“His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away.”
The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord takes place on the 6th of August every year. Most years this feast falls on a weekday and so goes relatively unnoticed, but this year it falls on a Sunday and so we get to pause our normal progression of green Sundays to reflect upon this important mystery of our Lord’s life. Actually, it fits very well with the themes we have been reflecting on over the past few weeks. Our Lord has been explaining through the parables in the Gospel what the Kingdom of Heaven is all about. He has used the parables of the sower and the seed, the mustard seed, the treasure hidden in the field, and the pearl of great price to illustrate what it means to believe in His kingdom and to commit to growing into the full stature of the citizens of that kingdom.
Today, in His Transfiguration, the Lord gives us an image of what life in the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. He appears before the Apostles shining in glory. He is making it clear to them that He is not just a human teacher, but that He in fact is God Himself, greater than the Law and Prophets which appear with Him, represented by Moses and Elijah.
His Transfiguration before the Apostles is not just a lesson about who He is, though. It is also an indication of what we are meant to become. Remember what St. Paul told us last week: “Those He called, He also justified, and those He justified He also glorified.” We too are meant to participate in this heavenly glory shown to us today by Christ.
In the first reading, we read from the prophet Daniel’s vision of the Son of Man coming on the clouds of Heaven and receiving dominion, glory, and kingship from God the Father. “His dominion,” the prophet writes, “is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away.” No earthly or spiritual power can take away Christ’s dominion, His kingship over Heaven and earth.
The problem, though, is that this often does not seem to be the case. Many times, we do not see the endurance of Christ’s kingdom, but instead we see the setbacks, trials, and tribulations that beset the reign of Christ on earth established in His Church. We see people and society falling away from Christ and from the teachings contained in His scriptures.
In this midst of all of this tribulation, today the Lord offers us a message of hope. St. Peter writes in the second reading, “We possess the prophetic message.” For those who follow Christ in His holy Church, we can be assured of possessing this prophetic message. No matter what happens in the world, no matter what anyone says about Christ’s church, nothing can ever change the fact that the prophetic message given by Christ has been preserved whole and entire by the Holy Catholic Church. This is our great source of consolation in this broken world: The glory of Christ present in the Transfiguration is available not just as a far-off possibility, but it is right here, present in Christ’s glorious truth guarded and preserved through the centuries in the Catholic Church.
In the year 451, a council was held at Chalcedon to resolve a controversy over how it is that Christ is both fully human and fully divine. The Pope, St. Leo the Great, was not able to attend the council because of the great distance, but He sent a letter explaining the faith about this matter as taught at Rome. When the letter was read the Bishops acclaimed, “Peter has spoken through Leo.” These bishops were convinced that the very same St. Peter who wrote the second reading that we heard today, the man appointed by Christ to lead His Church, was not just an historical figure from the Church’s past, but was a living and active reality in the person of his successor, St. Leo.
Christ promised us that the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against His holy Church, and He fulfills this promise by guaranteeing the surety of the transmission of the Faith in the Church. Christ’s truth, preserved whole and entire in the Church, is the “lamp shining in a dark place” described by St. Peter in the second reading. When the Bishop formally installed me as your pastor a few weeks ago, I promised that, “With firm faith, I … believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church … sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.”
Christ’s Revelation, the saving truths He desires us to know, are handed down both in written and oral form through the Apostles. The written form is the Sacred Scriptures, and the oral form is Sacred Tradition, taught to the Apostles by our Lord and taught by them to their successors, the Bishops. This is actually the older of the two forms – older than the Scriptures – since the Church existed, grew, and spread before the Scriptures were written by the Apostles and their successors and compiled by the Church much later still.
What, though, does this have to do with the Transfiguration? Notice that Christ is transfigured not before all of His disciples, and not even before all of the Apostles, but before Peter, James, and John alone. He is revealing to them a mystery about Himself that they are to share when the time is right. When the Lord invites them to stand, scared as they are by hearing the voice of God the Father, “they saw no one but Jesus alone.” This is our task as well – to see no one but Jesus alone.
Now, one could easily imagine an objection: “Seeing Jesus alone seems to be precisely the opposite of what happens in the Church! Why do all of these priests and other people have to get in the way? Why can’t I just have my own personal relationship with Christ, just me and Him?” The answer to this question is that it has some faulty assumptions. You see, it is precisely in the Church that we are able to see Jesus. The Church founded by Christ is the privileged place of encounter with Him. When God the Father tells us, “This is my beloved Son … listen to Him,” we are able to fulfill this command by listening to the voice of the Church, which speaks with the loving voice of Christ. Just as the bishops at Chalcedon in 451 were convinced that Pope St. Leo spoke with the voice of Christ, so must we remember that the Church, when She teaches definitively about faith and morals, also speaks with that same loving voice of Christ, which God the Father admonishes us to hear today.
There are so many things that can suck us away from hearing the loving voice of Christ in His Church. Other Christian denominations could offer a softer version of the Gospel, free of the moral commands that Christ teaches in the Scriptures and through His Church. The love of material possessions could pull us away from doing what is right. Being perceived as “behind the times” by others could lead us to believe that the Church should change Her teachings. All of these things, though, sell us short of the transforming and transfiguring power of Christ offered to us in the Transfiguration.
Worldliness and obsession with material possessions sells us short because it takes a part of who were are – a physical person with real material needs – and gives it exclusivity over our true core, our soul. It makes us less of who were are, just a a body wandering through a material world until it finally gives out at the end of our lives, instead of what we truly are – a union of soul and body out of place in this world, on pilgrimage toward our true home in Heaven. Following a “softer” version of the Gospel without moral commands, without the need to change our lives in order to follow Christ, sells us short of the heroic virtue of sainthood to which we are called. It says that we are not capable of great things by fighting heroically against our vices and striving for holiness. On the contrary, Christ calls us to a holiness that has the power to transform us and make us more than we are today by engaging in the battle against sin. The love of approval of the world, of being “with the times” or “up to date” sells us short of doing what is great and noble instead of what is popular. Our Lord Jesus Christ was not concerned with being “up to date” or “with the times” or “on the right side of history.” He called the people of Palestine 2000 years ago, and us as well, to something greater and more noble than the common and accepted practices of the day.
The Transfiguration shows us the goal – heavenly glory with Christ for ages without end – but it also shows us what is meant for this life as well. Listening to Christ’s loving voice through His bride, the Church, is meant to transform us even now, in this life. As members of Christ’s body, the Church, we are meant to be the “lamp shining in a dark place until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Through the practice of virtue, guided by the loving voice of Christ through His Church, Christ wants to transfigure us as well in order to be beacons of light and truth for a fallen world.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. John the Evangelist Church, Goshen, Ind.
The Transfiguration of the Lord, A.D. MMXVII