There are a number of affinities between the Transfiguration of Our Lord and monastic life. In his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, John Paul II used this event as a sort of paradigm for religious life in general.
In it we see the Lord taking a few chosen disciples, singling them out for an event that would not be shown to all. He invites them to leave the crowd, to go into solitude, to climb a mountain. Those who have been to Mt Tabor in the Holy Land know that it takes some solid effort to reach the top of that mountain. Finding Christ in solitude always does. There is first the effort to get away, to leave behind all the distractions of the world. Then there is the effort to persevere in ascending the steep path, letting Jesus take the lead always.
We know from St Luke that when Our Lord reached the top of the mountain, he began to pray. The apostles were accustomed to such prayers of our Lord. These could last a while. The apostles tried to imitate Him. But, weak men that they were, they soon dozed off into sleep. They were awaken by an unexpected phenomenon: Jesus is still there, in the position of prayer, but he is not the same. Now he seems to be enveloped in light, he seems to be light. His face shines bright like the sun. His garments themselves become white as the light.
That alone was a sight to hold the apostles in ecstasy. But there was something else: two men are with him, Moses and Elijah, speaking with Him. Once again we can thank St Luke for informing us of the subject of their conversation: they were speaking of His “exodus”, His going out of this life, that is, His passion. The mysterious words referring to the passion at the very moment of His manifestation of glory are not without a profound lesson. They remind us that, as long as we are in this mortal life, we must prepare ourselves for labour and suffering, whatever might be the consolations received. Such consolations are given to strengthen us and prepare us for the battles which lie ahead.
We might ask ourselves: what exactly could they have said? For my part, I sense that Moses reminded the Lord of all the types that prefigured the Messiah in the Old Covenant, going back to the dawn of ages, with the murder of Abel, the sacrifice of Isaac, the paschal lamb, to name just a few. Elijah was there to remind Him of all the prophecies referring to His passion and also that the prophets always had to suffer at the hands of those they were sent to.
If you have seen Fr Angelico’s fresco portraying this event, you will remember that he depicts Our Lord standing in glory with arms outstretched, in the position of the crucifixion. A constant theme in Christian meditation, one that we will find in just a few weeks time on the paschal candle: the Eternal Light shines, but marked with the wounds of the passion. The Lamb is glorified, but seen as it were immolated.
How could one express more clearly the fact that the way to glory is that of the cross? If we will be one with Christ in glory, we must be one with Him in suffering. If we wish to rise glorious with Him on the last day, we must accept to be sown into the ground and die, we must accept persecution. All those who wish to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus must undergo persecution. If we wish to follow the Lamb of God, we must know that He is heading towards Calvary, but Calvary is not the end, it’s only a stop on the road, the real goal is Easter, the eternal Pasch, to which we aspire and for which we were made.