Sunday, March 16, 2014

Our Transfiguration

On the Second Sunday of Lent we always have the story of Jesus' Transfiguration. It brings to mind my 2006 pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Our tour bus for over 40 pilgrims had to park at the foot of Mt. Tabor, the high hill on which tradition has it Jesus was transfigured. Then smaller vans took us up the narrow, winding road to the top.  The view was fantastic, for this high place rises from a plain and one can see, in all four directions, the beauty of the land that was promised to Abraham.  We celebrated Mass there, perhaps on the very spot where Jesus was transfigured.

But what was the Transfiguration? What happened on that high place? Imagine for a moment being with Peter, James, and John. What would you have seen? You would have seen the divine glory of God shine forth through Jesus, so powerful that it even affected the clothes he was wearing. You would have seen Moses and Elijah standing and talking with Jesus. You would have heard the voice of God the Father coming from heaven and you would have been covered by a "bright cloud," the sign of the Divine Presence.  It was a taste of heavenly glory, given to prepare you for the darkness ahead--the betrayal, arrest, suffering, and crucifixion of the one in whom you had placed all your hopes.

Was this, the Transfiguration, the greatest miracle of Jesus before his death and resurrection? Not according to St. Thomas Aquinas.  Then what was?

Was it one or all of the many healings, especially keeping in mind the ones Jesus did from a distance, like the servant of the centurion?  No.

Was it the multiplication of five loaves and two fish, enough to feed 5,000 people?  No.

Was it raising dead people, like Lazarus whose body had been in the tomb for several days or the daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus?  No, not according to St. Thomas Aquinas.

Then what about when Jesus walked on water and calmed a storm? Surely this display of his power over nature was his greatest earthly miracle?  No.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the greatest miracle of Jesus occurred at the Last Supper.  Here's how St. Thomas Aquinas put it as quoted in a letter that Pope John Paul II wrote for the 750th anniversary of the feast of Corpus Christi on May 28, 1996: "at the Last Supper, after celebrating the Passover with his disciples and when he was about to pass from this world to his Father, Christ instituted this sacrament as the perpetual memorial of his Passion..., the greatest of all his miracles, and he left this sacrament to those whom his absence filled with grief, as an incomparable consolation."

At World Youth Day 2005, in Cologne Germany, Pope Benedict described what happened at the Last Supper this way: "What is happening? How can Jesus distribute his Body and his Blood? By making the bread into his Body and the wine into his Blood, he anticipates his death, he accepts it in his heart and he transforms it into an action of love. What on the outside is simply brutal violence, from within becomes an act of total self-giving love. This is the substantial transformation which was accomplished at the Last Supper and was destined to set in motion a series of transformations leading ultimately to the transformation of the world when God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor. 15: 28)."

This is the miracle that takes place every time Mass is celebrated. You don't have to fly across the ocean to see a miracle or the site of a miracle. You don't have to go across town or cross country to see an unusual spiritual phenomenon. The greatest miracle of Jesus happens right here, but we are often so unaware.

There is more. Not only are bread and wine transformed. We are too.  Pope Benedict again: "This first fundamental transformation of violence into love, of death into life, brings other changes in its wake. Bread and wine become his Body and Blood. But it must not stop there, on the contrary, the process of transformation must now gather momentum. The Body and Blood of Christ are given to us so that we ourselves will be transformed in our turn. We are to become the Body of Christ, his own flesh and blood."

Have you ever thought of yourself as the "flesh and blood" of Christ? It seems blasphemous to say that. Yet Pope Benedict says this is what happens when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. The two--Christ's flesh and ours--become one and we are transformed. Transfigured, as it were. At every celebration of the Eucharist we are given a taste of heaven. Jesus gives himself to us. The divine glory of Jesus is given to us so that it might shine forth into the world through us.

The Transfiguration of Jesus happened once. Our transfiguration, the transformation that every Holy Communion effects, happens every week, every day even.  We need this transforming "Bread of Life," food for our journey.

The apostles and Jesus descended the mountain and went forth to face the darkness that was gathering. We leave Mass and are sent forth into a dark world with the glory of God within us. We leave to face our own challenges to faith, hope, and love. But we aren't alone as we do so. We are one with Christ, whose Body we have received, and one with our brothers and sisters in the Communion of Saints.  We are not alone in the dark.

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