Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; II Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10
What a vision in which the three disciples were privileged to share, my brothers and sisters. Jesus’ clothes become “dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” Moses, the great lawgiver and Elijah, the preeminent prophet, appear and converse with Jesus. And then, most of all, the cloud overshadows them and they hear clearly and distinctly the voice of God, the voice of the Father, proclaiming that Jesus is his son, his beloved. And they heard that voice directed straight to them: “Listen. Listen. Listen to him.”
Can anyone contest that such an experience is one that would stay with Peter, James and John for the rest of their lives? Would they not be totally changed and lead lives that would reflect their new experience? And we? Do we not cry out: “O would that such an experience was given to me and to you. We would be transformed. We would be different. We would become totally dedicated to living out in deed and in truth the command of that voice.”
Or would we? I question whether we should be too fast in proclaiming that. We know that James hightailed it as far away from the scene of the crucifixion as he could get. We know that Peter denied that he even knew Jesus. Yes, John stood by him and by the grace of God did try to live that command wholeheartedly. But ought we to feel left out because we have not had such an experience? Let us look more closely at our lives and ask ourselves: What is a transfiguring vision? What experience qualifies as a transfiguration event?
There is a wonderful story in the life of Pachomius that I think can shed light on our dilemma here. Pachomius was known to have had several visions in his life. He was once asked by his disciples to tell them which one was the most important, which one was the greatest.
My brothers and sisters, do you know what answer he gave his monks? It had nothing to do with the experience by which sometimes he was given to know the thoughts of his disciples. It had nothing to do with any secret gift of knowledge he may have received in prayer. No, his answer was straightforward and succinct. “The greatest of all the visions,” he said, “was to see Christ in my brother and sister.”
WOW! To see Christ in my brother and sister is the greatest vision of all.
Is not this the vision to which all of us are called? Have we not glimpsed this from time to time, here and there, when the veil has fallen down, however briefly, and we know in the depths of our being, in the core of who we are, that Christ is in my brother and sister, that Christ is among us as we gather to hear his Word and to partake of the food he prepares for us?
And so, my brothers and sisters, I propose that we have had a transfiguration experience at some time in our lives. It didn’t come with the externals of the appearance of Moses and Elijah; it may not have been a cloud overshadowing and a voice calling out clearly. But we have had it. Often it is only after an experience as we reflect on it that we can say like Jacob: “The Lord is in this place and I knew it not.” Let us keep our hearts open so that the greatest of all visions can be ours when we see Christ in our brothers and sisters.
The feast of the Transfiguration is also the anniversary of another blinding light that fell on our world. 64 years ago, on August 6, 1945, the people of a town in southern Japan experienced an explosion of unheard of proportions. The explosion lit up the sky with a blinding ferocity and the city of Hiroshima was leveled and 140,000 mostly innocent people were dead and countless other lives were changed forever.
We bear the burden of this event, my brothers and sisters. It has happened in our time and terribly disfigured our humanity. What can we do? To what are we called by such a tragedy?
I believe it is to the vision of the Transfigured Christ, to the vision that allows us to see – even in our worst enemy – the face of Christ. Let us plead to the Father in the words of Pope Paul VI before the United Nations: “War never again! Never again war!” If we do not keep this vision alive in our world, who will? That, I think, is the meaning of the transfiguration for our time. Let us strive to do it, my brothers and sisters, so that we can say with our father Pachomius: “The greatest of all the visions is to see Christ in my brother and sister.”