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The Catholic Faith in Slow Motion (no. 47)

Transfiguration:  Miraculous Beauty

Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves,
and he was transfigured before them (Matt. 17:1-22).

The miracles recorded in the gospels are not divine displays of brute power. They do not simply prove, they also reveal.  There is a kind of appropriateness about them, a kind of artistry.  We rightly speak of them as “supernatural” occurrences, but the miracles do not lose touch with the natural world.  They transfigure it.

His face shone like the sun and his clothing became white as light.

It is only because we have experienced the “miracle” of natural light—the first rays of the sunrise, the play of light through the tree branches—that the divine artistry of the Transfiguration of our Lord is not lost on us.  The portrait “speaks” to us of the original and future glory of the Lord.

And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared with him, conversing with him (v. 3).

This detail in the portrait shows the subtlety of the artist. However, it will be noticed only by those who have some knowledge of the Old Testament.  Moses who received the Ten Commandments, the fountainhead of the Law of God; Elijah the greatest among Israel's prophets.  In this “artistic touch” Jesus is placed against the background of the divine revelation that prepared the way for his coming.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here.
If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (v. 4).

So Peter seems to regard this moment as the climax of Jesus' life, the final revelation of his Messianic identity.  He is ready to enshrine the moment.  Surely this will become that prophesied high place to which an endless stream of pilgrims will some to worship.  But Peter has misinterpreted the portrait.  For...

While he (Peter) was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them,
then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (v. 5).

The vision has changed.  No longer light but a dark cloud, and a mysterious voice speaks out of the darkness.  The disciples cannot see, but they can hear.  They are commanded to hear: “listen to him.”

When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, do not be afraid.”
And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone (v. 6-8).

Jesus fulfills the Law of God, and Jesus is the glorious End of all true prophecy.  The Law and the Prophets are meant to train our eyes and ears on “no one else but Jesus alone”.  This side of heaven our vision will often fail us.  As St. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7).  But even in the darkness we can hear his voice: “Rise, do not be afraid”.

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