In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he says, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This passage came to mind as I read today’s gospel of the Transfiguration and pondered the events that led up to it at Caesarea Philippi. I wondered, how does the Spirit bring about our inner transformation as He did with the apostles? I think it must have to do with at least three factors: our free choices; the mystery of suffering; and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Let us begin with our free choices.
Six days before the Transfiguration, after asking Peter and the apostles what people thought about Him, Our Lord turned the question to them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, inspired by the Spirit, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He spoke from the depths of his conviction, not fully enlightened perhaps, but he took a stand and declared what he really thought. That is all Jesus wanted. He could work with that, and His Spirit could move Peter further down the road of transformation accordingly.
This is a perfect question for us this Lent, and the Spirit urges us to answer it: Who do we say that Jesus is? What is our conviction? What is our faith? When Jesus asks the question, He leaves Himself vulnerable, knowing we could reject him. But He also knows that it is our dignity to answer freely and in that answer to be transformed. So He waits patiently somewhat like the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs who said, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and you are lovely.”
Immediately after Peter’s confession of faith comes the next opportunity for transformation – Our Lord predicts that He “must…suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes.” Peter quickly rejects the idea – God forbid that Peter’s Christ should be a Christ crucified!
Faced with this divine mystery of suffering, I think Peter experienced a kind of inner panic, a little like that of Moses at the burning bush when Moses “…hid his face, because he did not want to look at God.” Moses hid his face because of the awe of it all, but also because he did not want to be sent to Pharaoh. He tried to talk God out of it. Peter hid his face, metaphorically, because he did not want to look at the face of a suffering God or, perhaps, face the possibility that suffering that might be his by association. We can either hide our face from this mystery of suffering, or with the grace of the Spirit accept this reality about our God and ourselves and be transformed.
Finally, we come to the Mount of Transfiguration which, in a way, Peter could not have approached without his earlier transformations. Here the Spirit allows the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” to shine upon Peter. Peter hears the Father proclaim His Son’s beloved-ness; he sees the Son in the unity of the Spirit radiating the goodness and glory of His Father; and he marvels at the cloud of glory by which the Spirit envelopes the whole. This knowledge of the Trinity both integrates all Peter’s other transformations and impels him forward to another and deeper cycle of transformation.
Now think a moment about the Church – what humility she must have when approaching this glorious sight of the Transfiguration, what holy fear. I wonder if the Church must first be like Rebekah who, when seeing Isaac at a distance, veiled her face out of the deepest respect. This veil the Spirit will lift when the Church enters into the presence of the Holy Trinity. Then in the boldness of childlike and bridal confidence, she will gaze on the Lord with face unveiled and be transformed from glory to glory.
Father Vincent's homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, 2014.