Bottom line: Mystery of Transfiguration can help us understand the Eucharist
This year the Feast of the Transfiguration falls on Sunday, replacing the ordinary readings. As you might remember, last week we began a series of five selections from St. John - the Bread of Life discourse. It seems a shame to miss part of that magnificent Gospel, so important for appreciating the Mass. Still, when you think about it, today's feast may not be so much of an interruption. The mystery of the Transfiguration can help us understand the Eucharist. I would like to point out two ways.
The most obvious way in which the Transfiguration illuminates the Eucharist is that it exposes the reality beneath the appearances. If we love a play, we naturally want to know about what happens behind the curtains. Last month I saw some wonderful Shakespeare plays; I was curious to learn something about the actors, how the plays were staged and the intention of the director. Similarly it would have been magnificent to see and hear Jesus in his earthly appearance, but indescribably more wonderful to know what was going on behind the scenes. We get a small glimpse today. We hear about how even his clothes turned dazzlingly white and part of the Communion of Saints became manifest: Moses and Elijah conversed with him.
Over the years certain mystics glimpsed a bit the reality behind the Eucharist. I remember one of my seminary professors who felt such awe toward the Eucharist that he was unable to celebrate a public Mass. He trembled and stuttered when he said Mass; it sometimes took a couple of hours. On one level we felt a little sorry for him, but we also recognized that he appreciated something we often took for granted - the awesome mystery of the Eucharist.
Likewise, St. Francis of Assisi, although he was not a priest, had a deep devotion to the Eucharist. He told his followers that in the Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus fulfilled his final promise - that he would be with us all days until the end of the world.* St. Francis saw behind the humble appearances to the glory of Christ. It was like being on that mountain where the humble, earthly Jesus was transfigured and the three apostles saw his glory. In that sense the Transfiguration can shine light on the Eucharist; it can help us understand that behind the external signs, stands an awesome reality.
There is a second, less obvious, way that today's Gospel connects with the Bread of Life Discourse. In both cases Jesus refers to himself as "the Son of Man." Coming down from the mountain after the Transfiguration, Jesus tells them not to relate what had happened "except when the Son of man had risen from the dead." In two weeks we will hear Jesus declare, "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have live within you."
What does the title Son of Man mean? At first glance it seems to be a humble form of self reference: that Jesus is one of us, born of human flesh. In certain contexts that is the case. A person speaking Spanish might avoid using the personal pronoun I and, instead, refer to himself su servidor, your servant. Jesus sometimes uses the title Son of Man as an expression of humility. Nevertheless, when we look at the Old Testament background, we realize that it implies something much deeper.
Today we heard that in the night vision, the prophet Daniel saw one "like a son of man" coming on the clouds of heaven. That Son of man would receive "dominion, glory, and kingship; all peoples, nations and languages (would) serve him." Doesn't sound like some regular old guy to me. What do you think?
The Roman Emperor Augustus never allowed people to call him king or emperor. He insisted they address him as First Citizen, in Latin Principe, from which we get our English word prince. Politically, he was the most powerful man in the world, yet he used an apparently humble title. Still, everyone knew what it really meant. That is the case with Jesus, only in an incalculably greater sense. Born as a helpless baby when Augustus was emperor, he possessed a power which would make the emperor an ant by comparison. Yet he concealed his power. He used the title Son of Man both as an expression of humility and to hint at his inner reality.
To continue his presence among us, he utilized the most ordinary substance: a bit of ground wheat made into a dough by the addition of water, then placed in an oven. The bread concealed an enormous reality. Today in the Transfiguration we glimpse that reality. Soon we will hear the great invitation - to feed on the Flesh of the Son of Man that we might have lasting life.
*"And just as He appeared before the holy Apostles in true flesh, so now He has us see Him in the Sacred Bread. Looking at Him with the eyes of their flesh, they saw only His Flesh, but regarding Him with the eyes of the spirit, they believed that He was God. In like manner, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, let us see and believe firmly that it is His Most Holy Body and Blood, True and Living. For in this way our Lord is ever present among those who believe in him, according to what He said: 'Behold, I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.'" (Mt. 28, 20) (St. Francis of Assisi)
Please say a prayer for my sister Melanie who suffered a stroke on July 29. It affected her right side, leaving her arm completely immobile. She is able to speak OK and to walk with assistance. Currently she is undergoing diagnoses and therapy at the hospital in Everett. Above is a picture of Melanie from this summer. The picture below shows Melanie with our mom, her daughter Tonya and grandchildren Rachael and Gabriel, about seven years ago. (pictures by our brother, Louis)
Melanie & husband Alex at June 30, 2003 baptism of their grandchildren:
Homilies for Solemnity of Transfiguration:
From Archives (Year A homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Take the Plunge Bible Study (audio resources)
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Fr. Brad's Homilies
Fr. Jim's Homilies
Fr. Michael White's Homilies ("messages")
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