Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo on the Transfiguration: What Happened in Christ Happens in Us

With the invitation to climb the mountain of the Transfiguration with Christ so as not to scandalize us about his death and to contemplate on his human face the glorious light of God

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Roman Rite – 2nd Sunday of Lent – Year A – 8 March 2020

Gen 12.1-4; Ps 33; 2 Tm 1,8-10; Mt 17.1-9

In Christ all reality is transfigured.


Ambrosian Rite – Second Sunday of Lent – Sunday of the Samaritan woman

Ex 20.2-24; Ps 18; Eph 1: 15-23; Jn 4.5-42

The encounter with Christ transfigures those who are disfigured.



The liturgy of the Church makes us live Lent as an exodus (= journey) of liberation. The exodus made under the leadership of Moses was the liberation from the slavery of Egypt to reach the freedom of the promised land where the Jewish Passover (= passage) came to fruition. That exodus, which was the journey in the desert made by the chosen people to respond to their divine vocation, is the announcement and the vision of a journey that we are called to take today, especially during Lent.

Christ’s life was, can and must be seen as a renewal of that pilgrimage towards the homeland bringing the whole of humanity to the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews shows the Christian Church as the people of God, the new Israel, wandering towards the true homeland: the heavenly one.

Our life too is the renewal of that distant history. Origen wrote: “Do not believe that these events took place long ago and that nothing similar will happen to you who listen today. Everything is done in you, spiritually … »

In this journey, Christ is our guide. He is the new Moses who leads us through the desert of life.

The Christian exodus, like the Jewish exodus, is a journey not only on flat land, it is also a climb on various mountains.

So, walking with Christ, let’s climb with him on the mountain of temptation, on the mountain of his great preaching, on the mountain of prayer, on the mountain of the transfiguration, on the mountain of anguish (that of the olive trees), on Mount Calvary and on the Mount of Ascension. In the background, however, stand out also Sinai, Horeb, and Moriah, the mountains of the revelation of the Old Testament. At the same time, these are mountains of passion and revelation. Furthermore, they refer to the mountain of the temple on which the revelation becomes liturgical.

Considering this, we can say that the mountain is the place of the ascent – not only of the external ascent but also of the internal ascent. Climbing the mountain spiritually is freeing yourself from the burden of everyday life, it is breathing in the pure air of creation. The mountain offers the panorama of the breadth of creation and its beauty, gives us inner elevation and allows us to sense the Creator. Sacred history adds to these considerations the experience of the God who speaks and the experience of passion, which culminates in the sacrifice of Isaac and of the lamb, prefiguration of the definitive Lamb sacrificed on Mount Calvary. Moses and Elijah had been able to receive God’s revelation on the mountain; now on Mount Tabor, I am in conversation with the One who is the revelation of God.

  • Lent: exodus of penance and light.

Lent is not only a path of penance for people who are grieved for their sin. It is a path of light or, better, of conversion to light. The victory over temptation is already a source of transfiguration.

The Gospel of this Sunday presents us the Transfiguration of Christ. It is an event that marked the life not only of Jesus, but also of Peter, James, and John, and must mark our existence.

The context is of prayer, on Mount Tabor. It is a very special and privileged moment. It is a revelation of the divinity of Jesus. It is a moment of light that Jesus wanted in order to prepare his disciples for the passion and us too so that we arrive prepared for Good Friday. We too must enter the mystery of the Transfiguration and make it our own. We must not only contemplate the radiant Christ but become what we contemplate.

The first way to participate in the supernatural gift of the Transfiguration is to give room to prayer and listening to the Word of God and to fix our gaze on the consecrated Host. Furthermore, especially in this time of Lent, it is responding to the divine invitation of penance with some voluntary act of mortification on top of the renunciations imposed by the weight of daily life.

Another way of living the mystery of the Transfiguration is to imagine the scene, as the Gospel describes it, and identify with one of the three apostles who accompanied Jesus on Mount Tabor: “And he was transfigured before them (the three apostles: Peter, James, and John): his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light «(Mt 17,1-2). Jesus is transfigured: the white clothes [1] and the shining face place us in the direction of the Son of Daniel’s man, glorious and victorious. In this way, it is revealed to us that Jesus, who is on the way to the Cross, is the Lord on the way to the light of the Resurrection. The last and painful pilgrimage that Jesus is traveling hides an Easter meaning. But it is a fleeting and provisional advance: the way forward is that of the Cross. In fact, the three favorite disciples, called to see in advance the glory of Jesus, are the same that will be with him in Gethsemane where they will see his weakness. Peter, James and John (and we with them) contemplating the divinity of the Lord, are prepared to face the scandal of the cross, as it is sung in an ancient hymn: “On the mountain you transfigured yourself, and your disciples, as far as they were capable of, contemplated your glory so that, seeing you crucified, they would understand that your passion was voluntary and would announce to the world that you are truly the splendor of the Father «.

  • The tents and the tent.

The Gospel continues narrating that, next to the transfigured Jesus, «Moses and Elijah appeared [2] conversing with him» (Mt 17,3). Moses and Elijah are the figures of the Law and the Prophets. These two great biblical characters, who had the privilege of «seeing and hearing» God on Mount Sinai and on Mount Horeb, are at the side of Jesus on the mountain of the transfiguration and testify to his identity. It was then that Peter, ecstatic, exclaimed: “Lord, it is nice for us to be here! If you want, I will make three huts here [3], one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah” (Mt 17.4). I believe, however, that in this Gospel passage the data of the tent/hut can be interpreted in reference to the exodus.

The forty years in the desert were a time of transition and trial, but they were also a privileged time. In the desert, tents must be set up every evening and taken away every morning. The desert is the place of horror and death, the place of scorpions and snakes, the place of thirst and hunger, the place of hidden raiders that suddenly swoop on the caravan. But it is the time, coextensively, of strength and life. Never as in the desert, the people are strong because they are bare, light and carry little luggage but a lot of life, hope, and energy to be treasured later when they arrive in their homeland [4].

The desert and tents were and are a privileged place, the place where one is face to face with God. It is also the place and time of total dependence. Already in the desert of exodus the realities that the New Testament will later assume as the last, messianic and eschatological, that is, water, manna, and the Word, are understood precisely in the sense of total dependence from God.

The people who live under the tent cannot do without vital elements such as water, food, manna, quails of the desert (Ex. 16, 1-36 and 17, 1-7). The Lord sends the goods, but the Lord wants the people to have total availability and dependence and to demonstrate them because the Lord does not let anyone miss anything.

We must also speak of the Tent with a capital T. In fact, already Saint Augustine commented on the phrase of Saint Peter on the mount of the Transfiguration saying that we have only one home: Christ. He «is the Word of God, Word of God in the Law, Word of God in the Prophets» [5]. The Lord established his tent in the middle of the tents; these tents become the place where one lives a real-life because the Lord is present, he is Emmanuel, the God-with-us, God among us, always.

This Tent among tents implies that God becomes like men, lowers himself, and almost destroys himself to live among the tends of men.

An example of tents next to the Tent are the consecrated Virgins. These women are called to live their existence with full availability and dependence. In the Church these women are called to give themselves totally to the Lord with virginity, continuing to live in the world. Their consecration manifests the importance of a joyful «totality» in the gift of self and, consequently, the constant search for the primacy of contemplation while in total availability for service in the Church with and for the brothers. In such a way these women testify that the light of God transfigures humanity and that Christ is always light of life and beauty of humanity.



[1] Saint Maximus the Confessor states that «the robes that had become white bore the symbol of the words of Sacred Scripture, which became clear and transparent and luminous» Ambiguum 10: PG 91, 1128 B.

[2] Moses and Elijah are particularly qualified characters to speak with Jesus on his journey. Moses led the people of God in the transition from Egypt to the promised land and, called by God to lead the march of Israel towards freedom, repeatedly felt the bitterness of the contestation and abandonment. He died on the threshold of the promised land without the satisfaction of entering it but he never failed in his faith. Elijah – one of the most tenacious prophets, intolerant of any form of idolatry and corruption of the government – knew flight, desert and solitude, but also the joy of the presence of the Lord and the comfort of his word. Jesus is walking towards the Cross, but he is the definitive prophet, the last word of God: «Listen to him». The fundamental attitude of his disciple is listening.

[3] The new translation of the Gospel translates the Greek word «skene» with «huts» instead of «tents» in reference to the feast of the Huts. The Latin translation uses the word «tabernaculum». The feast of Sukkoth begins on the 15th of the month of Tishrì (September-October, because the Jewish calendar, unlike the Christian calendar, is lunar, that is, it follows the cycle of the moon. To be more precise, it is based on the time interval that passes from one new moon to another). Sukkoth in Hebrew means «huts» and it is precisely huts that characterize this joyful holiday that recalls the permanence of the Jews in the desert after the liberation from the slavery of Egypt: forty years in which they lived in precarious dwellings, accompanied by «clouds of glory» . I think, however, that writing these reflections using the word «tent» helps us to better understand the fact of being pilgrims and not having a permanent home on this earth.

[4] It is useful to remember that the first monks, towards the end of the third century and the beginning of the fourth, «returned» to the desert. Usually it is said that they fled for fear of civilization and for contempt for the realities of the world, but it is only a commonplace. Actually, the first monks «fled» to the desert to challenge the comfortable life of the Christians of their time, who were becoming men of convenience and satiety, men of a definitive non-pilgrim life. Christians had lost what for the first three centuries was the true instinct of the desert, that of proceeding to make others proceed and of contributing to the fact that others, who are not part of God’s people, could «go» anyway «forward». So, the first monks made an immense act of courage, an act of «going back», which is actually «going forward”: returning to the privileged times of the desert, of the tent.

[5] Saint Augustine, Sermo De Verbis Ev. 78.3: PL 38, 491.


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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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