The Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord (A)
Dear brothers and sisters,
There is something about looking upon the face of another person that is of great importance for us. Is this not why we prefer to chat with our family and friends via Facetime than simply with the telephone? It is good to hear the voice of another, yes, but it is better to also see their face. For some three years, the Apostles lived with Jesus. They traveled with him, ate with him, watched him pray, listened to his preaching, and talked with him each day. Yet today they saw something in his face they had not yet seen: they saw his face shine “like the sun” (Matthew 17:2).
With the coming solar eclipse, we have heard a lot about the brightness of the sun, and of the danger of looking directly upon it with unprotected eyes. We have seen the faces of others illumined by the light of the sun, but never have we seen the face of another shine like the sun, as Peter, James, and John were allowed to see upon Mount Tabor, upon the only mountain in Galilee, a mountain whose name means “the coming light.” Because the Lord himself prepared his chosen companions, they could look upon the brilliant beauty and splendor of his face; they were given the privilege of seeing what “many prophets and righteous men longed to see … and did not see it” (Matthew 13:17).
Throughout his Gospel, the Evangelist Saint Matthew repeatedly demonstrates how Jesus is the new Moses, the new lawgiver of the new Israel, which comes to fulfillment in his Transfiguration. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, “the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” (Exodus 34:29); the light of the Lord’s glory continued to reflect off of Moses’ face so brightly before the People of God that “they were afraid to come near him” and so Moses “put a veil on his face” (Exodus 34:30, 33).
In the Transfiguration of Jesus, those three Apostles saw
visibly what happens when Jesus talks with his Father: the profound interpenetration of his being with God, which then becomes pure light. In his oneness with the Father, Jesus is himself ‘light from light’… Jesus, however, shines from within; he does not simply receive light, but he himself is light from light.
When they looked upon the transfigured face of their Master and Teacher, they were, as Saint Peter said, “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter 1:16). In that moment, they looked upon the face of God and lived; the light of his face was not too bright for them. They received the fulfillment of the ancient longing of every human heart and so Saint Peter desired to remain before the Transfigured face of the Son of God (cf. Matthew 17:4). Our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine, recognized this common and universal yearning when he prayed in his Confessions, saying to God, “…you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
|The apse mosaic of the Basilica of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor|
In that moment on Mount Tabor we see what Saint Irenaeus recognized so many centuries ago: “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.” If the vision of God is our life and glory, if the sight of his face is the rest for which we long, how can we see his face? Is not his glory too bright for us to see? We can be sure that “one does not see the Risen Lord like a piece of wood or stone. He is seen only by those to whom He reveals Himself. And He reveals Himself only to someone whom He can send. He reveals Himself not to curiosity but to love.” He reveals his face to hearts that seek him, to those who ask with the Psalmist, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God” (Psalm 42:1-2).
Today, then, is a good day for us to reflect upon the purpose of a parish and also of a pastor. Our word parish comes from the thirteenth century, when it entered into English from Latin via Old French. It comes from the Latin word paroceia, which is itself a Latinization of the Greek word paroikia, a word meaning “sojourning in a foreign land.” Its root in Greek is the word paroikos, meaning “dwelling place, stranger, sojourner.” It is really a composite word, being made of para, “beside, by, near,” and oikos, “house.” Fundamentally, then, a parishioner is a stranger dwelling near the house of God whose goal is not simply to dwell near the house of God, but to enter into his house, to enter into his presence and see his face.
|The church of St. Augustine, Ashland, Illinois|
The purpose of a parish is help our fellow strangers in this strange land grow in the theological virtues of faith, of hope, and of love and so to become holy, to become ever more like Christ (cf. Exodus 2:22; I John 3:2). If parishioners are not reflecting more and more of the light of the face of Christ Jesus, something is amiss and they are not moving toward the goal of their earthly pilgrimage. To encourage and nourish the pilgrim flock, Mother Church has divided the world into dioceses and parishes to ensure that every member of the baptized has a proper pastor, a shepherd, to lead them ever closer to the Father’s house. The pastor of a parish stands in the place of the Bishop, who stands in the place of Christ; a pastor, then, represents not himself, but Christ Jesus, in whose place he stands at the head of the flock to teach, to sanctify, and to govern (cf. canon 519).
When a new pastor arrives in a parish, many of the parishioners wonder what program he will enact. The only program, if you will, which I hope to enact is to help you prepare to see the face of Christ more clearly, to help you draw near to him and bask in the light of his face, a light which can transform us and make us like himself. I hope to help you seek the Lord not in curiosity, but in love, to not only hear his voice speaking in the quiet of our hearts, but to see his face and become witnesses of his majesty and to take your places within the Father’s house.
|The Veronica, the Holy Face of Manoppello|
Being but a frail human, I cannot do this on my own, and so I will rely upon the grace of God and upon the cooperation of a great many of you. I entrust myself to your prayers and to the intercession of Saint Augustine. As together we look to the Doctor of Grace as a sure guide on the path that leads to the face of God, let each of us make this prayer of Saint Augustine our own:
You have radiated forth, you have shined out brightly, and you have dispelled my blindness. You have sent forth your fragrance, and I have breathed it in, and I long for you. I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst for you. You have touched me, and I ardently desire your peace.
May the Lord illumine our faces with the light of his love and send us forth to reflect his light in a darkened world. Amen.
 Saint Anthony of Padua, Sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent, 3. In Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, Volume I: General Prologue, Sundays from Septuagesima to Pentecost. Paul Spilsbury, trans. (Padua: Edizioni Messagero Padova, 2007), 102.
 Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. Adrian J. Walker, trans. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 310.
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 1.1. Henry Chadwick, trans. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 3.
 Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, Against Heresies, 4.20.7.
 Joseph Ratzinger, in Paul Badde, Benedict Up Close: The Inside Story of Eight Dramatic Years (Irondale, Alabama: EWTN Publishing, Inc., 2017), 42.
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.27.38.