In our Gospel this week, Peter experiences an extraordinaryrevelation. Jesus is transfigured before him – appearing for a fewmoments in dazzling glory. Peter is so astounded by what he sees andhears, that he finds himself talking, with no clear idea of what he’s saying.
Before the events described in our Gospel, Peter already knew andloved Jesus in the context of the small band of disciples. And in thatcontext, Peter regarded Jesus as a truly wonderful master. But Peter’sexperience of Jesus to this point, could not equip him with a matureunderstanding of who Jesus is in the great scheme of things: That’s whathe is granted today on the mountain: a shattering, disorienting glimpse ofJesus as the only Son of the Living God – the one through whom Godcreated, sustains, and will judge the universe. No wonder Peter is leftbabbling.
Maybe it’s foolhardy to compare what happens to Peter and theothers on the mountain with anything in ordinary human experience, butI’m going to try. Perhaps a kind of literary comparison can be drawn to anexperience many of us had as young readers engrossed, for the first time,in C. S. Lewis’s, The Chronicles of Narnia. As we luxuriated for hour afterhour in Lewis’s fictional world, we identified with the characters in thestories, and came to share their love for the great lion Aslan, who in themidst of all their adventures, unfailingly provided the heroes withaffection, comfort, wisdom, correction. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, wethought, if life really was an adventure like in the books? Wouldn’t it bewonderful if the great lion Aslan was real and cared for us! And then,whether in volume 2 or 4 or 7, we suddenly realized that Aslan was meantto represent Jesus, and the great adventures in the stories were meant torepresent the life of faith, and what we were enjoying so much as fictionwas intended as a figurative description of the way the world really is, andthe way our lives could really be. It was, in a way, a moment oftransfiguration.
Another childhood experience comes to mind. It was a Springafternoon in Kankakee, Illinois. School was over for the day. I had a nickelin my pocket, and was walking to the local Dairy Queen with one of mythird grade classmates – someone I didn’t know very well. His name wasJeff Christiansen. I don’t remember what we talked about as we walked,but I remember that at one point my left forearm happened to brushagainst his right arm, and I was instantly overcome with the feeling ofhaving touched another universe – another center of consciousness. Herewas another human being, who looked out on the world from his ownstandpoint and interpreted it by his own lights. I remember being filledwith the feeling that in merely touching another person, I had beengranted an extraordinary privilege.
Now that was a long time ago, and I can’t be sure what was goingon. Maybe I was coming down with some childhood illness and wasslightly delirious. More likely, the occasion marked the first time that Ibroke free momentarily from the profound self-centeredness of childhood,to realize that there really were other people out there, existing entirelyindependently of me. In any case, it was probably the closest thing to amystical experience that I’ve ever had. For a moment, the floor droppedout of my understanding of the world, and I realized that there weredepths to reality that I had never suspected. My world was transfigured.
I make these comparisons to the scriptural account of thetransfiguration, in the hope of recalling to your minds similar examplesfrom your own experience: Moments when an insight into theunfathomable depth and richness of life and faith seemed for a momentto be within your grasp, and you caught a glimpse of the mystery ofChrist in our world.
Perhaps for you, as it was for Abraham, it was a moment when youlooked up at the night sky and tried to count the stars. Perhaps it was amoment of unique insight in the course of a lifetime of study, or a certainexpression caught on a particular face in a particular light. I think thatsuch revelatory moments occur more frequently than we ordinarilyassume. They are graced moments, and Lent is a good time to recallthem in memory and in prayer, so that their power to give hope anddirection in our lives is renewed.
But whether or not we have personal experiences to recall, we canall as Christians claim as our own the experiences recorded in scripture. Ina real way, what happens to Peter happens to us. It is part of ourexperience as the one Body of Christ in the world.
Even more remarkably, what happens to Jesus will happen to us.The events recorded in our Gospel are not mere stories offering amoment’s comfort or diversion, but reflections of the way the world reallyis, and of the offer of unbounded divine love that is held out to each ofus. For a moment on the mountain, Peter sees Christ in glory. Saint Paulpromises that one day Christ will give new form to this lowly body of ours,and remake it according to the pattern of his own glorified body.
All this can happen because of the life, passion and resurrection ofChrist – the resurrection made present to us in a unique way at Easter.And so Lent is a time of anticipation for us – a time of yearning for theevent that transfigures our life, our world and ourselves.
Rev. Charles B. Gordon, C.S.C., is co-director of the Garaventa Center for Catholic Intellectual Life and American Culture at the University of Portland. He writes and records a regular blog called “Fractio Verbi.”