of asceticism in necessary.
Jesus’s normal appearance is changed. His face shines “as the sun.” His clothes become “white as the light.” It is in this that the Transfiguration consists. The Jesus that the disciples knew well and whose looks, in ordinary life, did not differ radically from those of other people, suddenly appears to them in a new and glorious form. In our inner life, a similar experience can happen in three ways. Sometimes our inward image of Jesus becomes “to the eyes of the soul” so luminous, so resplendent, that we seem truly to see the glory of God in his face: somehow the divine beauty of Christ becomes for us an object of our experience. Or, sometimes, we feel with great intensity that the inner light, that light which is given to all people born into the world as a guide to their thought and action, is identified with the person of Jesus Christ: the power of the moral law becomes fused with the person of the Son, and the attraction of sacrifice makes us glimpse the sacrificed Savior, and hear his call. Sometimes, too, we become aware of Jesus’s presence in some man or woman whom God has set in our path, especially when it is given to us to bring compassion to their sufferings: then, in the eyes of faith, that man or woman is transfigured into Jesus Christ. From this last example, one could evolve a precise spiritual method, a method of transfiguration which could apply to everyone, everywhere and always. Jesus is the fulfillment of all law and of all prophecy. He is the final completion of the whole of the Old Covenant; He is the fullness of all divine revelation.
Moses and Elijah speak with Jesus of this coming Passion. Usually, not enough attention is paid to this aspect of the Transfiguration. In Jesus’s life, the glorious mysteries cannot be separated from the mysteries of suffering. It is when he is preparing to go to his Passion that he is transfigured. In our own life, we will not enter into the joy of the Transfiguration unless we accept the Cross.
Peter wants to stay in the blessedness of the Transfiguration. He suggests to Jesus that three tabernacles be built. In the same way, someone at the beginning of their spiritual life often wants to prolong the ‘consolations,’ the moments of intimate sweetness. Jesus leaves Peter’s suggestion unanswered. Neither to the first disciples nor to us is it permitted to withdraw from the hard labors of the plain and to establish oneself now in a peace which belongs only to future life.
The bright cloud covers the heights of the mountain. From the midst of it a voice is heard to say: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear him.” The same words, or very nearly, had already been spoken by the same voice at Jesus’s baptism. They give the scene of the Transfiguration its whole meaning. Why does Jesus’s appearance change? Why is he clothed in light? This is not simply in order to provide the apostles with an impressive and comforting sight. It is to transmit outwardly the solemn testimony which the Father bears to his Son. And the Father himself gives a practical conclusion to the vision: “Hear him.” Any out-of-the-ordinary grace is effectual only if it makes us more attentive and more obedient to the divine Word.
The disciples fall on their faces in fear. Jesus touches them and reassures them. “And when they had lifted up their eyes they saw no man, save Jesus only.” Different meanings can be found in these words that are equally true. On the one hand, the normal state of a disciple in this world is to attach himself to the person of Jesus without this being vested with the outer attributes of divine glory. The disciple must see ‘Jesus only,’ Jesus in his humility. If, at rare moments his image does seem to us to be clothed in light, and if we seem to hear the voice of the Father commanding the Son to our love, these lightning flashes do not last; and we must immediately find Jesus again where he is normally to be found, in the midst of our humble and sometimes difficult everyday duties. To see ‘Jesus only’ also means: to concentrate our attention and our gaze on Jesus alone, and not to allow ourselves to be distracted either by the things of this world or by the men and women we meet, in short, to make Jesus supreme and unique in our lives. Does this mean that we must shut our eyes to the world that surrounds us and often needs us? Some of us are called to be absolutely alone with the Master; let them be faithful to this vocation. But most of Jesus’s disciples, who live in the midst of the world, can give another interpretation to the words ‘Jesus only.’ Without renouncing a grateful contact with created things, and a loving and devoted contact with men, they can attain a degree of faith and love which will allow Jesus to become transparent through both men and things; all natural beauty, all human beauty will become the fringe of the beauty that is itself Christ’s, we will see it reflection in everything which attracts and merits our sympathy in others; in short, we will have ‘transfigured’ the world, and we will find ‘Jesus only’ in all those on whom we open our eyes.
(Taken from “The Year of the Grace of the Lord”)