There were times when Our Lord’s disciples were a little bit dense and slow on the uptake. Even when faced with the glory of the Lord in the wonder of his Transfiguration they are still not on Our Lord’s wavelength. Peter wants to erect tents in order to prolong the experience, but before you know it, it’s all over.
What was the Transfiguration? Well, it was a moment when God revealed some of his heavenly splendour to human eyes. Our Lord had told the disciples time and time again what was going to happen to him; he told them he came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets; that he was to die and rise again; that he came to bring salvation to the world.
The disciples found what he said about suffering and death to be utterly incomprehensible, they just couldn’t grasp it and take it in. All they understood was that Jesus was someone incredible, someone who made so much sense when he talked, someone who was able to work wonders and miracles, someone who could see inside a person’s soul, someone who they couldn’t help but follow. Their understanding was limited, but they knew enough to know that they had better stick around.
Then Our Lord invites the inner circle of disciples up the mountain, the special three; Peter, James and John. There he is Transfigured and they catch a glimpse of his heavenly glory. Now, it’s commonly thought by scholars that Our Lord did this to strengthen the disciples for what would come later, so that in the dark moments of Our Lord’s suffering and death they would reflect back on this episode and believe that Jesus was so favoured by God that everything would be alright in the end.
Personally, I’ve never been too convinced about this interpretation. We know after Our Lord’s Crucifixion that all the disciples went into hiding and that they were scared stiff to leave the house for fear of the Jews; they must have despaired that anything good could come from Our Lord’s dreadful death.
An interpretation I am more convinced by is that this is a special moment of revelation and that the Transfiguration is meant to tell us something about the Spiritual Life.
‘Jesus took them up the mountain where they could be alone.’ This opening line is a sort of parable of the Spiritual Life. We can plod along quite nicely in our faith, going to Mass regularly, saying our daily prayers, trying to act justly and speak truthfully, and from time to time maybe thinking some holy thoughts. Then something happens and all this just isn’t enough anymore. We feel we are being led by God to something more, to something greater and higher and better.
This is the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Everything is normal and then one day we feel that call. We feel that pull. We feel we are being led by God. We discover a need within us to do something more, to spend more time with him in prayer; but not just ordinary time but real quality time. We want to be alone with God. And we begin to ascend that mountain which is the Spiritual Life.
All of us here today have responded to God’s call in one way or another, and for some of us it has been a pretty exciting journey, which has taken us to unexpected places. As Saint Paul says; we bear hardships for the sake of the Good News. And like Abraham, we have been drawn into unfamiliar territory, we left a lot of old things behind and we experience the world now in a different way.
We have all responded to God’s call which is why we are members of the Church. But there’s another call to begin to ascend the mountain of the Spiritual Life. When we experience this call-within-a-call, things begin to happen, like they happened for Peter, James and John.
Almost always when we begin this journey there is a moment of Transfiguration. There is a special moment when we catch a glimpse of God’s glory. For many of us this is a period in our lives when we feel especially close to God, and it’s very hard to express in words just what has been experienced. Almost everyone who begins a deeper spiritual journey goes through an experience like this.
Saint Peter wanted to prolong the Transfiguration experience, but it didn’t last long. Very often it is followed by a prolonged period when we feel God is absent or very far away. This is what Saint John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul.
God calls us; he calls us to ascend the mountain with him. He gives us a glimpse of his glory, and then he leads us into unfamiliar territory.
All of us here today have answered God’s call within a call, and we are all endeavouring to climb the mountain of the Spiritual Life. But we are not that special, because God calls all of his children to do the same, as best they can. And we don’t all have to be priests or religious to master the spiritual life. God calls every man, woman and child to a high level of spiritual intimacy with him.
God wants us all to climb that mountain, and he wants to reveal his power and his glory through us to the world.