The editorial of the month

Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P

by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P


This year the Church has the joy of celebrating the Feast of the Transfiguration on a Sunday. What is the meaning of this mystery—one we also meditate in the rosary?

The Transfiguration and the miracle of change

A constant source of sadness in life is that helplessness we feel faced with our own inability. We get trounced by our same old character flaws, our pestering personal de­fects and patterns of sin. So frustrating is it that we try to justify our predicament. Disgusted (and a little defiant) we lapse into what may be the “heresy” of the 21st century: That’s just the way I am.

But the miracle of the Transfiguration broadcasts a lu­minous truth: Things can change. You can change. What changes us is a radiant face.

The Catechism refers to the Transfiguration as “‘the sac­rament of the second regeneration’: our own Resurrection…. The Transfiguration gives us a foretaste of Christ’s glorious coming, when he ‘will change our lowly body to be like his glorious body’ (CCC 556—quoting Phil 3:21; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh III, 45, 4, ad 2).

That miracle begins to take hold through an act of faith…when we believe what Jesus promises: The righ­teous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43). Faith is a way of seeing, and, as one scholar of the Transfiguration asserts, “the real transfiguration on Tabor was not the change of Christ into something he was not before, but the change of the perceptive capabilities of the Apostles” (A. Andreopoulos). In the judgment of Saint Maximus the Confessor, what enabled the Apostles to see the divine glory was not their physical vision, but their “pas­sage from the flesh to the spirit, and their subsequent puri­fication of both soul and body.” The Apostles began to see beyond their limitations and to seize the truth of Jesus Christ.

There is a reason why, just moments after her death, the lifelong smallpox scars that marred the appearance of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha suddenly vanished, leaving her skin smooth and beautiful. The transfiguration of her lowly body confirmed how deeply Kateri in life had perceived Jesus Christ to be her Lord, worth surrendering to in faith and suffering for.

In effect, the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt 25:31-46) is about transfiguration. We all start out as “goats,” but through an encounter with the One who shines on Tabor, we can be transfigured into creatures bursting with love, eager to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the ill, and visit the imprisoned as if it were second nature to us. As Simone Weil said, “God made it so that his grace, when it penetrates to someone’s very center and illuminates their whole being, permits that person to walk on water without violating the laws of nature.”

Beholding the Transfiguration

Such radical change requires the Transfiguration “mode” because, says Abbot Gilbert of Hoyland († 1172), “reason de­sires something more than to believe. What more? To behold.”

To “behold” means infinitely more than simply to “see.” “When the lover beholds the object of his love,” observes Saint Gregory the Great, “they are inflamed even more toward it.” Beholding is a way of hoping. “Great hope [is], ‘I am definitively loved.’… Before Christ’s gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him…transforms and frees us…. His gaze…heals us…enabling us to become totally ourselves” (Spe Salvi 3, 47).

Dominican Father Gabriel Torretta explains how behold­ing beauty is an act of transformation by which we are able to respond to God’s beauty in grace and so be gradu­ally deified, becoming more able to see beauty as we be­come more beautiful. Saint Irenaeus of Lyons expressed it this way: “God’s radiance vivifies, and those who see God therefore receive life.”

The Transfiguration and the cross

The fact that the Apostles—and we—cannot stay on Tabor signals something more. We are to descend this mountain in order to ascend Mount Calvary with Jesus and there em­brace with him that supreme act of love—his disfiguration on the cross. Transfiguration “also recalls that ‘it is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22)” (CCC 556). Not by accident did Pope Callistus III in 1456 fix August 6th as the date for the Transfiguration. He purposefully meant to connect it with the feast of the Exultation of the Cross, which occurs exactly forty days later.

If we dare to make ours the wisdom of Christ’s Passion, then Eternal Wisdom responds with a promise conveyed to us by Blessed Henry Suso: “I shall wrap the sun’s radi­ance in a cloth and tell you in earthly words concerning my sweet love….”