Transfiguration of the Lord

Transfiguration of the Lord

Preached August 6, 2017; St. Peter Catholic Church, The Dalles, Oregon

Jesus was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.

We are used to the saying, “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, but that only hold true in small matters.  Or sometimes also, one particular person comes to recognize and value the special beauty that lies hidden in another. Nevertheless, objectively speaking, visible light is the source of all visible beauty and the sun, from our earthly perspective, is the most beautiful object in the visible world. The sun’s beauty is so great that it overpowers our eyes, but the light of the sun reveals the beauty of everything else in the visible world.

Visible beauty is not, however, the only beauty. There is the greater beauty of the spiritual order and of spiritual light.  When I speak of the spiritual order, that includes the human soul, the angelic world, and God himself, together with the supernatural order of grace, which raises the creature above the created order giving it to share in God’s own life. The beauty of the spiritual order is rooted in the light of holiness, righteousness, and love; spiritual beauty is the splendor of truth.

There is then an order of beauty, ranged from the visible world into the spiritual world, to the very throne of God. That also means that there is an order behind all true visible beauty, not the artificially imposed order of a man-made machine, but an order in which the spiritual is higher than the visible realm, and in which both the spiritual and visible realms are created by God. This order of creation allows visible beauty to serve as a sort of window through which the light of spiritual beauty becomes visible after a fashion.

The order of beauty means that light or clarity by itself is not enough for visible beauty. Two other components are necessary: integrity, which means that a thing possesses all the required parts, and proportion, which means that the parts are in the right place relative to the whole.

Further, there is not only the internal proportion within a particular object, but the proportion or fittingness relative a larger whole. A beautiful painting may be out of place, it might not fit, on a particular spot in a house, but it would fit elsewhere.

There is a proportion found in the majesty of the scene of the Transfiguration because there is a certain fittingness involved in Our Lord appearing on the top of high mountain, set apart from the business of daily life; it is also fitting that he appear with the two great witnesses of the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah. There was also a fittingness when the Blessed Virgin, standing on top of a small holm-oak, appeared to the three shepherd children.

Now it seems to me that modern man, having made an artificial world for himself, with little regard for the natural order of creation, has grown distant from that natural order, which has led to a loss of the sense of proportion and fittingness. We have indeed been building for ourselves a world of ugliness.

Proportion and fittingness also involves an interplay between light and darkness, such as is found in any great painting.

Once again, that sense of fittingness has been often been lost, as exemplified in the self-proclaimed “Painter of Light”, Thomas Kinkade. He is more a painter of ugliness than of beauty; his light is false

Look carefully at a Thomas Kinkade painting and you will notice that the light has no natural origin, but is nothing more than an arbitrary sentimental ‘glow’ radiating from the things portrayed. An example would be his portrayals of houses, emitting warm lights, blazing from all the windows, a scene that might barely be possible at night, but the outside reveals some sort of daylight scene, but even the daylight illumination does not come from the sun.

The proper interplay of light and darkness is rooted in the natural rhythm between day and night, between the overpowering light of the sun, and the distant light of the stars.  The distant stars in the night sky sometimes move us more deeply by their beauty than the bright light of daytime; the distant stars are suggestive of a beauty that is altogether beyond our vision.

There is also the bride in the Song of Songs who is forced by her brothers to labor in the vineyard, where she is scorched by the sun. In relation to her sunburnt skin she remarks I am black, but beautiful. (Songs 1:5) The dark, sun-burnt skin is a sign of her affliction, nevertheless it is an affliction that has allowed the inner beauty of the soul to emerge.

That is also why the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ can be so beautiful because the inner light of divine love radiates through bloody spectacle of the crucifixion, which is the supreme revelation of divine love.

The beauty of music, also, is obviously not visible, but has a unique power to evoke invisible spiritual beauty.  The audible beauty of music also harmonizes with our access to the spiritual world, which comes by way of faith, which depends on hearing, rather than sight. There is the beauty of music, but there is also the beauty of words, and the most beautiful of all is the word of God. So today, we heard the voice of the Father speaking from the glory on high, declaring, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.

There is also a vast difference between different kinds of beauty, between for example the fragile and delicate beauty of a wildflower on the shores of the Columbia River by Catherine Creek and the majestic beauty of Mt. Hood towering above the surrounding countryside.  The words ‘majestic’, ‘sublime’, and ‘glorious’ all speak to the magnitude of beauty, beauty that overwhelms us, beauty that is so great that we can not really take in the whole of it, beauty that could even crush us if we draw to near, like the pounding waves of the sea or boulders crashing down from the craggy heights of the mountain.

All created beauty, taking piece by piece, or altogether, whether audible, visible, or spiritual, whether fragile and delicate or majestic and glorious, is but a pale reflection of the eternal beauty of God, the Creator.

Beauty draws us and inspires us with love, with different kinds of love, different notes of love, according to the different kinds of beauty. Yet above all there is always the call of the supreme and eternal beauty of God, summoning us to the supreme love.

St. Augustine wrote, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.” (Confessions, X.27)

The ray of divine beauty, such as shone forth from the face of Jesus Christ in his Transfiguration shone upon St. Augustine, converted him and healed him. Perhaps that beauty needs to shine on us and dispel our blindness, turning us back to God, so that we can discover and embrace the beauty of the Cross of Christ. Or is it the other way around? When we grasp the beauty of the Cross, then we open ourselves to the majestic rays of the Transfiguration? Truly, the beauty of the Cross and of the Transfiguration are inseparable, they are the beauty of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Our Savior.

As for those rays of light streaming from the face of Jesus Christ upon the mountain. They are visible to the eyes and their brightness is comparable to that of the sun, but they possess a supernatural quality; somehow they seem to be a visible emanation of the pure spiritual light of the invisible God.

Moreover they are a light that is communicable, that can be shared, as the garments of Jesus share in the light of his face. In her apparition at Fatima, the Virgin Mary appeared clothed in that same light, and she was even able to direct the rays of that light into the hearts of the three children, giving to them an intimate knowledge of God and of themselves in God.

Jesus came to share with us the eternal light and life of his beautiful love; He came to transform us with the beauty of his light and to make us to be like he is from eternity.

 

Share

Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.