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The Transfiguration of Jesus (Part I)

(by Lino Cignelli, ofm - translated by Fr. Silas Musholt, ofm)

1. Generalities.

Mount Tabor has a certain biblical grandeur about it. The Old Testament refers to it many times (cfr Jg 4, 6.12.14; I Sm 10, 3), where it is considered to be a sacred mountain and a place for worship (Dt 33, 18f; Ps 5, 1). The Psalmist sings: "Tabor and Hermon exalt in your name" (Psalm 88, 18 in the LXX). Is this perhaps a prophecy in regard to the future Transfiguration? In any case it is this christological Mystery that has made Tabor the famous place it is.

Mount Tabor is never mentioned expressly in the New Testament. However an ancient tradition, referred to among others by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catachesis 12, 16), and St. Jerome (Ep. 46, 13) indicates it is the place of the Transfiguration. Another tradition places it on the "mountain" of Galilee on which the Master spoke to the Apostles after His Resurrection (Mt 28 7.16). In the 4th-5th century St. Jerome, a resident in Palestine, thought that Tabor was also the "mountain" where Jesus proclaimed His inaugural discourse, sometimes called the "discourse on the mountain" (Mt 5, 1ff). But this opinion never was accepted.

At the beginning of the 12th century a pious Russian pilgrim, the abbot Daniil (Daniel) wrote: "Mount Tabor was created by God in a marvelous and extraordinary manner. It has an indescribable beauty and was shaped in a splendid way. It is very high and very large..." (Itinerario in T.S., New City 1991, 149). The description is evidently the result of the mystical experience which the devout pilgrim was blessed with while visiting that holy mountain" (ivi, 150).

In his turn, the Blessed Frédéric Janssoone, ofm, the pilgrim and outstanding guide of the last century, considered Tabor to be a place for "retreat" and contemplation for souls which hungered and thirsted for the divine world (Pages choisies..., by R. Légaré, Québec 1972, 75). The same sentiments had already been expressed in a Greek homily prior to the 11th century.

And we too want to be associated with these souls who were drawn to God. Let us make a spiritual pilgrimage to Tabor, "to the holy mountain" (2 Peter 1, 18), so that we can understand and more deeply share in the glorious Mystery which is forever unfolding there. This too "has been written for our instruction" (Rom 15, 4). St. Jerome mentions this as he says "Everything that Jesus did is a mystery, it is our salvation" (On Mark. ll, 1-10). So, let us be guided by St. Matthew (17, 1-9) and through him, "by the spirit of truth" which alone can reveal to us the person and divine work of Christ.

In the course of time a church/basilica was built on Tabor to celebrate the Mystery of the Transfiguration. Eutichios of Alexandria spoke about this in the 10th century "the church on Mount Tabor is there to give witness that Christ ascended that mountain along with three of his disciples, the sons of Zebedee, and that there He was transfigured before them with the light of His divinity so that His face became like the sun and His clothing white like the light..." (Bookof the Demonstration n. 323; translation of B. Pirone, SOC Collectanea 23, 1990, 33f).

Let us enter into this church/shrine with the Gospel in our hand. In that way we relive in our "flesh" the Mystery of glory which is contained there and which is waiting for all of us. The pertinent pages of the Gospel are like the very voice of that Holy Place, its life-agiving message (Jn 6, 63). There let us read it together. The Gospel reading, and we know it well, transforms us into contemporaries of and present to those mysteries and saving actions of the God-Man. Our faith makes us - it has to make us - participants. Through faith, the ultimate act of our liberty, we are incorporated into, and we live the Mystery. We progress from the theory to the practice, from abstract knowledge to the concrete and nourishing knowledge of the grace event which is inviting us.

And so we too are present on Tabor before our transfigured Christ, who is totally beautiful and blessed in His personal humanity. Let us allow ourselves to be engulfed in the Mystery. This is the ultimate intention of the evangelist and above all of the Holy Spirit who speaks through him. The holy fathers powerfully remind us of this. For example, Makerion, the Persian (4th century) calls on every single faithful soul in these words: "If you search for Him on that mountain, you will find Him with Elias and Moses" (Hom 12, 12). St. Jerome wrote to his Roman friends and involved them too in the happening "we will go up upon Tabor, and under the tent of the Savior we will contemplate Him in the company of the Father and of the Holy Spirit..." (Ep 46, 13).

First we will treat of the context and then present a reading and commentary on the Gospel of the Transfiguration according to Matthew.


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