WHEN PETER, JAMES, AND JOHN beheld the shining vision of Jesus Christ in the Transfiguration (a feast we celebrate this month), they were struck with wonder. And that is really the point of the Transfiguration. For nothing gets us to look at life with new hope like the wonder of beauty. In 1752, an envoy was sent from the archbishop of Mexico to Pope Benedict XIV to petition the Pontiff for the commissioning of a special Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe. When the envoy unrolled a canvas bearing a painted likeness of the Virgin’s miraculous portrait, the Holy Father fell to his knees, weeping. The request was granted.
The wonder of wonder
Beauty undoes us. The theologian Father Hans Urs von Balthasar wrote, “In the experience of extraordinary beauty, we are able to grasp a phenomenon that otherwise remains veiled. What we encounter in such an experience is as overwhelming as a miracle, something we will never get over.” And what is the “phenomenon” that the Lord wants to unveil in our life through the beauty of the Transfiguration? The fact that we can change.
One of the greatest sources of sadness in our life is the presumption that we will always remain “just the way we are” – that we will never get over our character flaws or our depressing weakness, that we will never progress in holiness, that the sins we keep on habitually committing will keep a permanent hold on us. The problems we face in life seem more arduous than the disciples’ steep trek up Mount Tabor. What moves us beyond our fatalism is wonder. The disciples were overcome by the glorious brilliance of the transfigured Christ. They wanted what they witnessed never to end. That was the Lord’s intention in the event. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that, through his Transfiguration, Christ wished “to enkindle all the faithful with the desire for that glory.” In other words, the Transfiguration was meant to be a kind of mystic mirror. The sight of the resplendent Son moves us to cry, “I want to be like that too!” And the promise is that “Christ will configure those who belong to him” (Saint Thomas Aquinas).
The Transfiguration in our daily life
Chances are that our experience of the Transfiguration in daily life will be far less dramatic. And yet, the miracle assures us that wonder will remain the means by which God draws us into the mystery of himself. For, as Saint Gregory of Nyssa observed, “Ideas lead to idols; only wonder leads to knowing.” And, “Devoid of wonder we remain deaf to the sublime” (Abraham Heschel).
Where, then, does wonder break through in our lives? It may well be through the wound that makes us so negative about our chances for happiness. A character in Paul Claudel’s play The Satin Slipper prays:
Lord, it is not so easy to escape you, and, if [one] goes not to you by what he has of light, may he go to you by what he has of darkness; and if not by what he has of straight, may he go to you by what he has of indirection; and if not by what he has of simple, let him go by what in him is manifold and laborious and entangled, and if he desire evil let it be such evil as is compatible only with good. And if he desire disorder, may it be that disorder which shall mean the rending and overthrow of those walls about him which bar him from salvation.
Even if we do not go to God “by what we have of light,” the dazzling light of the Transfiguration will shatter our darkness and make us take notice of the One who stands ready to give us exactly what our heart is yearning for.
Mounting above our limitations by way of Mount Tabor
The mystery of the Transfiguration testifies to the fact that “God radiates love, which kindles the light of love in the heart of the human being, and it is precisely this light that allows us to perceive this absolute Love” (von Balthasar). Once embraced by this Love, “we must progress and grow, we must mount above our own limitations. It can be done; human nature is fundamentally designed for this expansion” (Father Alfred Delp). As the heroic missionary to the lepers of Moloka’i, Saint Damien de Veuster, declared with an authority few can match, “We shall be transfigured, happy, and beautiful in proportion to our patience in bearing our trials here below.”
Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
The Wonder of Wonder
I love what Peter John Cameron, O.P. writes in this month's (August 2010) Magnificat concerning the Transfiguration.