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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Transfixed by the Transfiguration

Hello Sister,  I have seen a couple of transfiguration pictures of our Lord and it has some people or crowd at the bottom, I'm guessing they are from purgatory or somewhere because they look sad. What is the significance of them?
Timely question. The Feast of the Transfiguration was yesterday.   I am almost always a day off in discussing feast days. Every year I plan to give the single ladies a heads up for the eve of the Feast of St. Agnes, so that they can eat an egg before bedtime, and every year I come up short.

The Transfiguration is a turning point in the Gospels for several reasons. Peter has just announced that he believes Jesus is the Christ. Jesus then takes Peter, James and John onto to a mountain top (we don't know exactly where) where Jesus is "Transfigured".  Moses and Elijah appear, Jesus emanates light and the voice of God says, "This is my Beloved Son with Whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him."

So there are two important things: Peter's announcement and the voice of God confirming what Peter was thinking.

The Transfiguration is also an event mentioned in all four Gospels and is described pretty much the same way in three of them.  That is significant. Whenever I encounter people who insist that everything in the Bible should be taken as literal truth, I ask them how many angels were at the tomb after Jesus rose from the dead and strolled away.  The answer depends on which Gospel you are reading. The answer is one, three or none.  How do you reconcile that with a literal interpretation? They look really confused and then they go back to sleep. 

Cognitive dissonance.

It is also a significant event because it gives us a glimpse of Heaven that we hadn't had before. Heaven is a place for the living and God is God for the living. It was nice of Moses and Elijah to join the party and point that out.

Most depictions of the Transfiguration just have Jesus with Moses and Elijah and James, Peter and John in various of poses of shock and awe.  I have no way of knowing what's going on in your picture without seeing it.

But there is this famous rendition, painted by Raphael right before his death. In fact, he died before he finished it and a pupil of his put on the final brush strokes. Raphael has a lot more busy stuff going on. For one thing, up on the mountain top, way over in the corner, there are two other saints,  St. Felicissimus and St. Agapitus.  Raphael popped them in there because they share their feast day with the feast of the Transfiguration. 

Then of course we have Jesus, Moses, Elijah, Peter, James and John up there.

But down below something's going on. Is this your picture? They don't look happy.  But they are not souls in Purgatory. They are the disciples, muddling on without Jesus while Jesus is on the mountain, trying in vain to cure a young boy. Right after the Transfiguration, Jesus handles that for them. This episode does follow the Transfiguration in the Gospel of Matthew.

Without seeing your picture, I can't be sure who your people are. But I would be willing to go out on a limb and say they are not souls in Purgatory.  The Transfiguration is about the direct connection of God and living man on earth through Jesus.  The event is, however, about our suffering on earth and our salvation in the love and light of God above. So if anything, I would guess that the unhappy people simply represent you and me and our travails.

How often we forget that God is RIGHT THERE is we just lift our eyes.


Anonymous said...

Sister i was talking about the last picture in your blog. It's perfect! Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Sister, this has been on my mind a long while. I think we all taught something like this:

"God created the angels. They loved and adored him perfectly. However, God didn't give them free will so he created humans with the gift of free will so that they could choose to love and adore Him. Somewhere along the lines the angel Lucifer's pride got in the way and he became the devil..."
How can the devil make the choice to not adore Christ when he has no free will? It's just something that has always confused me.

Karen said...

Sister i was talking about the last picture regarding transfiguration from your blog. Thanks for the info.