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August 6—Feast of the Transfiguration

In 1995, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. One of the highlights of that trip was our visit to Mount Tabor. According to Christian tradition, Mount Tabor is the site of the Transfiguration of Christ, the feast we celebrate today. This is the site on which Jesus was transfigured before his disciples, Peter; James, son of Zebedee; and John the Apostle, and was seen conversing with Moses and Elijah ( Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-8, Luke 9:28-36).
Mount Tabor’s distinctly rounded shape rises more than 1,800 feet above the eastern end of the Jezreel Plain and about eleven miles west of the Sea of Galilee, making it easily recognizable. Getting to the top of that mountain is a feat in itself. We rode in taxis, albeit Mercedes, and I lost count of the number of twists and turns. It took the better part of a half hour and was well worth the ride. The Church of the Transfiguration is an impressive structure. A magnificent highlight consists of the upper and lower altars which are adorned with golden mosaics. The upper level commemorates the divine nature of Christ and the lower recalls different manifestations of his humanity. We celebrated Mass in the lower chapel, which has a remarkable ability to beautify and amplify sound due to its bell shape. We were blessed with some very talented singers in our group and it was a powerful experience to hear the voices reverberate in glory and praise of God.
What is the meaning of the Transfiguration for us today? In 2008, the first Iron Man movie was produced. It is based on a fictional character found in the Marvel Comic books. A billionaire and clever engineer Tony Stark suffers a severe injury during a kidnapping in which his captors want him to create a weapon of mass destruction. Instead he creates a powered suit of armor that in turn saves his life and enables him to escape his captors. This suit, when worn, empowers Stark as Iron Man to fight crime and terrorism. Iron Man needs to put on his suit of armor to become a better version of himself. We celebrate the Transfiguration today, a feast in which Jesus’ humanity is stripped away in order that we may see his true self—his glorified self. In our tradition, the Transfiguration is a pivotal moment, the point where human nature meets God. Three disciples were invited into Jesus’s life in an intimate way—to see him in his glory, his humanity stripped away and his divinity made visible to them. We are invited into this same intimacy with Jesus each time we celebrate the sacraments, enter into prayer, or reach out to a brother or sister in need. The question for me is do I prefer to build the tents as Peter wished to and keep this experience to myself, or do I allow the beauty of this transformation to stretch me to go where I might otherwise fear to go?
Sr. Maureen P. Colleary, FSP is a member of the Pastoral Services team at RENEW International and a Franciscan Sister of Peace.

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