The Transfiguration –  The Key to Spiritual Success This Lent


There’s a movie called Mask that’s based on a true story about a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis.  Rocky had a very rare disease that caused his skull and the bones in his face to grow much larger than they should.  As a result, his face was terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance caused some people to shy away from him, while others just snickered and laughed and, for as long as he could remember, a lot of the kids called him names.

Through it all, Rocky never pitied himself.  He never gave way to anger.  He never blamed God for his problems.  Though he felt bad about his appearance, he accepted it as a special challenge – a part of life that he just had to make the best of.  One day Rocky and some of his friends were visiting an amusement park.  They went into the place there Maskcalled “the house of mirrors.”  They all began to laugh at how distorted their bodies and their faces looked in the mirrors.  Suddenly Rocky saw something that startled him. One of the mirrors distorted his misshapen face in such a way that it appeared normal – even strikingly handsome.  For the first time, Rocky’s friends saw him in a whole new way. They saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: a truly beautiful person.  Something like this happened to Jesus at the Transfiguration.

During his Transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way.  For the first time, they saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: the glorious and beautiful Son of God.  This event occurred right after Jesus told his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem and there be handed over to the Romans to suffer and die.  When Peter heard this is cried out, “God forbid.  Nothing like that is ever going to happen to you.”  Jesus then said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:22-23)  Peter, James and John needed a spiritual shot in the arm to strengthen them after that shocking experience.

The-Transfiguration-Of-Christ-300x210In the Transfiguration experience, the three disciples were given a glimpse of Christ’s glory. It was designed to help them understand who Jesus really is, and to strengthen them in their faith so that they would have what to takes to live out their vocation and become what they were called to be.  Peter, James and John were given a moment of grace. Moments of grace are gifts from God.  They can’t be merited.  They can’t be won. They can’t be manufactured.  All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive them.

If we persevere on our spiritual adventure and listen carefully with the ears of faith, the day will come – either here or in heaven – when we too will hear a voice.  It will say to us what the voice on the mountain said of Jesus: “This is my own dear son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5) During the Season of Lent, we are especially encouraged to re-visit our priorities, the way we spend our time, and we are promised holy transfigurations when we devote ourselves to God in prayer.

After the Resurrection, Jesus again climbed up the mountain with the disciples and again He was transfigured.  He anointed the disciples with his power and authority, and before Jesus departed, he commanded them to return to the world and to share his Gospel of love.  They didn’t get it in that Transfiguration mountain-top moment.  They didn’t even get it when the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven.  They didn’t get it until one fearful day they gathered desperately wanting to know what to do, now that Jesus was gone. Seeking to discern who they were to be, they came together to pray.

On that Pentecost day, the disciples finally understood that all along Jesus was teaching them to pray together.  That day they prayed together, and the very power of God came down and filled them with divine glory, light and purpose.  When we pray together, God’s Spirit comes down from the heaven and fills us with the prophetic energy of Jesus.  All of us need the vision of the mountaintop.  All of us need transfiguration experiences, where our entire perspective is changed, where the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.  If we stop and reflect upon our lives, it’s likely that we’ve all already had such experiences.

We can identify with Peter, when he attempts to capture and prolong the moment by asking to make three dwellings for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  However, like Peter, James and John, we come to realize that we cannot live on the mountaintop forever.  The valleys beckon us to come down and live our lives as servants with other people, just as Jesus and the three apostles did.  The mountaintop had prepared them for the loving service of others, and the same is true of us.  The three disciples needed this mountaintop experience to uplift, encourage and inspire them, to teach them the importance of prayer, and to strengthen them for the challenges ahead.

The Transfiguration reminds us that when we climb with Jesus, pray with Jesus and listen for God’s Word with Jesus, God’s glory will surround us and we will be guided down the mountaintops into the world, there to be Christ’s healing people.  Jesus descended the mountain into a crowd of people who sought a new humanity, and he immediately proclaimed the reign of God by preaching good news to the poor, teaching by word and deed, healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe in the gospel.  He wanted his disciples (and now us) to do the same things.  Like Moses and Jesus, we are called to be a light in the darkness of our world.  Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are living out our calling.

Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are letting our light shine before others, so that they may see it and give glory to our Father in heaven.  If we aren’t doing as well as we could, Lent is a time for repenting and beginning anew to live out our calling.  Let us realize that there is, indeed, more beyond what we can see on the outside.  Let us be transformed and changed as we resolve to do better this Lent.

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

Choosing your mountain

No matter where you are in the United States you may have seen a car proudly displaying the bumper sticker, “This car climbed Mt. Washington.” The majestic mountain boasts the tallest peak in the Northeastern United States, and scaling it by car (much less on foot!) is no small feat. One can especially imagine how tough it might be in a vehicle worn by age and run through thousands of miles of terrain, both smooth and rough. The pay-off, however, is worth it. The scenery on the way up is breathtaking, and reaching the peak promises a view of stunning beauty and tranquility. One could visually sweep the landscape and experience a kind of theophany – a manifestation of God in the awesomeness of His creation.

TransfigurationThe Gospel also tells of a particular mountain climb that yielded an unexpected yet magnificent view. The evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke each recount the ascent of Jesus and His three closest disciples (Peter, James and John) to Mt. Tabor. What might have been a routine hike to get away from the crowds and find a quiet moment became a theophany to rival any experience of beauty or wonder previously experienced by the three. While on the mount Jesus’ appearance changed suddenly and radically. His garments become white as snow, and His face shone with a heavenly glow. As if this were not amazing enough, Moses and Elijah appeared on either side of the Lord! The three carried on a conversation which seems to have been heard, at least in part, by the surprised apostles. Peter – always first to defend the Lord, or to put his foot in his mouth – tells Jesus how great it is to witness this miracle with his brother apostles! In fact the whole thing is so awesome that he suggests they all just hang out together on the mountain, and offers to set up tents for Moses and Elijah. Just as Peter finishes speaking a voice booms from above, proclaiming, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Mt 17:5). And that quickly the excited apostles fall down in fear. This party was not what they’d planned on, and they knew it! A moment later Jesus touched them and when they had the courage to look up everything was as it had been before. There were no heavenly visitors or other-worldly voices. All that remained was Jesus, their teacher and friend.

Much could be said about the theological truths we learn from this incident in the Gospel, but one of the most important is that Jesus gives the apostles – and us – not only a glimpse of His divinity, but a foreshadowing of our destiny. We are meant to one day radiate with the light of God’s Love in eternal unity with the Trinity. This is what we were made for and the end toward which we walk on our earthly pilgrimage. But this great theophany also warns us that we will be confronted with mountains along our way, and with choices about how to scale them.

I think we encounter lots of mountains in our lives, chief among them that gargantuan peak called “sin.” It’s the one always found on our road, constantly before us as we traverse the highways of our pilgrimage. Each of us has mountains that lead us “off road,” or block us from moving forward. Each one of us must identify those mountains and choose the way that will allow us to scale and conquer them; or to find a road that leads us in a new direction.

This requires reflection (the kind that Peter was missing on Tabor), and willingness to acknowledge what is preventing us from progress. So what are your mountains? Could one be envy over what you lack, or a grudge tightly held against another? Perhaps you are held fast by a mountain of pain over a hurt committed against you. There are so many mountains, great and small, but when it’s your mountain it may seem insuperable.

How do we find the road that leads us over, through or away from these mountains and finally place them in our rearview mirror? That’s the easy part. God gives us the GPS to direct us: the free gift of Himself in the Sacraments, prayer and worship, and the support found in the communal life of the Church. What’s often hard for us is finding the courage to program our personal coordinates into that GPS and get started on the journey. Sometimes we’re hesitant to follow the directions because it’s too hard or painful, or we just don’t trust that we won’t get lost or hurt. Or the way can look good on its face as it did for Peter; but like him we get overwhelmed and lose our nerve. And yet, as He was for the brash, then frightened Peter, Jesus is there for us. He is always there. The mountains will still show up along the way, and the climb won’t be easy. Following Jesus doesn’t make the climb easy; but He makes it possible, and He is with us for every step we take.

“Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Mt 17:20

Ann M. Koshute teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online.