HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE LORD
HOMILY THEME: TASTE OF HEAVEN
BY: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Two boys were walking home from Sunday school, and they were discussing the topic they just took up. It was about the existence of the devil. One said to the other, “What do you think: is Satan for real?” The other boy replied, “Well, you know how Santa Claus turned out. It’s probably just your Dad.”
It is always amusing to see the eyes of little children widen in excitement and wonder when the name Santa Claus is mentioned. But that’s until they grew older and the ‘secret’ loses its mystery. It was Daddy all along!
Jesus is no Santa Claus. Nor does he need to put up the Santa Claus antics like most fathers do on Christmas Eve. He is for real. He does not pretend to be God for he is truly the Incarnate Son of God. He does not pretend to be human for he is True Man. He is both God and man. His divinity, however, is concealed behind his humanity. So, all people, and even his own disciples, thought he was just human. This is the Mystery of that Incarnation that we cannot fully comprehend.
Pope St. Leo the Great explains this in simple terms: “He stooped down to take up our lowliness without loss to his own glory. He remained what he was; he took up what he was not. He wanted to join the very nature of a servant to that nature in which he is equal to God the Father. He wanted to unite both natures in an alliance so wonderful that the glory of the greater would not annihilate the lesser, nor the taking up of the lower diminish the greatness of the higher.” (Office of Readings, Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel).
St. Paul described this beautifully in his Letter to the Philippians: “Who, though he (Jesus) was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-11).
Clearly, then, he became man in order to redeem mankind through his suffering and death. Assuming the human nature gave him the capacity to suffer, and thereby save us all. But it did not take away his divine nature. True man, true God. But he could not reveal this truth as yet before he undergoes the Paschal Mystery – his passion, death and resurrection.
Therefore, while on the way to Jerusalem where all these would take place, he was concerned that his followers could not endure the scandal of the cross and abandon him and his mission. Hence, his Transfiguration has to happen. Our Lord, “in a loving concession allowed Peter, James and John to enjoy for a very short time the contemplation of the happiness that lasts forever, so as to enable them to bear adversity with greater fortitude” (St. Bede, Commentary on St. Mark, 8, 30:1,3).
Jesus does not change in any way. His changed appearance is only in the eyes of his three disciples. In just a flash, but seems an eternity to them, he opened their eyes to that infinitely profound reality – that he is God! They had a glimpse of Jesus as God – “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” (Mt 17:2). And consequently they had an indescribable experience of heaven. Groping for the right words, Peter just exclaimed, “Master, it is good for us to be here!”
This experience never left the consciousness of Peter: “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, ‘This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:17-18).
The Transfiguration event empowered the disciples to face the shame and pain of the cross and later on, to proclaim the message of the resurrection. Pope St. Leo the Great makes this apt conclusion: “The principal aim of the Transfiguration was to banish from the disciples’ souls the scandal of the Cross.” (Sermon, 51,3). We all wish to follow Jesus. But following him will invariably lead us to the Way of the Cross. He makes that very clear to all: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,[a] take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt. 16:24). Christian discipleship is never easy. There are times when the cross seems too heavy, and the prospect of more sufferings ahead terrifies us.
The lesson of the Transfiguration should help us move on, and follow Jesus without fear, weariness and regret. As what the three disciples ultimately realized, there is definitely a certain assurance that everything eventually turns out fine. It is like reading a novel where the happy ending is already known to us. No matter how difficult the problems that the main character encounters, we are not disheartened and continue reading because we know the story is sure to have a happy ending.
At the Last Supper, Jesus left us an indelible memorial, viz., the Eucharist. It is the sacrament of his Real Presence, thereby fulfilling His promise: “I am with you always until the end of the age.” No matter what happens, he is always with us, especially in the Eucharist.
Should we open our eyes of faith, just as what the three disciples on the mountain did, we, too, will experience what Pope St. Gregory the Great proclaims, “The Liturgy is primarily a sacred act before God, which means that “at the hour of Sacrifice, in response to the priest’s acclamation, the heavens open up; the choirs of angels are witnessing this Mystery; what is above and what is below unite; heaven and earth are united, matters visible and invisible become united” (Dial. IV, 60). Is this not a Transfiguration experience?
True, our senses do not perceive any change. The bread looks the same bread to us. The wine, too. But the change is not in the appearance, but in the substance. The bread still looks like bread; the wine still looks like wine. But at the Consecration, it has become the Body and Blood of Christ. Our Catholic Theology calls this “Transubstantiation.”
St. Francis de Sales explains, “But when the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar is there, then this Presence is no longer imaginary, but most real; and the sacred species are but a veil from behind which the present Savior beholds and considers us, although we cannot see him as he is.”
The Mass is accurately called “Heaven on Earth.” Heaven is the state of being in union with God. If we believe that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist, it means, therefore, that the Mass is the experience of heaven on earth. How deeply do we cherish and appreciate those priceless moments while we are present in Holy Mass?
Jesus is truly present.
He is with us.
Heaven begins right here!
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish Palmera Springs 3, Susano Road Camarin, Novaliches, Caloocan City 1422