Father Cantalamessa on the Transfiguration

Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Gospel

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ROME, FEB. 18, 2005 (Zenit.org).- In a commentary on this Sunday’s Gospel passage, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Pontifical Household, reveals that the secret to being a true Christian is to fall in love with Jesus.

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Matthew 17:1-9

“Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. 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.’ While he 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.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, ‘Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.'”

Why are the faith and religious practices in decline and do not seem to constitute, at least for the majority, the point of reference in life? Why the tedium, the exhaustion, the bother in fulfilling one’s duties as believers? Why are young people not attracted? Why is there, in a word, such dejection and lack of joy among believers in Christ? The occurrence of the Transfiguration helps us to answer these questions.

What did the Transfiguration mean for the three disciples who witnessed it? Until then they had known Jesus in his external appearance, a man not different from others, whose provenance, customs, tone of voice … they knew. Now they know another Jesus, the true one, who cannot be seen with the eyes of every day, in the natural sunlight, but who is the fruit of an unexpected revelation, of a change, of a gift.

For things to change also for us, as for those three disciples on Tabor, something similar must happen in our lives to what happens to a young man or woman when they fall in love. In love, the other, who before was one of many, or perhaps an unknown, all of a sudden is the only one, the only one in the world one is interested in. Everything else recedes and becomes part of a pale background. One cannot think of anything else. There is a real transfiguration. The beloved is seen as in a luminous halo. Everything about that person seems beautiful, even the beloved’s defects. One might even feel unworthy of the person loved. True love generates humility.

Specifically, true love changes to a degree even one’s life habits. I have known young men whose parents couldn’t get them out of bed in the morning to go to school. If a job was found for them, they soon abandoned it. Or they were careless in their studies, never getting their degree. Then, when they fell in love with someone and got engaged, they jumped out of bed in the morning. What happened? Nothing, simply that what before they did by constriction now they do by attraction. And attraction is capable of doing things that no constriction achieves; it gives wings to one’s feet. “Each one,” the poet Ovid said, “is attracted by the object of pleasure itself.”

Something like this, he said, should happen once in a lifetime to be true Christians, of conviction, joyful. “But the young woman or man is seen, is touched!” one might object. Yet, Jesus is also seen and touched, but with other eyes and other hands: those of the heart, of faith. He is risen and is alive. He is a concrete being, not an abstraction, for those who have this experience and this knowledge.

More than that, with Jesus things go even better. In human falling in love there is artifice, attributing to the beloved talents that perhaps that person doesn’t have and often in time one is obliged to change one’s opinion. In Jesus’ case, the more one knows him and the more one is with him, the more reasons are discovered to be proud of him and confirmed in one’s choice.

This does not mean that one must be relaxed and wait for, including with Christ, the classic “love at first sight.” If a boy or a girl stays shut-in in his house without seeing anyone, nothing will ever happen in his life. To fall in love one must often be with the beloved! If one is convinced, or simply begins to think that perhaps to know Jesus in this different way, transfigured, is beautiful and worthwhile, then one must begin to “be with him,” to read his writings. His love letters are the Gospel: There he reveals himself, he is “transfigured.” His home is the Church: It is there that he can be found.

[Italian original published by Familia Cristiana; translation by ZENIT]

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