Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Feast of Beauty

Feast of the Transfiguration 2017 (Sunday)

Living in today's world, it's hard to find beauty in anything, especially in yourself. It is no wonder, that the classic fairy tale story of the ugly duckling resonates with so many of us. In the story of the ugly duckling, the true beauty of the swan is only revealed in the end. Until the beautiful swan is recognised for whom he truly is,  he is mocked and ridiculed by the ducks. The ugly duckling is considered unattractive and out of place. When you find a cocoon, you do not see the beauty of the butterfly. Until it emerges, its beauty and majesty are hidden within the cocoon. Unfortunately, for so many of us, in our own eyes, we remain tarnished ugly ducklings as we remain sealed in our dull coloured cocoons. We can only see the ugliness of our pain and tormented souls.

In today’s Gospel, we have our Lord’s Transfiguration where Christ’s Hidden Glory Is Revealed. The Greek word for Transfiguration has given us the scientific word for the transformation of an ugly worm-like caterpillar into a gloriously beautiful butterfly – Metamorphosis. The Transfiguration peeled away the cocoon of people’s perceptions, to reveal the wonder of the true identity of Jesus. By many, He was mocked and ridiculed. His enemies saw Him as a disturber of Israel, a simple carpenter’s son, a person of questionable parentage, a self-thought preacher without any academic qualifications or professional scholarly training. He was not numbered with the rich, the famous, or the powerful, but He was numbered among the poor, the ordinary, and the weak.  He was numbered with sinners and transgressors.

On the mount of transfiguration something changed. No name is given to this mountain but traditionally it has been identified as Mount Tabor, a name which is a mystery in itself. It's not clear where the name Tabor comes from or what it means. No Hebrew word comes close to it. But some say that it is an imperfect of a verb, ‘barar,’ which means purify or to make shiny, which seems obvious in the description of this event. The face of our Lord became illuminated, ‘shining’ like the sun. The veil was drawn back. It was no longer the face of a servant which the disciples saw, but the face of God.  St. Paul speaks of Moses, the only man to have seen the face of God and lived to tell the tale, hiding his face from the people because the reflected glory of God was fading from his face. In contrast, Peter, James, and John did not see a fading reflected glory of God, but they saw the very face of God, the enduring glory of God, and they too survived, to tell the tale to all generations, thereafter. On this mountain, the veil was removed and Christ’s glory, once hidden is now revealed.

Peter, James, and John quickly recognised the magnitude of this experience. They immediately cast themselves down with their faces to the ground. If God’s glory was not hidden from them, they would have to hide themselves from it. They offered to raise up tabernacles (that is, dwelling places) for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. At this time, they did not understand that God had already chosen His own tabernacle – the flesh of man. St. John would later confess this truth in the opening chapter of his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacle) among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:1,14). John knew later what he had seen, but not at that moment.

Today, you may not be on the Mount of Transfiguration, yet Christ is among you revealing His glory to you. He is revealed to you in the water of your Baptism – where you were brought forth from the bondage of sin, death, and darkness and brought into the freedom of forgiveness, life, and light. Christ’s glory is revealed to you in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper – where your hunger and thirst for righteousness were satisfied with the very body and blood of Jesus. Christ’s glory is revealed to you in the voice of the absolution – where Christ speaks to you those comforting words of forgiveness of sins and peace with God.

As the three disciples witnessed the unveiling of Christ’s glory on the Mount of Transfiguration, even more, the veil which separates God and man was completely torn apart and removed on another mount, the Mount of Crucifixion. From Mount Calvary the glory of the Gospel of Christ shines out to the whole world. Into the darkness of sin and death, the glory of God’s forgiveness enlightens your minds and enlivens your hearts.

In one sense, the Mount of Transfiguration and the Mount of Crucifixion might be considered opposing images – glory versus suffering. But in truth, these two mountains must be seen as together. Even as Christ’s appearance changed on the Mount of Transfiguration to a greater glory from that which was seen before, so also Christ’s appearance changed on the Mount of Crucifixion to a greater glory than even that of His transfiguration. In Christ’s death, the love of God was revealed to the dark world – the darkness is gone, the light has come. In Christ’s death, the Transfiguration to recognise the beauty of God revealed primarily in the wounds of the cross where all that is ugly is transfigured by a profundity of beauty; His sacrificial love for us. No wonder, one of the 19th century’s greatest Russian writers and thinkers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, famously reminds us that if ugliness has the capacity to destroy life, “beauty will save the world.”

Today is indeed the Feast of Beauty, Christ’s Beauty. To speak most responsibly of beauty in its deepest reality is, to speak not just of any beauty, but of a specific beauty. Indeed, it is beauty so specific that it goes by a particular name, Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ – who He is and what God does in Him – is the very beauty of God. He is the centrepiece, the compass of every Christian vocation. Dostoevsky tells us: “Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here.” (novel, Demons). Yes, man cannot live without Christ, Beauty ever Ancient and ever New. It is a beauty that shakes us to the core, which illuminates us, and ultimately is the beauty that will save the world.

Yes, beauty is all around. It is the language of the divine. Let him see who has eyes to see, and be changed by the sight. Let him who has ears to hear do likewise. But those trapped in the ugliness of sin and the darkness of their own self-centred lives, they only see ugliness, not only in others but also in themselves.

That is why we need to be reminded of the glory of Christ’s transfiguration that continues to shine from the glory of His cross. His glory continues to shine on His bride, the Church. With the filth of sin removed in Baptism, the veil is drawn back so that the light of Christ shines upon you. We are not meant to be ugly worms but glorious butterflies. And this beauty of ours continues to be enhanced by His own Body and Blood in the Eucharist and our interior countenance transfigured through the Sacrament of Penance. All of this, Christ has done for you and to you. The darkness has passed away. Death has been vanquished. And through Christ’s holy, precious blood and innocent suffering and death, the veil of sin which separates you from God is removed. The light has come!  Life in Christ is yours, and your sins are forgiven. You are no longer ugly, but beautiful!

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