Emmitsburg Council of Churches

The Transfiguration and Souls

Father John J. Lombardi

Q: What do New Age, Hollywood stars and Christianity have in common? A: Desire for the body beautiful. Everyone wants a beautiful physical appearance, from movie stars to New Agers ("astral bodies") and even Christians-the Glorified Body after death (i.e., this desire is in our blood and that's exactly why we Catholics should drink the Sacred Blood of Christ-to regenerate these lowly bodies of ours!). Perhaps some will attain halos or sacred auras around their newly fashioned bodies! In the transfiguration- transubstantiation of the Mass, just think: God places within our human blood His Divine Blood

Last month I went to get my teeth cleaned and learned some dentists' offices now have these tv's in front of you to make you feel a little guilty: they picture "before" and "after" cleansing of teeth. Uuhh! Wow-what a difference! Did my teeth look like that? The radiant glimmer of the person's teeth after cleaning (and, of course, regular flossing and brushing correctly) is kinda' like a "dentist's transfiguration."

My dad just checked the oil in my car. My "pop," a devout Catholic (and usher here at the Grotto-he found his niche!), who is not want to overt religious metaphor, got to me: "That oil is black. Now, imagine your soul like that!" Yes: the engine of my car-and my soul-will implode or explode unless transfigured.

I just read about a book called "The Swamp" detailing the "Transfiguration" of the Florida Everglades from ecosystem to political issue: from beautiful wilderness, The Swamp, to touristy visitors' center. The Transfiguration, you see, works both ways.

In this Sunday's Gospel of the Transfiguration (Mk 1:12-15), a "New Mystery of Light" of the Rosary proclaimed by Pope John Paul II), Peter, James and John go up the Mountain to experience God, the most mystical experience by any human being! Mystical life means a direct experience of God. The Apostles received Divinity, Beauty, and Light.

Transfiguration images abound, are all around us! Right now a war rages in Iraq. American troops are trying to transfigure that country into a democracy. This is daily news and it is upsetting to see the transfiguration: who knows where it will lead? In our Catholic Church, we just experienced the ravages of some, few sexual-predator-clerics, upon the young, and, subsequently, the "clean up" of seminaries and the sacred priesthood by investigations: a new clergy transfigured-hopefully. In the spring training of baseball players in Florida, we may see transfiguration: guys letting go of excess eating and, possibly, beer bellies and winter's lethargy, now primed and transfigured into finely-tuned athletic bodies capable of glorious pursuits. Transfiguration abounds all around us. It's in our blood.

Transfiguration comes from the Latin words, trans, meaning over or beyond, and figura, meaning figure. So, a figure or person goes beyond him or her self and is transformed.

What is the Essence of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ? Let's state it in Trinitarian fashion. 1-To show that Jesus is God; 2-that He is the Christ-Messiah, the fulfillment of the Jewish Sacred History and lineage (Moses and Elijah respectively representing the Old Law and Prophets); 3-to prepare the disciples for the coming Passion, Death and Resurrection. In sum: Divinization, Realization and Preparation.

We all seek transfiguration-it's in our blood. Some seek it in beautiful people (in sexual relationships or friendships); some seek transfiguration in drugs (a new illicit drug is called "ecstasy"); in alcohol (sometimes called "spirits"); in athletics (steroid treatments abound); in amusement parks (thrills); in paranormal magic (past-life regenerations); in sexuality (Viagra, etc.); in changing bodily functioning (hormone treatments); in weightlifting, body building, fitness/gym clubs; in the rise of tattooing/body piercing, etc. Transfiguration abounds: we are seeking different bodies-in ourselves and in others. But the Ultimate Transfiguration is right before us-if we climb the Mountain of Holiness with Peter, James and John to the Lord's Magnificent Irradiation of Graces.

What all these false ways are seeking is possibly a "theandric person." Theandric means God-man. Jesus Christ is the only God-Man, both Divinity and humanity in total harmony. In various ways (listed above) people are seeking to be theandric. The closest we can come, though, is called a saint-a person who is especially holy, God-like. In the Transfiguration Jesus shows us not only Himself as God man, but also what man can be, if we follow His Path and not our own (as some do today as listed above). Which path will you seek? This is what we are all seeking, or should be seeking-to be God-like. We can seek this in right ways or harmful, wrong ways.

Transfiguration Lessons…Do you remember the beginning of the Iraq war-the motto, "Shock and Awe"? That is what the Transfiguration shows us. "Shock" in that Jesus will undergo a cruel Crucifixion, and we may with the Apostles ask: Is this the Way of the Messiah-so cruel a death? And "awe" is demonstrated at the Magnificence of the Divine Brilliance in the Transfiguration. Shock and awe, Cross and crown, go together.

I just read an article in the Washington Post Magazine (Mar. 5) by Steve Hendrix, recounting his family buying a "getaway house" in Guatemala: beautiful, lindo, the Latinos would say. He mentioned buying a house is third in emotionally fraught experiences after, get this, cable purchasing (!), and, first, falling in love! Yes: they're all traumatic, transfiguring experiences. I began to think after reading this: The Transfiguration of Jesus combines all three experiences in one. Huh? First, falling in love: the Apostles fell in love with the Beauty and Radiance of the Lord. They were drawn into His Enrapturing Beauty! Second, cable purchasing (now, get this!): TV images definitely change, transfigure us, for better or worse, by imprinting within our souls beautiful or ugly images. But the Lord Jesus gives the Apostles, and us, the Ultimate Image-His Sacred Divinity. Why watch TV? Third, home buying is definitely transforming (my parents were real estate agents: topsy-turvy world that is). Anyway: the Apostles wanted to build three tents on that Sacred Mountain-who wouldn't want to stay in a home there?! Point: make traumatic experiences mystical encounters of transcendent transfiguration!

What are some lessons of the Transfiguration?

Divinization: The Lord wants us to participate in His Divine Nature (II Pt. 1:4). How? Let Him, Jesus, be the Lord of your life and rule and reign in your heart-changing and transfiguring your passion and emotions and all your thoughts, words and deeds so that they re-present Him, your Lord. Have your really accepted Him as Lord of your life? Are you allowing, begging seeking Him to transfigure your inner nature? Remove the static from your mind and, emptied, be filled with His Radiating Divinity thru deeper prayer. The Eastern Church (esp. St John of Damascus, et al) speaks about God's Energies (so does Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Letter, "God is Love"). These "Energies" are not God's Essence (which is unchangeable) but rather, His overflowing Love for us, like the spiraling flames from the Sun). So, in meditation and contemplation (infused love), provide to God a virginal soul, like the Blessed Mother, and receive His Graces; let Him imprint His love within you, deeply. Give God twenty minutes every day of pure, receptive prayer: no less. Also: receive His Divine Blood in the Mass. Try to go fervently and frequently to be caught up in, as Pope Benedict terms it, the "sacramental mysticism" of Jesus' Death and Resurrection.

Realization: Acknowledge with the Holy Apostles that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish Law and Prophets. We need to base and anchor our mystical life in morality, in the Ten Commandments, in the Church's teachings. Mysticism and morality complement, not contradict, one another. So, avoid cohabitation, sexual promiscuity, contraception, abortion, materialism, and Mammon worship, seeking false gods. Follow the Path of Jesus and the Law which corrects our chaotic human nature. We also need a prophetic Church. We need our bishops and priests and lay leaders to be other- worldly, to help us in a fundamental option for the poor, to help correct in compassion those seeking same-sex unions and illicit homsexualism; in embracing the "prophetic edginess" and abrasions of God's tough love (Jesus' "Hard sayings"); in preaching against stem cell research which harvests babies' parts; in revealing and recovering our vast treasury of spiritual riches which have been neglected or rejected in the past years; in inviting all to the Salvation which Jesus offers and not being embarrassed by it, or ashamed, or influenced by relativism.

I recently read a news story about a foreign Catholic cable company which is being encouraged to keep pornography on its viewer offerings so as to keep the company solvent. Along similar lines, Catholic charity groups and institutions, by receiving federal financial assistance, either offer or allow contraception, abortion and other harmful practices opposite our Faith. These examples show that parts of our Catholic Church needs Transfiguration. In some of our Liturgies the reality of the sacrifice of Mass, the Fatherhood of God, intercessory prayer and worship of a transcendent God are either neglected or rejected. Celebrations which permit this form of "stealing" need a Transfiguration. The vertical sacrificial atoning elements have been lost to the horizontal communal elements; man seemingly is eclipsing God in the Mass.

Preparation: Jesus prepared the Apostles for his Sacred Passion by showing them His Transfiguration. He is the Suffering Servant not a cotton candy Savior. The Essence of the Passion is God's Humility-the lowering of Divinity to be tortured by humanity and taking on and lifting up and away our sins and ignorance. This is, or should be, astounding! "Though He was God He emptied Himself…and died…" (Phil 2:5). We, ourselves, too, are all going into a Purification (willingly or not) and kinda into a "mini-Passion" because of our sins and inordinate attachments. We need and will undergo what some saints call a "Dark Night" of the soul, wherein our wills are purified from wrongful, harmful desires; our intellects freed from bad thinking and false ideas; our memories lifted from harmful past experiences. This is not optional but spiritually optimal: we need to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt. 6). And the Lord Jesus shows us this is a necessity and that, after it, is reward: Transfiguration, holiness and, hopefully, Heaven, Blissful Light and Enrapturing Love.

Go up the Mountain: we must sometimes leave behind friends, relatives, possessions, thoughts and preconceived notions to experience the Lord's Way up High, in a Heightened State of Awareness and Mystical Embrace. God is both immanent (here below in the Blessed Sacrament and within our hearts) and also "Totally Other": He will accept no false idols or admixture with anything created. What or whom do you need to leave behind (at least for a while) and embrace the Lord without any attachments? It's a climb up the Mountain of Holiness but the Lord is waiting there for us!

No Pain No Gain: remember, the Lord was preparing the Apostles for His Bloody Passion and Crucifixion. The Cross and Passion are essential to spiritual progression. Denial of self, embracing hardships, undergoing tribulations, and embracing mortifications (hard things) are all "spiritual sandpapers" which smooth our souls from self to selflessness.

Remember: Transfiguration means beautification. We all seek it, so seek the Lord of the Transfiguration. A transfigured family is a holy family, a "domestic church."

A transfigured person is a saint. A transfigured culture is Christendom. Let's go up the Mountain!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi