16 March 2014

The Holy Face and the Transfiguration

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John atop Mount Tabor, "his face shone like the sun" (Matthew 17:2). If we read or listen to this account without attentiveness, we may miss the fact that, as Benedict XVI noted,
in the Transfiguration it is not Jesus who receives the revelation of God; rather, it is precisely in Jesus that God reveals himself and reveals his face to the Apostles. Thus, those who wish to know God must contemplate the face of Jesus, his face transfigured: Jesus is the perfect revelation of the Father’s holiness and mercy (Homily, 20 March 2011).
In that moment he revealed the full beauty and splendor of his face, a beauty and splendor that filled the Apostles with such a joy that they did not wish to leave, but asked, rather, to remain in the light of his face.

Gazing upon il Volto Santo, we see something of this light, something of his transfigured face, even today:

PHOTO: ETWN/Alan Holdren
As we gaze upon the light of this face, we see what those three Apostles did not see; in the radiance of his countenance, we see also the signs of his Passion.

Il Volto Santo is, then, for us an ever present reminder of what Benedict XVI wrote in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth: "Jesus' divinity belongs with the Cross - only when we put the two together do we recognize Jesus correctly" (305). Rightly, then, did the same Holy Father say, "On the transfigured face of Jesus a ray of light which he held within shines forth. This same light was to shine on Christ's face on the day of the Resurrection" (Angelus Address, 6 August 2006). So it is that Holy Mother Church offers this passage for our meditation in these Lenten days.

Peter, James, and John looked upon his transfigured face and were strengthened in their belief in his Divinity so as to better to approach his coming hour, to be strengthened in the promise of his victory. Though they did not recognize it at the time, they saw the glorious light of his Resurrection even before his Death.

We, on the other hand, look upon his transfigured face, marked with the wounds of Passion, to be strengthened, yes, in the promise of his victory - though the empty tomb is enough for that - but especially to be strengthened in the confidence of his merciful love. In il volto santo we see his glory, his mercy, and his joy, in which we have already received a share in Holy Baptism. Now, gazing upon his face, which still shines like the sun, we long to behold the Beatific Vision, to see him face to face, there to remain where it is truly good to be.

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