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XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time – August 6, 2017- Transfiguration

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Roman Rite
XVIII Sunday of Ordinary Time – August 6, 2017- Transfiguration –
Dn 7.9-10.13-14; Ps 97; 2Pt 1.16-19; Mt 17: 1-9
Ambrosian Rite
Sunday after Pentecost – Transfiguration
2Pt 1.16-19; Ps 97; Eb 1, 2b-9; Mt 17: 1-9

  • The transfiguration of Christ and our transfiguration.

Today, the Gospel presents the event of the Transfiguration when “Jesus took Peter, James and John with him, and carried them away, on a high mountain “(Mt 17: 1) to pray (Lk 9, 28). While praying, Christ shone and revealed to the chosen disciples himself to be light, an ineffable light, and that the greatest prophets were with him.
God is light, and Jesus gives his closest friends the experience of this light that dwells in him. After this event, He will be their inner light, able to protect them from the assaults of darkness. Even in the darkest night, Jesus is the lamp that never goes out. Saint Augustine sums up this mystery with a beautiful expression. He says: “What for the eyes of the body is the sun we see, (Christ) is for the eyes of the heart “(Sermo 78, 2: PL 38,490).
On Mount Tabor, the mountain on which Christ ascends to pray, the Son of God made man shows that prayer is the thing that “provokes” the splendid vision of what He is and of what we are intended to be. While Christ’s divine-human truth is manifested, a transfiguration of the disciples occurs too: “It is in fact the transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but it is above all the one of the disciples who saw it, a transfiguration that was for them a certain vision of the Divinity, an image of the future world, a prelude of the glorious coming of the Lord “(Gregory Palamas).
To us in prayer -like to the three Apostles of about two thousand years ago on Mount Tabor, the mount off prayer- Jesus is transfigured, shining and beautiful. Also to us, witnesses chosen by his love, the Lord manifests his glory, and the body which He shares with the rest of the humanity, enlighten him with such glow that his face shines like the sun and his clothes become as white as snow.
It is important that we also go up with the Son of God, the Beloved, on the mountain to pray. The mountain in the Bible represents the place of closeness to God and of the intimate encounter with Him. It is the place of prayer, where to stand in the presence of the Lord. Let us also go up with Christ on the “mount” of prayer, to contemplate on his human face the glorious light of God. Let us go up with Christ on the mountain to find ourselves in Christ and listen to Him, because it is in the place closer to God that we are given the space of silence where to better perceive his voice.
This going up to meet God does not cut us off the earth, rather it pushes us to “Get up to the mountain” and “come back” down to the plain where we meet  our sisters and brothers burden by labor, illness, injustice, ignorance and  material and spiritual poverty. To these brothers and sisters in trouble, we are called to bring the fruits of the experience we have had with God, sharing the grace received and the word we heard”(Pope Francis).
This word is a sound loaded with a presence to be received with devotion and love. The Father’s invitation is very important: “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him” (Mt 17: 6). We, disciples of Jesus today, are called to be people who listen to his voice and take his words seriously.
2) Origin and destiny.
At this point, I think that it is useful to remind that the main purpose of the Transfiguration was and is to allow the hearts of the disciples (and our hearts) not to be shocked when the Cross disfigures the humanity of Christ. This manifestation of light and truth is necessary so that the humiliation of the imminent voluntary passion of Christ does not upset the faith of those to whom he had been revealing the greatness of his hidden dignity. It is not a coincidence that the story of the Transfiguration is placed by the Gospel during the ascension of Jesus to Jerusalem, in the context of his passion announced to the disciples. This is well understood by the liturgy of the Eastern Church, which in the Kondakion (liturgical poetic-musical liturgical text) sings: “The disciples, according to their ability, contemplated your glory, Lord, so that in the hour of the cross they understood that your passion was voluntary.  “St. Gregory of Nazianzus saw rightly in the Transfiguration the synthesis of the Gospel, the announcement of the Paschal Mystery made in front of the Church, depicted by Peter, James and John, and before the Old Testament, the Law (represented by Moses) and the prophets (represented by Elijah) appeared to share the glory of the Son of God.
It should also be remembered that the Transfiguration is the foundation of the hope of the Church. In fact “the whole Mystical Body of Christ became aware of the transformation that was reserved to him, and the members could be intended to participate in the glory they view shining in the head (Saint Leo Magnus, Sermo LI, 2-3, 5-8: PL 54, 310-313). The Transfiguration is a central mystery in the Christian faith, a revelation of resurrection, and the prophecy of the transfiguration of each flesh, of each one of us, in God. Jesus on Mount Tabor, the mountain of the prayer, shows who he is and that he “took that splendor out of his own nature; he did not need to pray for the divine light to shine on his body but praying did nothing else than indicate his origin and our destiny: the splendor of God that brightens and sustains with the light of his face, as it is said in the Gospel: ‘The just shall shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father’”(Mt 13,43) (Saint Ambrose of Milan).
Amazed by the joy of the transfiguration of the Son of God and ours, it comes to us spontaneously to exclaim like St. Peter: “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish I will make here three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah “(Mt 17: 4). But listening to Christ who manifests God’s love, we shell understand that it makes no sense to prepare a terrestrial tent for the one who lives in the heavens. The Redeemer did not come to have a house on earth. He did not want even to have a stone on which to lay his head. He did not come to live on earth in a house built by us but to take us in the dwelling that He has prepared for us up there. “It’s great for us to stay here.” Of course, it is nice to stay with Christ on the mountain, but it will be far more beautiful to go where we will be truly happy in the eternal home. If this momentary joy is beautiful, let think how much more beautiful will be eternal happiness. If it makes happy to see the humanity of Christ briefly dressed in glory, let us imagine how great will be the joy that will bring our soul into the eternal contemplation of the eternal Love that will keeps us forever in his arms.
However, before that, as Christ has suffered for us, we too must suffer for Him. It is really necessary that, descending from the mountain we become companions in his passion so that afterwards we can be part of his glory. There, in the eternal tents, he will each greet each of us and the many we love. There, not three tents, one for Christ, one for Moses is one for the prophets, are prepared but only one tent, for the Father, for the Son, and for the Holy Spirit. This tent will be ourselves. “God will be all in all” (1 Cor 15:28) when, as we read in the Revelation: “The abode of God shall be with men, and they shall be his people, and he shall be the God-with -them “(Acts 21: 3). Because we are baptized we are already this home, this Temple of the Holy Spirit. To live this divine abode let’s look at the prophetic testimony of the consecrated virgins. These women with their consecration have fully welcomed Christ, abandoning themselves totally to Him and relying on the power of His love. They never cease to welcome Him into theirs life, listening to prayer and serving Him among their brothers and sisters in humanity. These consecrated witness that the Transfiguration is not an event that comes to a certain moment of existence, after death. In f act,from the moment in which one person adheres to Jesus, this adhesion becomes a constant transformation. The more we welcome his love, the more we are transformed from glory into glory, that is, we make more visible the love received and communicate it to others.
Patristic reading
Saint Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)
Sermon XXVIII.
On the words of the gospel, Mt 17,1 “After six days Jesus taketh with Him Peter, and James, and John his brother,” etc.
1). We must now look into and treat of that vision which the Lord showed on the mount. For it is this of which He had said, “Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of Man in His Kingdom.”1 Then began the passage which has just been read. “When He had said this, after six days He took three disciples, Peter, and James, and John, and went up into a mountain.”2 These three were those” some,” of whom He had said, “There be some here which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of Man in His kingdom.” There is no small difficulty here. For that mount was not the whole extent of His kingdom.3 What is a mountain to Him who possesseth the heavens? Which we not only read He doth, but in some sort see it with the eyes of the heart. He calleth that His kingdom, which in many places He calleth the “kingdom of heaven.” Now the kingdom of heaven is the kingdom of the saints. “For the heavens declare the glory of God.”4 And of these heavens it is immediately said in the Psalm, “There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their sound is gone out through all the earth, and their words unto the end of the world.”5 Whose words, but of the heavens? And of the Apostles, and all faithful preachers of the word of God. These heavens therefore shall reign together with Him who made the heavens. Now consider what was done, that this might be made manifest.

  1. The Lord Jesus Himself shone bright as the sun; His raiment became white as the snow; and Moses  and Elias talked with Him.6 Jesus Himself indeed shone as the sun, signifying that “He is the light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”7 What this sun is to the eyes of the flesh, that is He to the eyes of the heart; and what that is to the flesh of men, that is He to their hearts. Now His raiment is His Church. For if the raiment be not held together by him who puts it on, it will fall off. Of this raiment, Paul was as it were a sort of last border. For he says himself, “I am the least of the Apostles.”8 And in another place, “I am the last of the Apostles.”

Now in a garment the border is the last and least part. Wherefore as that woman which suffered from an issue of blood, when she had touched the Lord’s border was made whole,9 so the Church which came from out of the Gentiles, was made whole by the preaching of Paul. What wonder if the Church is signified by white raiment, when you hear the Prophet Isaiah saying, “Though your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow”?10 Moses and Elias, that is, the Law and the Prophets, what avail they, except they converse with the Lord? Except they give witness to the Lord, who would read the Law or the Prophets? Marc how briefly the Apostle expresses this; “For by the Law is the knowledge of sin; but now the righteousness of God without the Law is manifested:” behold the sun; “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,”11 behold the shining of the Sun.

  1. Peter sees this, and as a man savouring the things of men says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.”12 He had been wearied with the multitude, he had found now the mountain’s solitude; there he had Christ the Bread of the soul. What! should he depart thence again to travail and pains, possessed of a holy love to Godward, and thereby of a good conversation? He wished well for himself; and so he added, “If Thou wilt, let us make here three tabernacles; one for Thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.” To this the Lord made no answer; but notwithstanding Peter was answered. “For while he yet spake, a bright cloud came, and overshadowed them.”13 He desired three tabernacles; the heavenly answer showed him that we have One, which human judgment desired to divide. Christ, the Word of God, the Word of God in the Law, the Word in the Prophets. Why, Peter, dost thou seek to divide them? It were more fitting for thee to join them. Thou seekest three; understand that they are but One.
  2. As the cloud then overshadowed them, and in a way made one tabernacle for them, “a voice also sounded out of the cloud, which said, This is My beloved Son.” Moses was there; Elias was there; yet it was not said, “These are My beloved sons.” For the Only Son is one thing; adopted sons another. He was singled out14 in whom the Law and the prophets glorified. “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” Because ye have heard Him in the Prophets, and ye have heard Him in the Law. And where have ye not heard Him? “When they heard this, they fell” to the earth. See then in the Church is exhibited to us the Kingdom of God. Here is the Lord, here the Law and the Prophets; but the Lord as the Lord; the Law in Moses, Prophecy in Elias; only they as servants and as ministers. They as vessels: He as the fountain: Moses and the Prophets spake, and wrote; but when they poured out, they were filled from Him.
  3. But the Lord stretched out His hand, and raised them as they lay. And then “they saw no man, save Jesus only.”15 What does this mean? When the Apostle was being read, you heard, “For now we see through a glass darkly,but then face to face.”16 And “tongues shall cease,” when that which we now hope for and believe shall come. In then that they fell to the earth, they signified that we die, for it was said to the flesh, “Earth thou art, and unto earth shalt thou return.”17 But when the Lord raised them up, He signified the resurrection. After the resurrection, what is the Law to thee? what Prophecy? Therefore neither Moses nor Elias is seen. He only remaineth to thee, “Who in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”18 He remaineth to thee, “that God may be all in all.” Moses will be there; but now no more the Law. We shall see Elias there too; but now no more the Prophet. For the Law and the Prophets have only given witness to Christ, that it behoved Him to suffer, and to rise again from the dead the third day, and to enter into His glory. And in this glory is fulfilled what He hath promised to them that love Him, “He that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him.”19 And as if it were said, What wilt Thou give him, seeing Thou wilt love him? “And I will manifest Myself unto him.” Great gift! great promise! God doth not reserve for thee as a reward anything of His own, but Himself. O thou covetous one; why doth not what Christ promiseth suffice thee? Thou dost seem to thyself to be rich; yet if thou have not God, what hast thou? Another is poor, yet if he hath God, what hath he not?
  4. Come down, Peter: thou wast desiring to rest on the mount; come down, “preach the word, be instant in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”20 Endure, labour hard, bear thy measure of torture; that thou mayest possess what is meant by the white raiment of the Lord, through the brightness and the beauty of an upright labouring in charity. For when the Apostle was being read we heard in praise of charity, “She seeketh not her own.21 She seeketh not her own;” since she gives what she possesses. In another place there is more danger in the expression, if you do not understand it right. For the Apostle, charging the faithful members of Christ after this rule of charity, says, “Let no man seek his own, but another’s.”22 For on hearing this, covetousness is ready with its deceits, that in a matter of business under pretence of seeking another’s, it may defraud a man, and so, “seek not his own, but another’s.” But let covetousness restrain itself, let justice come forth; so let us hear and understand. It is to charity that it is said, “Let no man seek his own, but another’s.” Now, O thou covetous one, if thou wilt still resist, and twist the precept rather to this point, that thou shouldest covet what is another’s; then lose what is thine own. But as I know thee weIl, thou dost wish to have both thine own and another’s. Thou wilt commit fraud that thou mayest have what is another’s; submit then to robbery that thou mayest lose thine own. Thou dost not wish to seek thine own, but then thou takest away what is another’s. Now this if thou do, thou doest not well. Hear and listen, thou covetous one: the Apostle explains to thee in another place more clearly this that he said, “Let no man seek his own, but another’s.” He says of himself, “Not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.”23 This Peter understood not yet when he desired to live on the mount with Christ. He was reserving this for thee, Peter, after death. But now He saith Himself, “Come down, to labour in the earth; in the earth to serve, to be despised, and crucified in the earth. The Life came down, that He might be slain; the Bread came down, that He might hunger; the Way came down, that life might be wearied in the way; the Fountain came down, that He might thirst; and dost thou refuse to labour? ‘Seek not thine own.’Have charity, preach the truth; so shall thou come to eternity, where thou shalt find security.”

1 (Mt 16,28
2 (Mt 17,1 Lc 9,28 
3 Reguum comprehensum.
4 (Ps 19,1 
5 (Ps 19,3-4.
6 (Mt 17,2-3.
7 (Jn 1,9 
8 (1Co 15,9 
9 (Mc 5,34 
10 (Is 1,18 
11 (Rm 3,20-21.
12 (Mt 17,4 
13 (Mt 17,5).
14 Commendabatur.
15 (Mt 17,7-8.
16 (1Co 13,12 
17 (Gn 3,19 Sept.
18 (Jn 1,1
19 (Jn 14,21 
20 (2Tm 4,2 
21 (1Co 13,5 
22 (1Co 10,24 
23 (1Co 10,33).

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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