One of the prescriptions for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is a pilgrimage to designated churches. We can trace the roots of the tradition to Biblical times.
In the Exodus, the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert before reaching the promised land. The symbolic pilgrimage is the exile of Adam from paradise—the pilgrimage from exile to coming home to the Kingdom of the Father in Christ, the New Adam.
Joseph Campbell, and many authors after him, calls this the heroic journey: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder… decisive victory is won.”
This is the same pattern we see in this Sunday’s Gospel. Peter, James and John are taken by Christ from the “world of common day” and brought “into a region of supernatural wonder” where they go up the mountain and witness the glory of Christ in the Transfiguration.
This glimpse of Christ’s glory is meant to prepare and strengthen the community of disciples for the coming Passion and Cross of Christ. At the same time, it is a clear transition from the law and the prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah, respectively, to Christ: “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
For the disciples, this is a momentary sharing in the beatific vision, in which Christ understands his identity and mission with great clarity. Peter experiences this clarity of vision and his response is to prolong the experience and stay on the mountain.
Down from the hill
But clearly, this is not the purpose of such moments; rather it is to go “down from the hill” to proclaim that Christ is the beloved son in whom the Father is well pleased and we must “listen to him.”
The 20th century Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R. S. Thomas, captures this eloquently, reiterating Campbell’s pattern:
“The point of traveling is not
To arrive but to return home
Laden with pollen you shall work up
Into honey the mind feeds on.”
What are your own moments of Transfiguration?
Fr. Benny Calpotura, SJ, often told us that such moments of grace, when, with great clarity, we realize and know who we are and why we are here—are few and far in between. Yet such moments send us off into the world, renewed, to proclaim that Christ is the beloved son.
William Damon in “The Path to Purpose” cites the case of a young lady, Jessica, who was a star student in academics and athletics. She received good job offers, but at 27 years old, she felt empty and anxious.
The story of Jessica is a classic example of doing many good things, but not doing the one right thing: one’s mission in life, God’s mission.
In the final chapter of Luke, the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus shows them depressed as the Lord “reenters” their journey. He reminds them of the glory revealed in the Transfiguration.
Then they feel their “hearts burning within.” This lifts the depression and makes them run back home—no longer to Emmaus, but to Jerusalem.
This is home: the Paschal Mystery, the Cross and the Resurrection; the fulfillment of Christ’s mission of which we all have a share. All mission begins and ends with Christ, his Cross and Resurrection.
We go back home to where it all began. The two disciples ran back to Jerusalem to proclaim that Christ has indeed Risen; mission accomplished!
In the Transfiguration is revealed the singular meeting point of the divine and the human, becoming beloved sons and daughters of the Father through, with and in Christ.
Today, in your mountain or sacred space, go back to your transfiguration, the special moment of grace when, with great clarity, you realized and knew your identity and mission.