Today, we celebrate one of my favorite feasts in the Roman Calendar: the Transfiguration. In the day’s Gospel reading, we see Moses and Elijah appear before the disciples and Jesus turns into a brilliant and dazzling pure light in every aspect, echoing the Prophecy of Daniel:
Thrones were set up and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was bright as snow, and the hair on his head as white as wool; his throne was flames of fire, with wheels of burning fire…and then…As the visions during the night continued, I saw: One like a Son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, The one like a Son of man received dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations, and languages serve him.The Transfiguration by Raphael, c. 1520
We see similar imagery in the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus warns the disciples not to be deceived by false prophets in times of tribulation:
For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west: so shall the coming of the Son of man be. Wheresoever the body shall be, there shall the eagles also be gathered together. And immediately after the tribulation of those days, the sun shall be darkened and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of heaven shall be moved: And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty.
Russia and the Ukraine are flirting with World War III. Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East. A fragile truce has stopped terrorist rockets from being fired on Jerusalem at least for now. Hundreds or perhaps even thousands are afflicted with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. In China, an earthquake has killed hundreds and the death toll will almost certainly climb as workers search through the rubble. In California, drought and wildfires are accompanied by mudslides. Closer to home, a toxic algae bloom has left a large part of Ohio without potable water. We may live in dark times, but even with all this, the sky is not falling.
The world is always a dangerous place, but before telling of the day of His coming, Jesus gives the disciples, and us, a word of hope:
And you shall hear of wars and rumours of wars. See that ye be not troubled. For these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; and there shall be pestilences, and famines, and earthquakes in places: Now all these are the beginnings of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall put you to death: and you shall be hated by all nations for my name’ s sake. And then shall many be scandalized: and shall betray one another: and shall hate one another.
And many false prophets shall rise, and shall seduce many. And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold. But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved.Pope Francis carries the Paschal flame (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images)
No matter how bad things may seem to us, we must remember that in all our sorrows and all our sufferings, Jesus will transfigure our imperfect world with his perfect radiance. In the Transfiguration, Jesus also teaches us that He is eternal. Christ is the light: of the creation and of the Transfiguration and of the Resurrection and of the Ascension and of the end of the world–and of our Baptism.
This is the same holy light which shines forth from beyond all time and at all places wherever men hold the truth of the Gospel in their hearts. For us, the Baptized, the world has already ended because, when we allow this light to shine upon the darkness of our sins, we are released from the troubles and cares of this world and death can have no power over us. As St. Paul tells us:
The Lord is my helper: I will not fear what man shall do to me. Remember your prelates who have spoken the word of God to you; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same forever.
In the Gospel, the voice of God commands us to listen to what Jesus says, and then what does Jesus tell us?
“Rise, and do not be afraid.” And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
These are troubling times, but Christ is risen! We are now free to share this glorious vision of the Transfiguration. We must not be afraid. We must carry forth this light into the whole world. It is our greatest hope. It is our only hope.