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Do Not Wait for Tabor to See God

My Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 2023

What do we learn from the Transfiguration story from simply reading the text before doing any study?

First of all, none of the gospel accounts of the Transfiguration tell us the name of the mountain. Scholars say it might be Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor. I’ve always associated Tabor with the Transfiguration story.

Then we learn from the vision that Jesus is God. He appears with Moses and Elijah, who represent the Law and the Prophets, about the hope of Israel. God the Father speaks in a cloud to tell us to listen to His Beloved Son.

“They fell prostrate and were very much afraid.” Even Peter, James, and John couldn’t stand (pun intended) to be in the presence of the Beatific Vision.

Further contemplation on this story brings out more. Jesus will rise from the dead and appear in the form that Peter, James, and John see now. Jesus’ appearance on Tabor is the closest we’ll get to the Beatific Vision. He’s giving the apostles a glimpse of His divinity and His glory to help them to make it through watching Him undergo His passion and death. The Catechism says:

568 Christ's Transfiguration aims at strengthening the apostles' faith in anticipation of his Passion: the ascent on to the "high mountain" prepares for the ascent to Calvary. Christ, Head of the Church, manifests what his Body contains and radiates in the sacraments: "the hope of glory" (Col 1:27; cf.: St. Leo the Great, Sermo 51, 3: PL 54, 310C).

The first reading is the type of writing known as apocalyptic, the same type of writing as the last book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation. Apocalyptic is intentionally cryptic so that only those readers who understand the real meaning of the symbols will understand fully what the writer is trying to say. These symbols were meant to be understood by the original readers back in the time that they were written. I think it is an incorrect interpretation to think of terms used in this kind of literature to refer to current events the way a lot of evangelical, fundamentalist preachers do. E.g. “666” in my lifetime has referred to Hitler and Henry Kissinger. I know there are many more. To the author of Revelation, 666 referred to the Roman emperor Nero, whose name in Hebrew letters produces the required sum. St. John wrote Revelation to give hope to the people in his time who would read it. On the Feast of the Transfiguration, the Church points us to this reading as one of the references in the OT that uses the term “Son of Man.” We also read about clothing being “bright as snow.”

The second reading is an eyewitness account of the Transfiguration by one of the three who was present on Mt. Tabor. Pay special attention to the last two sentences: “Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

Pope Benedict XVI wrote a two volume work called Jesus of Nazareth recently, 2007. In writing about the Transfiguration, he points out the differences between the three Synoptic writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He says Mk writes “as if stammering before the Mystery” as tries to describe how white Jesus’ clothing had become. (Mk 9:2-3). He says that Mt uses “more elevated words.” And he points out that only Lk (9:28) mentions that Jesus “went up on the mountain to pray.”

I’ve been reading a book called Padre Poi’s Spiritual Direction for Every Day that gives a selection for every day of the year from St. Pio’s letters that he wrote to people that came to him for spiritual direction. In one of those letters he encourages a lady to remain hopeful as she struggles through a period of dryness in her spiritual life.

Just because she’s not receiving consolations from God does not mean that He abandoned her. St. Pio tells her that no matter how she feels, if she’s not offending God then she has nothing to worry about, that God is pleased with her.

And then he tells her, “do not wait for Tabor to see God. You are already contemplating him on Mount Sinai without realizing it.” What I think he is saying is that in our daily struggle to overcome our weaknesses and to fight temptation, that we find God on our own Mt. Sinai. That’s where the Bible says we received the Ten Commandments, which Jesus told us to keep if we love Him. With just a little reflection we’ll see that we’re already in the presence of God. Do we believe that by our Baptism, the Holy Trinity already dwells in us? We have God dwelling in us now. “Do not wait for Tabor to see God.” Very few of us will ever receive our own version of the Transfiguration. We won’t hear God speaking through a cloud in a loud voice. Almost all of the time He speaks to us quietly, using our own voice. Can we power down our smartphones? Can we unplug Alexa, and give God an hour a day to speak to us? Thirty minutes? Ten?

“Do not wait for Tabor to see God.” If we’re waiting for our own Mt. Tabor experience, what would we expect to find? What do we want to find? The apostles were allowed the Tabor experience, the Transfiguration, to live through Jesus’ Passion and Death, and to emerge with a strong faith. Take a look around you right now. This is our Mt. Tabor. Fr. Frederick Faber in the 19th century said the Mass is the greatest thing this side of heaven. At Communion time, if we really, really, really reflect on what’s about to happen and Who’s going to come to us Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity and we really worship the One Who is with us, St. John Vianney says we would die of love. We don’t have to wait for Tabor to see God. God is with us here, right now.

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