The 4th Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration of Our Lord

“On the threshold of the public life: the baptism. On the threshold of the Passover: the Transfiguration.” (CCC 556)

(photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“I’m having trouble deciding which mystery I should I examine next. Since you inspired this project, which one do you find most puzzling?” I asked my son as we drove to his Confirmation retreat.

John thought for a minute. “The Transfiguration. It’s one that doesn’t make much sense to me.” 

“Okay.” I said, and wished him well on his retreat. Internally I fretted. That mystery remained mysterious to me too. We understand something of the Crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven because we’ve known people we wished to honor before all others. I could get the descent of the Holy Spirit because all Confirmed Catholics experience this gift, both in Baptism and all the more in Confirmation. And who doesn’t see themselves in the sorrowful mysteries in the course of life? But the Transfiguration?

As I drove home, my thoughts ran in a muddled fashion. Peter, James and John go up the mountain with Jesus. They pray and fall asleep. Jesus’s face becomes dazzlingly white and they see Him talking with Moses and Elijah. Peter loses his head for a moment and says something very Peter, “Let’s build three booths” because he wants to capture the experience permanently and stay always on the mountain. I know Moses represents the Law, and Elijah the prophets. How does that relate to a 13-year old boy preparing for Confirmation? How does it relate to me? How does it relate to anyone? 

I opened the Bible and read Matthew’s Version in Chapter 17 and it referenced John the Baptist being Elijah for Jesus. My own son John received his name in Advent of 2003 when I felt struck by the Gospel and the words, “His name is John.” I decided I needed to brush up on Elijah too. The prophets, of the Old Testament and the New, were voices crying out in the wilderness, proclaiming to the people, reminding them that while God is patient, He does judge, He will bring justice, and we’re culpable for all the damage we do in our lives to others, and for our own stubbornness to God’s law and God’s love.

The Luminous mysteries declare to us over and over again, “Listen.” In the Baptism at the River Jordan, God speaks from the Heavens, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” At the Wedding Feast in Cana, Mary tells the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” Jesus gives us the Proclamation of the Kingdom, Jesus’s words to our hearts in the Beatitudes, in all He reveals at the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tell us when He institutes the Eucharist, “This is my body. Do this in memory of me.” Having read the other two versions of the Transfiguration in Luke 9:28-36 and Mark 9:2-13, a bright cloud descends and from that cloud comes God the Father’s voice, God’s declaration. “This is my beloved son whom I love. Listen to Him.”

In that moment, it felt rather hard to miss the point. How could it be, I’d somehow heard this Gospel year after year and missed God’s still quiet voice when here He’s practically shouting to the world? Answer? Even the apostles struggled to stay awake at times, and often in our lives, via neglect, via sin, via not wanting to think about things, it’s easy to find one’s self sleeping through the reality of being in the presence of God. The Transfiguration is a reminder of what is to come, and a “WAKE UP!” call to our souls about what needs to be ongoing.

Are we on the mountain? Are we taking ourselves to prayer, talking with Jesus, being with Jesus, consistently seeking to stay in His presence? Are we seeking to get ever closer to God? Are we awake? Are we interested in the spiritual high of prayer, or in an actual relationship with Christ and what that entails? “Good questions for a candidate for Confirmation,” I thought, not to mention myself. We’re not supposed to get everything about any of the mysteries. We’re supposed to get that there is always more within each of these encounters with Christ, and that God being the infinite Lover, always has more to share with us if only we will stay awake and listen.” 

I can’t wait to share this with John. 

This article originally appeared Nov. 23, 2017, in the Register.