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Transfiguration: Skin-deep or
 More than Cosmetic?

Rev. Paul V. Redmond
Professor Emeritus
Mount St. Mary's University

(02-15-09) Cosmetic surgery, weight loss programs, even barbers and beauticians can design the appearance of their clients and turn them into someone "stunning" and "attractive". The result: "Man! What a change! a "transfiguration" You and I easily experience the wonder of "transfiguration" as we watch on TV or DVD that wondrous Broadway musical, of world-wide fame, My Fair Lady. Do you recall Eliza Doolittle, the flower-selling waif peddling her wares on a London Street? When Elisa heard Professor Harry Higgins boast that he could teach anyone to speak English properly, she went to his home to learn how to do just that. After many long hours she was "transfigured" in her appearance, poise, speech, accent and wardrobe. Finally, dressed in radiant white and looking like a stunning duchess, she accompanied Harry Higgins to the races. He wanted to show this transfigured flower-selling girl off to his aristocratic friends Eliza passed a solid muster, but in a delightful, exciting moment of the race she forgot herself and fell back into her former Cockney accent. To the dismay of those around she shouted at the horse: "C'mon, Dover, move your bloomin' arse". Her "dramatic transfiguration" was only skin deep." (I recall that was one of the times I fell in love in my life then with Audrey Hepburn, My Fair Lady.")

Jesus challenges you and me to a transfiguration that is more than skin-deep. -- to a change from within-a continuous transformation of mind and heart that comes about through grace, God's presence working in each one of us. It is a life-long process, friends, as we climb our own different mountains of transfiguration and come closer and closer to living out just who we are: "beloved sons and daughters of the Father." To each one of us God the Father is saying: "You are my beloved son or daughter. Live out what that means." Listen to my Son.

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF JESUS: We do not know whether the transfiguration of Jesus was a glimpse of his glory before his passion and death or an event that took place after his resurrection and read back into the story of his ministry. Regardless, Jesus revealed his power and glory to his own. And the voice from the cloud instructed those disciples to let the power and glory of Jesus, his beloved Son, change their lives: "This is my beloved son. . . LISTEN to my Son."

The vision was not merely a psychological phenomenon-after all four persons were present as independent witnesses. In this "vision" the disciples, Peter, James and John, did not see with their ordinary human eyes, but with the sight given them by God. They were given the power to see what otherwise would have remained invisible to ordinary seeing. A dramatic crescendo closes the scene. The voice of the Father that affirms Jesus as his beloved son, reaches back to the baptism of Jesus where he spoke those same words. It was then on his baptismal day that Jesus began his public ministry and took up the role as the "Servant of the Lord"-the "Servant" of whom Isaiah speaks: the one who establishes justice-is a light to the nations, opens the eyes of the blind, and frees those who live in darkness.

Peter, James and John wanted to hold to that moment of serenity and security, but their journey, like that of Jesus, was not complete. They had not yet arrived. Jesus's journey would lead him to the cross and then to unending glory. His disciples then and now would travel a similar path. There would be no internet Mapquest to guide them. All that was necessary then, all that is necessary now, is to attend to the Father's voice: "Listen to my Son."

This Lent, friends, please, on your own, take pick out one of the gospel narratives -preferably Mark for your time of prayer. Ask the Father to help you to listen to his Son. Ask for the grace to get out of the reading whatever in his love for you he wants you to get out of it. You may well experience yourself as falling in love with Jesus-or even falling more deeply in love with him.

The transfiguration of Jesus teaches us the extraordinary possibilities that are present in the deep parts of each and every one of us. The glory that we shall experience when in our future we share in the resurrection of Jesus, our Brother and our Lord, is already present in a seed-like fashion now in the heart of our existence. That glory, as hidden grace in us, continues to transfigure our lives here and now in small but meaningful ways. Occasionally we find ourselves having insights and wisps of inspirations that seem to break through and transfigure what say or do. We even surprise ourselves. ("Did I say that? Did I really think that?") Yet, in faith, we realize that the extraordinary grace of Jesus is present in each one of us.

Our deepest hope embedded in the coils of our unconscious is union with God who, in his love for us, is closer to us than we are to ourselves. That union with God takes a lifetime, friends, to uncoil itself and work itself into our conscious decisions. All through our lives we know that God should be our hope. As children, we hoped for ice cream. As young people, we hoped to team up with that girl or guy to whom we were attracted. As adults. we were more concerned with our careers and our spouses. As parents, we invest our hope in our children. All along our journey we understandably keep sidelining our ultimate hope in God in favor of more immediate desires. Our felt "wants" understandably block out and dull our basic needs.

Our hope is not something passive where we just park ourselves down on our derrieres and wait for something good to happen---that's resignation. Hope is active, dynamic. Saint Augustine says that hope has two beautiful daughters: ANGER at things that are wrong and COURAGE to make them right. (That's where you and I, as disciples of Jesus, move into social justice and fight for human rights especially in forthcoming elections.) Although our hope depends ultimately on God who attracts us and pulls us to himself-there is a definite "audacity" or "boldness" to it -the "audacity of hope" - as we let ourselves go into a future which God alone controls. In the words of the poet, Robert Browning, "a man's reach should exceed his grasp, or what's a heaven for? In the moment of his being lifted up on the cross the Lord Jesus draws all things to himself.

George Herbert, a Welch l7th century poet who took Holy Orders in the Church of England, speaks of Jesus who, in his love for us, is always transfiguring us as he draws us to himself. In sharing with you Herbert's masterful poem called "Love", I replace the word "love" with the word "Jesus".

Jesus bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back
    Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Jesus, observing me grow slack
    From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
    If I lacked anything.
'A guest', I answered, 'worthy to be here.'
    Jesus said,'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
    I cannot look on thee.'
Jesus took my hand, and smiling did reply
    'Who made the eyes but I?'
'Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
    Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not', says Jesus , 'who bore the blame?"
    My dear, then I will serve.'
"you must sit down', says Jesus, 'and taste my meat.'
    So I did sit and eat.

Read other homilies by Father Paul