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Archbishop Follo on the Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of Christ transfigures the human gaze making it capable of seeing the presence of God in the flesh of the Crucifix.

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Roman Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Year B – February 25, 2018
Gen 22.1-2.9.10-13.15-18; Ps 116; Rom. 8, 31-34; Mk 9, 2-10
Ambrosian Rite
Dt 5, 1-2. 6-21; Ps 19; Eph 4, 1-7; Jn 4, 5-42
Sunday of the Samaritan – Second Sunday of Lent
1) Temptation and Transfiguration.
On the first Sunday of Lent, we have contemplated Christ overcoming the test of hunger. It was not just a corporal hunger. Like every human being Jesus had three hungers:

  1. hunger for life that tempts man to have and to acquire a disproportionate quantity of material goods. This is why the devil asked him to turn stones into bread;
  2. hunger for human relationships that can be friendship or power. The devil tempts Christ to satisfy this hunger by offering him power;
  3. hunger for omnipotence. This hunger pushes us to stifle the desire of God and the yearning for boundless infinity and freedom inducing the temptation to design one’s own existence according to the human criteria of ease, success, power and appearance, and to yield to the worship of the Liar (the devil) instead of to the adoration of the true providential Love.

The Messiah defeated the temptation of these three hungers using, as a criterion of discernment, the fidelity to the project of God to which he fully adhered and of which He is the Word made flesh to redeem us.
Let us imitate the example of Christ «using» the Word of God as the instrument available to understand the will of God and to overcome the temptation of the three hungers: the hunger of life, the hunger of love and power, and the hunger of relationships and of God. «When you are caught by the pangs of hunger – and we can also add of temptation – let the Word of God become your bread of life, let Christ be your Bread of Life» (St. Augustine of Hippo)
From the desert – the place of test, of rebellion and where the tempter and accuser lives (First Sunday of Lent) – let’s go to the mountain of the Transfiguration, the place of God’s manifestation, his revelation, and his holiness. This is the path that the second Sunday of Lent opens before us.
Today, from the desert, which recalls that human life is an exodus and a return home that passes through the desert, the place of trial and encounter with God, we arrive at Mount Tabor, the place of transfiguration. There, the shining truth of Christ is revealed to allow those who follow him to arrive at Easter not in spite of the Cross but through the Cross.
Jesus, in fact, tells us: «If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself, take his cross daily and follow me» (Lk 9:23). He tells us that, to arrive with him to the light and joy of the resurrection and to the victory of life, love, and good, we too must take the cross every day, as a beautiful page of the Imitation of Christ exhorts «Take therefore your cross and follow Jesus; thus you will enter into eternal life. He preceded you carrying his cross (Jn 19:17) and died for you so that you too may carry your cross and wish to be crucified. In fact, if you will be dead with him, with him and like him you will live. If you have been a companion in suffering, you will also be his companion in glory «(L. 2, paragraph 12, No. 2).
Therefore, let us meditate together the facts presented by these two Sundays because they anticipate the paschal mystery. The struggle of Jesus with the tempter anticipates the great final duel of the Passion, while the light of his Transfigured Body anticipates the glory of the Resurrection. On the one hand, we see Jesus fully man who shares with us even temptation. On the other, we contemplate him as Son of God who deifies our humanity.
2) Exodus of Transfiguration.
Today, the exodus, the path of liberation that we are called to fulfill, is the one of contemplation. Through contemplation, prayer becomes gaze, and our heart, which is the «center» of our soul, opens up to the light of Christ’s love.
In this way, we can understand the journey that the liturgy of this Sunday indicates to us: that of a pilgrim who carries out the exodus that leads him to the Promised Land: eternal Life with Christ.
It is a journey full of nostalgia, precariousness, and weakness, but also full of the hope of those who have the heart wounded by the beloved. It is full of light because «the ‘brightness’ that characterizes the extraordinary event of the Transfiguration, symbolizes its purpose: to illuminate the minds and hearts of the disciples so that they can clearly understand who their Master is. It is a flash of light that suddenly opens itself on the mystery of Jesus, and illuminates his whole person and his whole life «(Pope Francis).
It is true that to follow the Lord is to be crucified with Him. It is true that at every step the wounds of pain pierce our heart. Evil is true, sin is true, death is true. But the Transfiguration of everything is also true, and the beauty that surpasses and gives meaning to everything is true: «In the passion of Christ … the experience of beauty receives a new depth, a new realism. The One who is “Beauty in himself “ let himself be struck on his face, covered with spits, crowned with thorns … But in that disfigured face appears the authentic extreme Beauty of the Love that loves» to the end » showing itself stronger than any lie and violence.
An example of how to grasp this transfigured beauty comes to us from the consecrated virgins. In a special way, these women testify to three specific aspects of the Christian.
The first is to give themselves in complete abandonment to Christ because they lovingly trust his Love, «who does not hesitate to undress from external beauty to announce the Truth of Beauty» (Joseph Ratzinger). With their consecrated virginity, these women announce precisely the crucified beauty, the transfigured beauty, his beauty which is our true beauty.
The second is that of witnessing, in their life lived as a virgin, the need to descend from the Mount to return to the evangelizing mission of the Lord, a mission that passes through the Cross and proclaims the Resurrection that is nothing else but the Transfiguration made eternal in the Humanity of the Lord.
The third is to show that listening is the main dimension of the disciple of Christ. Today’s Gospel tells: «This is my beloved Son: listen to him!» (Mk 9: 7).
In a world that has the habit of speaking so many words (it would be better saying: to chat), these women are constantly listening to the Word and, following the example of the Virgin Mary, become «virgins of listening and mothers of the Word».
The Father asks each of us to be a listener of the Word, whose words are words of life because, through the Cross, they purify from every dead work and unite to God and to the brothers.
This Word needs a place (our heart). It needs to go deep in it and to die there like a seed, to put root, to grow, to sprout and to resist the storms and bad weather like a house built on the Rock.
For it to be heard, this Word needs attention, but also silence. Inner and outer silence are necessary for this word to be heard. This is a particularly difficult point for us in our time. In fact, ours is an age in which meditation is not encouraged; on the contrary, sometimes, one gets the impression that there is a fear of detaching himself, even for a moment, from the river of words and images that mark and fill the days.
The secluded life of the consecrated virgins shows how important it is to educate ourselves to the value of silence because with it we accept the Word of God in our personal and ecclesial life, valuing meditation and inner calm. Without silence one does not hear, one does not listen, one does not receive the Word and what it says. This observation of St. Augustine is always valid: Verba crescente, verba deficiunt – «When the Word of God grows, the words of man become less» (cf. Sermo 288: PL 38.1307; Sermo 120.2: PL38 , 677)

Patristic reading

Golden Chain

on Mark 9:14-29
Theophylact: After He had shewn His glory in the mount to the three disciples, He returns to the other disciples, who had not come up with Him into the mount; wherefore it is said, «And when He came to His disciples, He saw a great multitude about them, and the Scribes questioning with them.»
For the Pharisees, catching the opportunity of the hour when Christ was not present, came up to them, to try to draw them over to themselves.

Pseudo-Jerome: But there is no peace for man under the sun; envy is ever slaying the little ones, and lightning strike the tops of the great mountains. Of all those who run to the Church, some of the multitudes come in faith to learn, others, as the Scribes, with envy and pride.
It goes on, «And straightway all the people, when they beheld Jesus, were greatly amazed, and feared.»
Bede, in Marc., 3, 38: In all cases, the difference between the mind of the Scribes and of the people ought to be observed; for the Scribes are never said to have shewn any devotion, faith, humility, and reverence, but as soon as the Lord was come, the whole multitude was greatly amazed and feared, and ran up to Him, and saluted Him; wherefore there follows, «And running to Him, saluted Him.»
Theophylact: For the multitude was glad to see Him, so that they saluted Him from afar, as He was coming to them; but some suppose that His countenance had become more beautiful from His transfiguration and that this induced the crowd to salute Him.
Pseudo-Jerome: Now it was the people, and not the disciples, who on seeing Him were amazed and feared, for there is no fear in love; fear belongs to servants, amazement to fools. (p. 174)
It goes on: «And He asked them, What question ye with them?»
Why does the Lord put this question? That confession may produce salvation, and the murmuring of our hearts may be appeased by religious works.
Bede: The question, indeed, which was raised may, if I am not deceived, have been this, wherefore they, who were the disciples of the Saviour, were unable to heal the demoniac, who was placed in the midst, which may be gathered from the following words; «And one of the multitude answered and said, «Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; and wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth him: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away.»
Chrys.: The Scriptures declare that this man was weak in faith, for Christ says, «O faithless generation:» and He adds, «If thou canst believe.»
But although his want of faith was the cause of their not casting out the devil, he nevertheless accuses the disciples.
Wherefore it is added, «And I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; but they could not.»
Now observe his folly; in praying to Jesus in the midst of the crowd, he accuses the disciples, wherefore the Lord before the multitude so much the more accuses him, and not only aims the accusation at himself, but also extends it to all the Jews; for it is probable that many of those present had been offended, and had held wrong thoughts concerning His disciples.
Wherefore there follows, «He answereth them and saith, O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you?» By which He shewed both that He desired death, and that it was a burden to Him to converse with them.
Bede: So far, however, is He from being angry with the person, though He reproved the sin, that He immediately added, «Bring him unto Me; and they brought him unto Him. And when He saw him, straightway the spirit tare him, and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming.»
Chrys.: But this the Lord permitted for the sake of the father of the boy, that when he saw the devil vexing his child, he might be brought on to believe that the miracle was to be wrought.
Theophylact: He also permits the child to be vexed, that in this way we might know the devil’s wickedness, who would have killed him, had he not been (p. 175) assisted by the Lord.
It goes on: «And He asked his father, How long is it ago since this come unto him? And he said, Of a child; and ofttimes it has cast him into the fire and into the waters to destroy him.»
Bede: Let Julian (ed. note: Julian was bishop of Eclanum in Campania; he was well known to St. Augustine, who before his fall speaks of him with great affection. On refusing, however, to agree to Pope Zosimus’ condemnation of Pelagius, he was deposed, and expelled from Italy. He wrote a great deal against St. Augustine, by whom he was refuted in works now extant. The opinion specially referred to in the text was, that Adam would have died, even though he had remained innocent, and therefore that death and sickness are not the consequences of original sin. He died in Sicily in great poverty, about A.D. 453.) blush, who dares to say that all men are born in the flesh without the infection of sin, as though they were innocent in all respects, just as Adam was when he was created.
For what was there in the boy, that he should be troubled from infancy with a cruel devil if he were not held at all by the chain of original sin? since it is evident that he could not yet have had any sin of his own.
Gloss.: Now he expresses in the words of his petition his want of faith; for that is the reason why he adds, «But if thou canst do anything, have compassion on us, and help us.»
For in that he says, «If thou canst do anything,» he shews that he doubts His power, because he had seen that the disciples of Christ had failed in curing him; but he says, «have compassion on us,» to shew the misery of the sons, who suffered, and the father, who suffered with him.
It goes on: «Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.»
Pseudo-Jerome: This saying, «If thou canst,» is a proof of the freedom of the will. Again, all things are possible to him that believeth, which evidently means all those things which are prayed for with tears in the name of Jesus, that is, of salvation.
Bede: The answer of the Lord was suited to the petition; for the man said, «If thou canst do any thing, help us;» and to this, the Lord answered, «If thou canst believe.» On the other hand, the leper who cried out, with faith, «Lord, if Thou will, Thou canst make me clean,» (Mt 8,2) received an answer according to his faith, «I will be thou clean.»
Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: His meaning is; such a plenitude of virtue is there in Me, that not only can I do this, but I will make others to have that power; wherefore if thou canst believe as thou oughtest to do, thou (p. 176) shalt be able to cure not only him, but many more. In this way then, He endeavored to bring back to the faith, the man who as yet speaks unfaithfully.
There follows, «And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.»
But if he had already believed, saying, «I believe,» how is it that he adds, «help thou mine unbelief?» We must say then that faith is manifold, that one sort of faith is elementary, another perfect; but this man, being but a beginner in believing, prayed the Saviour to add to his virtue what was wanting.
Bede: For no man at once reaches to the highest point, but in holy living, a man begins with the least things that he may reach the great; for the beginning of virtue is different from the progress and the perfection of it. Because then faith mounts up through the secret inspiration of grace, by the steps of its own merits, (ed. note: This sentence of Bede may be considered to be an exposition of our Lord’s words: «for he that hath not from him shall be taken even that which he hath.» The connection between grace and merit, as used by the Fathers, may be illustrated from St. Thomas, their faithful disciple. He defines a meritorious operation to be one the reward of which is beyond the nature of the worker; so that merit implies the infusion of a supernatural habit, that is, of grace, not only as its effect, but as its formal cause. Summa 1 Q62, Art 4) he who had not yet believed perfectly was at once a believer and an unbeliever.
Pseudo-Jerome: By this also we are taught that our faith is tottering if it lean not on the stay of the help of God. But faith by its tears receives the accomplishment of its wishes.
Wherefore it continues, «When Jesus saw that the multitude came running together, He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee come out of him, and enter no more into him.»
Theophylact: The reason that He rebuked the foul spirit, when He saw the crowd running together, was that He did not wish to cure him before the multitude, that He might give us a lesson to avoid ostentation.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc.: And His rebuking him, and saying, «I charge thee,» is a proof of Divine power. Again, in that He says not only, «come out of him,» but also «enter no more into him,» He shews that the evil spirit was ready to enter again, because the man was weak in faith, but was prevented by the commend of the Lord.
It goes on, «And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him; and he was as one dead, insomuch that (p. 177) many said, He is dead.»
For the devil was not able to inflict death upon him because the true Life was come.
Bede: But him, whom the unholy spirit made like unto death, the holy Saviour saved by the touch of His hold hand; wherefore it goes on, «But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up, and he arose.»
Thus as the Lord had shewn Himself to be very God by the power of healing, so He shewed that He had the very nature of our flesh, by the manner of His human touch. The Manichaean (ed. note: «Their fundamental maxim of the intrinsic evil of matter and the degraded state of mind, which their speculations on the birth after the flesh brought with it involved the denial of the Incarnation of our Lord and, as a consequence, of the reality of His whole life.» (Note a, upon St. Augustine‘s Confessions, Oxf. Tr. p. 325)) indeed madly denies that He was truly clothed in flesh; He Himself, however, by raising, cleansing, enlightening so many afflicted persons by His touch, condemned his heresy before its birth.
It goes on: «And when He came into the house, His disciples asked Him privately, Why could not we cast him out?»
Chrys.: They feared that perchance they had lost the grace conferred upon them; for they had already received power over unclean spirits.
It goes on: «And He said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.»
Theophylact: That is, the whole class of lunatics, or simply, of all persons possessed with devils. Both the man to be cured, and he who cures him, should fast; for a real prayer is offered up, when fasting is joined with prayer when he who prays is sober and not heavy with food.
Bede: Again, in a mystical sense, on high the Lord unfolds the mysteries of the kingdom to His disciples, but below He rebukes the multitude for their sins of unfaithfulness, and expels devils from those who are vexed by them. Those who are still carnal and foolish, He strengthens, teaches, punishes, whilst He more freely instructs the perfect concerning the things of eternity.
Theophylact: Again, this devil is deaf and dumb; deaf, because he does not choose to hear the words of God; dumb, because he is unable to teach others their duty.
Pseudo-Jerome: Again, a sinner foameth forth folly, gnasheth with anger, pineth away in sloth. But the evil spirit tears him, when coming to salvation, and in like manner those whom he would drag into his maw (p. 178) he tears asunder by terrors and losses, as he did Job.
Bede: For oftentimes when we try to turn to God after sin, our old enemy attacks us with new and greater snares, which he does, either to instill into us a hatred of virtue or to avenge the injury of his expulsion.
Greg., Mor. x., 30: But he who is freed from the power of the evil spirit is thought to be dead; for whosoever has already subdued earthly desires, puts to death within himself his carnal mode of life, and appears to the world as a dead man, and many look upon him as dead; for they who know not how to live after the Spirit, think that he who does not follow after carnal pleasures is altogether dead.
Pseudo-Jerome: Further, in his being vexed from his infancy, the Gentile people is signified, from the very birth of whom the vain worship of idols arose, so that they in their folly sacrificed their children to devils. And for this reason, it is said that «it cast him into the fire and into the water;» for some of the Gentiles worshipped fire, others water.
Bede: Or by this demoniac are signified those who are bound by the guilt of original sin, and coming into the world as criminals, are to be saved by grace; and by fire is meant the heat of anger, by water, the pleasures of the flesh, which melt the soul by their sweetness.
But He did not rebuke the boy, who suffered violence, but the devil, who inflicted it, because he who desires to amend a sinner, ought, whilst he exterminates his vice by rebuking and cursing it, to love and cherish the man.
Pseudo-Jerome: Again, the Lord applies to the evil spirit what he had inflicted on the man, calling him a «deaf and dumb spirit,» because he never will hear and speak what the penitent sinner can speak and hear. But the devil, quitting a man, never returns, if the man keep his heart with the keys of humility and charity, and hold possession of the gate of freedom (ed. note: of «fastness».). The man who was healed became as one dead, for it is said to those who are healed, «Ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.»
Theophylact: Again, when Jesus, that is, the word of the Gospel, takes hold of the hand, that is, of our powers of action, then shall we be freed from the devil. And observe that God first helps us, then it is required of us that we do good; for which reason, it is said that Jesus «raised him;» in which is shewn the aid of God, and that «he arose,» in which is declared the zeal of man.
Bede: Further, (p. 179) our Lord, while teaching the Apostles how the worst devil is to be expelled, gives all of us rules for our life; that is, He would have us know that all the more grievous attacks of evil spirits or of men are to be overcome by fastings and prayers; and again, that the anger of the Lord, when it is kindled for vengeance on our crimes, can be appeased by this remedy alone.
But fasting, in general, is not only abstinence from food, but also from all carnal delights, yea, from all vicious passions. In like manner, prayer taken generally consists not only in the words by which we call upon the Divine mercy but also in all those things which we do with the devotedness of faith in obedience to our Maker, as the Apostle testifies, when he says, «Pray without ceasing.» (1Th 5,17) Pseudo-Jerome: Or else, the folly which is connected with the softness of the flesh, is healed by fasting; anger and laziness are healed by prayer. Each would have its own medicine, which must be applied to it; that which is used for the heel will not cure the eye; by fasting, the passions of the body, by prayer, the plagues of the soul, are healed.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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