Friday August 6, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Transfiguration
Reading I (Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14) Reading II (2 Peter 1:16-19)
Gospel (St. Luke 9:28b-36)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear about Our Lord being transfigured before His apostles, standing with Moses and Elijah who appeared to Him in glory, and Our Lord Himself showing the glory of His divinity. While there are certainly many indications in the Gospel of the divinity of Christ – walking on water, the various miracles that He performed, and so on – these things have also been performed on a human level; by God’s grace, obviously, but when we read the saints there have been some who have done those sorts of things. None, however (to my knowledge, anyway), have been transfigured; it is only the Lord Himself, in a clear demonstration of His divinity. But it is also interesting to note the context in which this transfiguration takes place. It is with Moses and Elijah who appear to Him and they talk about His crucifixion. They talk about the exodus, the Lord going forth from this world to the next – but only through the Cross. Most of us, if somebody talked to us about the suffering we were going to have to endure in order to become truly holy, might get depressed. The Lord, on the other hand, was so filled with the love and the glory of God that He was transfigured, that He glowed.
Now this is something which obviously is a singular event. Yet, at the same time, when we look at the first reading, we see that this is the nature of Who He really was. We hear the prophet Daniel speaking about God the Father and the glory of God. His clothing was bright as snow and His hair as white as wool, and He received glory and dominion. And we hear “One like the Son of Man” coming and sharing in the glory of God. So it is the nature of His divinity, and we even speak that in our creed. He is “God from God and Light from Light,” the brilliance of God, absolutely pure and perfect; there is nothing that hinders the light at all. So what His apostles were able to see was just a mere foreshadowing, not only of what Our Lord would be and what they would behold in the glory of heaven, but what they themselves would be as they united themselves with Christ. They were able to see what their own glory would look like one day in heaven. Not only did this strengthen them to be able to deal with what was about to happen to Our Lord, but it also strengthened them for what was going to happen to their very selves.
It needs to do the same for us. We need to realize that through all the trials and struggles and difficulties of this life we are transformed, not transfigured per se, but transformed. As Saint Paul says, we go from one degree of glory to the next as we are transformed into Christ. And if we are going to be transformed into Christ, we are going to share in His glory. While we certainly share in that glory in this life through grace, most of us probably are not going to be able to be transfigured, which is just fine – we do not need the attention. But this is what we are going to be forever. This is going to be the glory of the children of God. This is what God has chosen us for. He does not want us to just kind of plod through this life; He does not want us just to be able to behold Him from afar; He wants us to enter into His glory and to be able to share in His glory.
That dark cloud which overcame Peter and James and John with Our Lord is the cloud of God’s glory, the shekinah cloud, as the Jewish people would call it, the “glory cloud”. It is the cloud that filled the meeting tent when Moses met face-to-face with God. It is the cloud that filled the temple when Solomon first dedicated it to the Lord. It is the cloud that overcame our Blessed Lady when she conceived Our Lord in her womb. And it is the same cloud that will overcome us if we are willing to enter into God’s glory. It is called a dark cloud because, as we know, if we try to look at something that is too brilliant we will be blinded, and so God in His mercy lets us enter into the darkness. But it is in the darkness that the brilliance is understood and recognized.
If we are willing to enter into the darkness of prayer, into the abandonment that we sometimes will feel, into the dryness and the depth, but in so doing to know that we are entering into the brilliance of the love of God, it is there that the glory of God will fill us. It is not that we will say with Peter, “Let us build three booths,” because we know that we will never be able to contain God. Rather than trying to fit God into some little pattern of our own, it is just the opposite: We are brought into the glory of God and we will share in the glory of God.
What the apostles saw in the glory of the Transfiguration was the nature of Christ. Yet, for us, it is something which is supernatural, but it is not something which is impossible – for us, yes; for God, no – rather it is what He has held out for us for eternity. So for those who are faithful, for those who unite themselves completely with Our Lord, the glory of the Transfiguration will be ours, to behold Him face-to-face not merely from a distance but from within, to be perfectly united with Him, to have Him within us and to be drawn fully within Him, to share in the glory of the transfigured Christ, to be united with Him in the brilliance of the love of God, and to be able to give Him that glory which is His, but in which we will have a share forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.