by Sister Mary Josephine Torborg, OSB
As we ponder this Mystery of the Transfiguration, we discover a method – a paradigm, so to speak – of how one can stay engaged in active ministry at a deeper and deeper level.
We often find in the scriptures that when Jesus was about to make radical, challenging decisions in his life, he would go apart and spend time in prayer with the Father. This is what is happening in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus wants to escape from the darkness of sin in the world to seek the light for a time; he invites us, as he invited Peter, James, and John, to come to the mountain with him. From this mountain, Jesus can see the Jordan Valley, the scene of his baptism and his prophetic call. He can see Galilee where he spent so much of his time in ministry, and he looks beyond and sees Jerusalem. Luke notes:
“While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his garments became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Luke 9:28-31).
We know that the apostles were overcome with sleep, but when they are fully awake they see the transfigured Jesus with Moses and Elijah speaking with him. Peter, who is delighting in this contemplative glance at Jesus, wants to hang on to this moment by building tents. He wants to take up residence on this Holy Mountain.
It is clear that Peter, James and John do not understand the true message of this mystical experience. They see the vision, but are still caught by their own ideas of the Messiah. Then they hear, within the cloud that covered them, the voice of the Father proclaiming, “This is my Beloved Son, listen to him” (Luke 9:35). Jesus has received a renewed awareness about his true mission on earth. The gospel tells us that he comes down from the mountain and sets his face toward Jerusalem, to enter his suffering, passion and death. Jesus knows that the transformation and salvation of the world will only happen as he accepts suffering and death on the cross. This is the cost of total discipleship.
It is this same pattern or model that we need to follow as we engage in ministry. In our own personal lives we too symbolically go up the mountain when we seek moments of solitude from the darkness of sin and the daily cares and concerns of our lives. We learn that inner quietude of the heart that enables us to come to a new and deeper awareness of our call to ministry. “We come apart so as not to fall apart,” as Father Gregory Collins describes it.
Sometimes we think our higher calling is to stay on the mountain of contemplation. However, Jesus shows us by example that we need to accept the challenge to come down the mountain and carry out the new inspirations that we received as we rested in the Light. Like Jesus, setting his face toward Jerusalem where he knew he would suffer and die, we too know that our ministry to the wounded and broken people of this world will involve suffering and dying more and more to ourselves in order to serve the people in need of our care and concern.
In his book, Meeting Christ in His Mysteries: A Benedictine Vision of the Spiritual Life, Father Gregory Collins notes that this feast of the Transfiguration was brought to the West by the Benedictines of Cluny (Collins, 230). It has a special resonance with Benedictines because it is a profound example of how we are encouraged to live our Benedictine charism and mission. He notes:
- God called the apostles as God calls us to seek him more intently especially during the season of Lent.
- The ascetical aspect of our lives is demonstrated by climbing the mountain.
- Lectio divina challenges us to ponder the cornerstones of our faith as we reflect on the ministries of Moses representing the law, Elijah representing the prophets and Jesus representing his ministry of healing and transforming the world.
- Contemplative prayer is grounded in the Trinitarian vision that took place on Tabor. The voice of the Father is heard: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” The splendor of the Son is seen and the Spirit hovering in the Cloud envelops them (Collins, 230-236).
In these sacred moments, one understands the ordinary events of life in an extraordinary manner. New insights into scripture, tradition and liturgy come alive in these moments.
In the responsorial psalm for this feast, we are encouraged to be patient and steadfast as we come down the mountain to minister, so we pray with the Psalmist in Psalm 27:
I believe that I shall see the goodness of God
in the land of the living.
Wait for God; be strong, and let your heart take courage;
Wait for God.