The Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration
The following is the seventh of twenty monthly reflections about the Mysteries of the Rosary as they relate to family life. The mysteries will not be necessarily chronological but presented as they interact with the liturgical year.
About twice a year, I have the chance to travel to my childhood home and visit my extended family. These trips are important to me as I maintain relationships across geographic distance and over time. In recent years, my visits to my two living grandmothers have become especially valuable since I know that such opportunities are dwindling. On my most recent trip home, I spent time with my Grandma Kathryn in what we both knew would likely be our last time together in this life. I am grateful for the grace of such a moment, knowing how death can rob us of such chances when it comes unexpectedly. Coming to my grandmother’s hospital room, I knew I would see a frail person physically but hoped to encounter someone with her trademark inner strength intact. What I met was a woman transfigured.
As we sat together talking, I was struck by the juxtaposition of her physical and spiritual well-being. For while her body had begun to deteriorate, her soul seemed to soar. At peace with her health, she talked about the chance to see and hear from so many loved ones, her grateful reception of the sacraments, and what she most looked forward to upon her entry into heaven. We often find ourselves avoiding thinking or talking about the end of our lives out of fear, denial, or other reasons, and here she was embracing the end because of her faith and confidence in what awaited her.
I thought a great deal about this on the drive back, and I realized the moment was like that of the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John are witnesses to a remarkable event. Jesus, accompanied by the law-giving and prophetic figures of Moses and Elijah, gives his disciples a foretaste of what he is to accomplish in his earthly mission, a completion of the work begun by his heavenly companions. Given the difficulty and sense of despair that would accompany his death, perhaps Jesus wanted this vision to help the disciples hold onto their hope in even the direst circumstances.
The Transfiguration aids our understanding of Jesus’ actions during his public ministry and especially his death. He does not run from the pain, suffering, and humiliation because of his trust in what awaits him and all of humanity by his obedience and endurance. It is one of the many paradoxes of our faith that the Light of the World allows himself to be extinguished in order to shine, dazzling white, for eternity.
While we do not have the same chance of a mountaintop encounter with the glorified Jesus, the question remains of how we respond to the smaller transfigurations we do experience. If a family member with whom we have a longstanding difficulty offers contrition and forgiveness, do we accept? If we discover a new and promising way out of a sinful rut we have established, do we take it? If an inevitable moment of humility calls into question our tendency to self-aggrandize, will we learn the lesson? Like the three disciples, our guidance about what to do in the face of a transfiguring moment comes from the voice in heaven, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (Lk. 9:35).I can think of few better examples of people who have followed Jesus well than my Grandmother Kathryn. Even during her final time here on earth, she remains receptive to God’s grace, letting it flow through her as a blessing to others. While part of me feels like Peter did on that mountainside, wanting to hold onto a moment that cannot last, it is my grandmother’s example that reminds me of the hope we share. Transfigured faces, clothes, and conversations are only a glimpse of what is to come. As St. Paul instructs the Corinthians, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).