Sunday Scriptures

A Glimpse of His Grace and Glory

by Father James Rodriguez

ON THIS DAY in 1945, the detonation of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima served as a pivotal moment not only in World War II, but also in human history, violently punctuating a century that saw more bloodshed than any other.

To be sure, the decision made by President Harry S. Truman and his advisers was much more complex than this space allows, and the political forces at work are beyond the scope of this brief reflection. Still, the bombing was a stark reminder of the heights of human ingenuity meeting the depths of our sheer destructive power. In starkest contrast, the Church recalls on this day not an explosion of deadly force, but of grace and glory heretofore unseen.

In “Reasons to Believe,” his guide to apologetics, Dr. Scott Hahn expertly articulates the many philosophical and theological grounds for the Catholic faith. In his discussion of our Bible-based veneration of saints, he joins the New Testament image of this cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) to the Old Testament image of God’s presence in the cloud that went before the Hebrew people in the desert (Exodus 13:21). It is no wonder then, that Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, was enveloped in the cloud of glory, with the chief apostles of the Old Testament – Moses representing the law and Elijah the prophets – and those of the new – Peter, James and John.

Transcendent Revelation

Their collective witness represents God’s transcendent revelation that, much like that mushroom cloud 19 centuries later, balloons overhead and spreads far and wide. Life itself radiates from it, evident in the wonder and awe given voice by the first pope. It is indeed a stark contrast to the destruction of war, yet a reminder that we are at war nonetheless.

Atop the mountain, that ancient place where heaven and earth meet, Jesus stands radiant and resplendent to give the apostles a glimpse of His glory, which would strengthen them for the battle of faith that awaited them. His was not a glory of mere appearance. In fact, the only proper light in which to interpret this moment is the dim light of a world thrust into mourning on the Friday we call “Good.” On that day, Jesus’ glory was fully revealed, His mission made plain. His is a glory unlike that of our fallen and prideful nature. He, the Word made flesh, came to bear our sins and to become a sin offering, sacrificed by the unwitting priests of the old covenant, a sacrifice officiated by Himself, the true High Priest towering over a confused and cowardly populace in desperate need of salvation. Here, and here alone, does the Transfiguration make sense.

Gazing with Gratitude

The Mosaic law, summarized in love for God and neighbor, was inextricably bound to the prophecy awaited since the exile of our first parents on the wood of the Cross. At this, the true tree of life, we are invited to take and eat (Matthew 26:26).  Peter, the head of the Church, and John, its heart, bear witness. With them, James, who would become the first bishop of Jerusalem, stand in for the whole Church – for you and for me – gazing with gratitude upon the One whose life and death saved us.

Why then do we continue to harm one another? Why the seemingly endless wars and threats? Why the fear, the hatred, the anger?

Simply put, we need a return to Mount Tabor. We – like Peter, James and John – must look with hearts aflame upon Him whose voice echoes through the ages: “Rise, and do not be afraid” (Matthew 17:7b). We will do well to be attentive to it, as to “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:17). Here, in the fulfillment of Daniel’s vision, the messianic “Son of Man received dominion, glory and kingship” (Daniel 7:14) in the twin mysteries of Tabor and Calvary.

On this Sunday, and every day on Catholic altars around the world, this vision is realized in the Holy Eucharist. We surround Him like a cloud of glory and are enlightened by His presence. We gaze on Him with bright eyes and hopeful hearts, recognizing in Him the definitive answer we seek. With Peter we can exclaim: “It is good that we are here” (Matthew 17:4), and instead of us building tents to shelter the divinity we contemplate, “the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house” (2 Samuel 7:11).

We respond with the words of the centurion: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof” (Matthew 8:8) before opening our mouths and receiving “the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Filled with this incarnate Word, may we be a healing force in the world, a living explosion of grace that perpetuates the Transfiguration until the world shine bright.

Readings for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Daniel 7: 9-10, 13-14

Psalm 97: 1-2, 5-6, 9

2 Peter 1: 16-19

Matthew 17: 1-9

Father Rodriguez ministers full-time with Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, and lives in residence at Blessed Sacrament parish in Jackson Heights.