The only way this narrative of the Transfiguration of Jesus becomes relevant to us is by considering ourselves as members of the Body of Christ, as one with him. If this were not also “our Transfiguration” it would be just a simple recollection of a wonderful, distant event that took place 2000 years ago.
The preface of Holy Mass for the Second Sunday of Lent indicates clearly that any mention of the Transfiguration is done to help us overcome the huge scandal, the massive obstacle of the cross, i.e. of suffering, ours and of others.
Marathon runners are painfully aware of “hitting the wall.” Around mile 20, some of them, suddenly, feel enormous pressure and pain as if they were grabbed by a cruel giant squeezing out the last drops of energy from their tired body. Only those who can endure this incredible pain and overcome it have a chance of crossing the finish line ahead of the rest.
As a priest, ordained over 50 years ago, I know that it is not necessary for me to identify the “walls” that we hit from time to time or the cross that we are called to bear as we follow the Lord Jesus. Practically every day, people come to me looking for a way to break through their “walls” and ease some of the weight off their cross. This priestly task, too, makes my mission in life so special and so needed!
In addition to what you share with me, I get, of course, my daily dose of news from around the world. A great deal of the news is about pain, tragedies, losses, scary ailments, and unbearable crosses. To tackle this thorny problem affecting every single human being, it should be clearly established that the cross we each must bear is never crushing with reliance on grace; and it becomes bearable and productive with docility to the Holy Spirit’s promptings.
God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it. 1 Corinthians 10:13
There are, of course, different ways people deal with their “walls” and crosses. Depression is arguably a common reaction to “walls” and crosses. It practically keeps its victims in the grip of inaction and indecisiveness and becomes a source of frustration and powerlessness for those who love and care for them. People suffering from depression need a “Simon of Cyrene” to lift the cross off their shoulders so that they can get back up and continue their journey.
From time immemorable, the default way of dealing with the cross, when it gets too heavy is by numbing the senses with drugs, alcohol or any other way that stupefies and alters one’s state of mind. Still others despair and might end their life tragically. This happens mostly to young people who have never been tested before or as one’s relatively light cross gets, suddenly, crushingly heavy, and no help seems to be in sight. Another way of facing “walls” and crosses is the one of relying obsessively on rituals and religious practices but without having, first, established a solid relationship with Christ. A dark way of dealing with “walls” and crosses is by becoming stoically indifferent and insensitive to misfortunes both personally endured or witnessed in others. This is the attitude of those who picture the world as ruled not by a loving God, but by heartless fate and inescapable destiny. Finally, we have those who live, serenely, from day to day with the deep-seated awareness that Jesus is leading the way and that they are following him trustingly.
To many people their serenity amid intense trials is inexplicable and baffling. However, could it be that they are quietly fulfilling the following mysterious prophecy by Jesus?
Amen, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 16:28
Matthew writes this prediction only a verse before the narrative of the Transfiguration. It was, of course, fulfilled before the astonished eyes of Peter, James and John. But there are other cases of faithful disciples of Christ Jesus seeing his glory. I report here two found in Holy Scripture: St. Stephen’s and St. Paul’s.
But he [Stephen], filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7:55
I know someone in Christ who, fourteen years ago (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows), was caught up to the third heaven. And I know that this person (whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows) was caught up into Paradise and heard ineffable things, which no one may utter. 2 Corinthians 12:2-4
The same vision of the Lord’s glory was granted to many martyrs to help them endure the horrific tortures inflicted on them. But also countless others, who had established a solid rapport of love and trust with Jesus, were granted heavenly, reassuring visions before they experienced a serene passing from this world to the next.
Learning from the experience of Peter, James and John, the correct way to be able to carry our cross is by nurturing our personal relationship with the Lord relying on the constant help of the Holy Spirit, heeding his promptings, dwelling on the Word of God doled out to us in the liturgy of the Word and through personal, unhurried, frequent meditation, by humble reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in Holy Communion, finding comfort in fixing frequently our eyes on the Crucifix, and remembering that we are one with the Risen Lord, inseparable, united to him by an unbreakable bond of love.