Tag Archives: Transfiguration

Four Glorious Realities to Encourage Disciples

February 23, 2018

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TransfigurationThere is a second altar in the Basilica of the Transfiguration called the Grotto of Christ or the Lower Chapel. It is located beneath the high altar in the location of the first Christian church built on Mount Tabor during the Byzantine Period. The chapel has a barrel-vaulted ceiling decorated with a magnificent blue mosaic designed by A. Villani. The mosaic depicts four scenes, two on each side, and unexpectedly, they do not portray anything related to the Transfiguration of Jesus, but rather, portray four glorious realities that pertain to the life of Jesus. The purpose of the first Transfiguration was to encourage Jesus as he made his journey to Jerusalem, and the objective of the four scenes is to encourage the people of today as they make their pilgrim journey through life.

The Nativity. The first scene depicts the newborn Jesus with a golden halo around his head lying in a manger of straw at the feet of three angels, all looking down at him. The center angel has hands extended as if to present the infant to a waiting world, and the angels standing on each side have their hands raised in the orans position to praise God for the glorious birth of his beloved Son. Jesus is holding a globe with a Cross on the top because he was born to save the world which he accomplished through his triumphant Cross. With his birth comes the promise of salvation which provides immeasurable encouragement to all who place their hope in him.

The Eucharist. The next scene has three more angels. The center angel, with eyes gazing upward to heaven, is holding a consecrated host, the Body of Christ, in his right hand, above a golden chalice which contains the Precious Blood in his left hand. Jesus promised his disciples at the Last Supper, “I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18), and Jesus fulfills this promise every time that he comes to person in the Eucharist. Jesus explained that “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56). It also carries the pledge of a share in his Resurrection, as Jesus also declared “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day” (Jn 6:54).

The Crucifixion. On the opposite side of the chapel is the third scene with three angels standing above a lamb with a halo above its head, neck slit and bleeding, lying dead upon an open book. The book symbolizes the fact that Jesus is “the word made flesh” (Jn 1:14) and that he has “the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). Jesus is also “the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29,36), “the Lamb that was slain” (Rv 5:12) and “pierced for our offenses” (Is 53:5; see Jn 19:34). The glorious news of the crucifixion is that by the precious blood of Christ, the unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:19), we are cleansed of all sin (1 Jn 1:7; see Rv 1:5) and our redemption and salvation accomplished.

The Resurrection. The fourth mosaic shows three more angels. The center angel has his hands crossed over his chest, the symbol of obedience, representing Jesus who obediently said, “not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42), and who was “obedient to death, even death on the cross” (Phil 2:8). The angel is standing above an open sarcophagus, an uncovered coffin or casket, which symbolizes the tomb of Jesus that no longer contains his body. It is empty. Jesus is risen. The glorious good news is that “if we have grown into a union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in his resurrection” (Rom 6:5), and we are encouraged with the assurance that “if we have died with Christ … we shall also live with him” (Rom 6:8).

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The Transfiguration: A Glorious Moment to Encourage Jesus

February 23, 2018

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As we begin Lent, we look ahead to the end of Lent and the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the Sacred Triduum, the commemoration of the Passion, death, and Resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter.

At the midpoint of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus predicted to his disciples that this would take place: “He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days” (Mk 8:31).

This alarming news shocked his disciples, but it was far worse for Jesus. Jesus had seen crucifixions before. He knew how cruel the Romans could be. The thought that he would have to endure something so ghastly and excruciating was dreadful, almost intolerable. Jesus understood that a person has to take up his cross (see Mk 8:34) and that a person has to lose his life to save it (see Mk 8:35). For Jesus, his words of advice to his disciples were not just religious slogans or pious platitudes; they would be a brutally harsh reality for him. It rocked him to the core. It would make a person stop in his tracks. It was time to reassess. How could he possibly carry on? It was a decisive moment, a moment of decision. Jesus wondered, “Shall I continue with my mission or shall I abandon the plan?” It was time to recommit.

His Father in heaven intervened. Jesus went up a high mountain and was transfigured. His clothes became dazzling white, like no robes on earth, only the robes in heaven. Moses and Elijah appeared, visitors from heaven. A cloud enveloped them, as a cloud surrounds all of the angels and saints in heaven. A voice was heard that came from heaven. Just when Jesus was tempted not to endure the suffering to come (see Mk 8:32b,33), the Father gave his Son timely help, a glimpse of heaven, a vision of the glory in store for him, the place where he would return and reign in majesty for all eternity, if he would only endure the hardships that lay ahead.

This glorious moment gave Jesus the boost he needed. He was more determined than ever to make the journey to Jerusalem. Without further delay, which the building of tents would have caused (Mk 9:5), he descended the mountain, and encouraged by his Transfiguration, even though he knew that untold torment and affliction were in his future, after having basked in glory only briefly, he could see that the Son of Man would also rise from the dead (Mk 9:9b).

The Father gave the Son a glorious moment to help him persevere, to let him know that there would be a glorious reward on the other side of his trials and tribulations. The Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel commemorates this event, and there is a beautiful mosaic in the dome of the apse above the high altar that depicts Jesus in radiant glory.

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A pastor recalls a transfigured moment

August 3, 2017

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The day was October 23, 1981. The place was the Monticello Golf Course. The occasion was the Region 5A cross country championship. Twelve boys’ teams had qualified, including this pastor’s team, Crosier Seminary. The stakes were high. The top two teams would advance. The other ten would be done. No Crosier cross country team had ever reached the state meet. The Crosier coach was a young fellow, age 29. It was his sixth season. The team was ranked in the state poll and on an impressive winning streak, but still had never made the elusive trip to state, never climbed among Minnesota’s elite.

It was a crisp, cold fall afternoon, 30 degrees, and snowflakes were in the air. Stocking caps, gloves, and tights were the order of the day. Sweats came off at the last second before the starting gun. Shivering and focused, it was off to the races, and race the Crosier boys did!

Two Crosier runners placed in the top ten. Three others were in the top twenty. It was solid, but was it enough? Results were tabulated. The wait seemed like an eternity. By now it was dark. The adrenaline kept the cold at bay. And finally, with bull horn blaring, the scores were announced, starting with the 12th place team and working up the list. One by one, nine teams were named, Crosier not among them. The next team announced would be out, the other two in.

“And finishing third,” the announcer shouted, “is St. John’s Prep.” The Crosier delegation erupted. There were high fives and hugs, glee and jubilation. Our best-ever second place region finish propelled us into our first-ever state meet appearance.

And then, the frosting on the cake, the announcer added, “The Region 5A coach of the year is Br. Mike Van Sloun.” Quite unexpectedly two of my athletes hoisted me up, parked me on their shoulders, and to cheers and applause, put me on parade. It was storybook, right out of the movies! The thrill of victory! An instant of glory! Biblically, it was a transfigured moment.

The glory lasted fifteen or twenty seconds, and it was gone in a flash. Then it was back to the ground and back to work. Round up the kids. Load the bus. Drive the bus home. Supervise the dining room. Clean up after dinner. The next day was the regular routine. After such a fantastic experience, it was easier to recommit to my duties, and my energy and motivation had been given a tremendous shot in the arm, and the effect lasted for weeks and months, actually years.

Later I came to realize that this is what the Transfiguration is about. Jesus had a glorious moment, but it came and went in flash, and then it was back down the mountain (Lk 9:37) to get back to the task at hand. His Father gave him a lift so he could recommit to the mission he had recently announced, his suffering and death (Lk 9:22), and with firm purpose, he “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51).

We are blessed by God with glorious moments, a college graduation, the birth of a baby, or a retirement party, all which come and go quickly, and then it is back to the task at hand, a new job, the endless duties involved with caring for a child, or the aches and pains of aging. God sprinkles transfigured moments into our lives to renew our strength and resolve, so that if we are faithful to the end, as Jesus was, we will share in his eternal glory.

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Peter’s flub ups at the Transfiguration

August 3, 2017

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The Transfiguration may have been a great day for Jesus, but it was a bad day for Peter. Jesus sparkled, but Peter failed to shine.

Peter fell asleep on Jesus. Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray (Lk 9:28), and Jesus asked Peter to pray with him on this very important occasion. As Jesus began to pray (Lk 9:29a), Peter and the others promptly dozed off (Lk 9:32a). It was perfectly understandable. They had traveled from one town and village to another (Lk 8:1), they had just finished an arduous mountain climb, and they were tired. It foreshadowed the Agony in the Garden when Jesus again would ask Peter to pray (Lk 22:40), and Peter would again fall asleep (Lk 22:45). Peter disappointed Jesus when it came to praying with him and for him.

Peter wanted to do all of the work himself. Peter had a close partnership with James and John, so close, in fact, that Peter had invited them to his house in Capernaum (Mk 1:29), and they may have lived together. All three were with Jesus for the miraculous catch of fish (Lk 5:4-10), the visit to Jairus’s house (Mk 5:37; Lk 8:51), and a conversation on the Mount of Olives (Mk 13:3). They were mutual friends and fellow workers. Yet, as Jesus was transfigured, Peter brazenly suggested, “If you wish, I will make three tents” (Mt 17:4). What is with “I”? Peter disregarded and disrespected James and John with his desire to go it alone and leave them out. He was being a controller. He wanted to be in charge. It was a selfish and prideful move.

Peter offered to make three tents, not one. If tents would have been necessary, Peter had a poor grasp on how many would be needed. He may have thought that Moses and Elijah were going to stay with Jesus for a while, or that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are similar in rank and importance. Yet, “when the disciples raised their eyes, there was no one else but Jesus alone” (Mt 17:8). Moses and Elijah had vanished. Jesus stands alone as the supreme law giver and the greatest of all prophets, and if tents were going to be built, only one would have been needed.

Peter wanted the high life on the mountain. The Transfiguration was awesome. Peter had scaled the heights and been swallowed up in the clouds. There were bright lights, celebrity guests, and a heavenly voice. It was sensational, exhilarating. His spirits were soaring. When Peter offered to set up the tents, it was as if he were saying, “I wish this moment could last forever. Let’s stay up here and bask in the glory. This is fun. This is the good life. Who needs to go back to work?” Peter wanted sit tight and take it easy.

Peter was duped into tempting Jesus. Peter had been fooled by the devil once already. When Jesus predicted his Passion for the first time, Peter rebuked Jesus and discouraged him from embracing his suffering and death (Mt 16:22). Jesus knew that Peter loved him and wanted the best the best for him, yet Jesus scolded Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” Jesus knew that Satan had tricked Peter into tempting him. When Peter offered to build a tent for Jesus, “he did not know what he was saying” (Lk 9:33b). Unfortunately, like before, Peter was tricked into being Satan’s mouthpiece. If Satan through Peter could entice Jesus to allow him to build a tent, and then if Jesus would move into the tent and stay there, it would have delayed or prevented Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Jesus ignored the offer, fended off the temptation, and went down the mountain the next day.

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Listen to Jesus: The Second Sunday of Lent’s Message

March 18, 2011

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Transfiguration Church in Mount Tabor, Israel

The Transfiguration is the gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent in all three of the liturgical cycles: Mt 17:1-9 in Year A; Mk 9:2-10 in Year B; and Lk 9:28-36 in Year C.

This gospel does not appear by happenstance, but was chosen by the Church for early Lent for a vitally important reason. The main message was spoken by God the Father and is intended to guide us on our forty-day journey through this holy season: “This is my chosen Son, listen to him” (Mt 17:5; Mk 9:7; Lk 9:35). If we wish to turn away from sin and be more firmly rooted in the gospel, the spiritual objective for Lent as given on Ash Wednesday (Mk 1:15), and if we wish to grow in holiness and be well-prepared to celebrate the Triduum, particularly Easter, the best way to do so is to spend Lent listening to Jesus.

To listen to Jesus is what God wants. God the Father rarely speaks in the gospels, only twice. Because his words are so few, and because they are so momentous, we should sit up and take notice. The Father’s first statement at Jesus’ baptism explains who Jesus is: “This is my beloved Son,” and his second and final statement at the Transfiguration explains how the Father wants us to respond to his Son: “Listen to him.”

The Transfiguration account confirms the teaching authority of Jesus. Jesus stood between Moses, the Word of the Law symbolized by the two tablets of the Ten Commandments, and Elijah, the Word of Prophecy symbolized by a scroll or a book. By standing with Jesus, Moses and Elijah endorsed his teaching mission and transferred their lead roles as law-giver and prophet to him. Jesus is the Word (Jn 1:1), and the proper response is to listen to him.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus himself explained: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn 6:63), and Peter accurately replied, “Master, you have the words of everlasting life” (Jn 6:68). If we want to have a full and meaningful life on earth, and if we wish to enjoy everlasting life in heaven, then we must listen to him.

Please, listen to Jesus every day this Lent. It is easy to do. Open the Bible, read a gospel passage, and reflect on it. Go to Mass, pay careful attention to the readings, and listen to the homily. Set aside quiet time for prayer, and listen to Jesus speak to your heart. Watch a movie like Jesus of Nazareth or The Passion, and listen to what he says and does. Do some spiritual reading and listen to Jesus speak through the author. Be kind to another and listen to Jesus speak through your neighbor. Please, listen to Jesus and have a good Lent.

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