We Catholics share a common language that helps us express not only the sacramental life of grace right now, but our hope for eternal glory in Heaven. The term we use is beatific vision; it means that the deepest longing of our hearts—seeing God face-to-face, that is, directly—awaits us in Heaven. Indeed, if we were truly to grasp the full force of God’s grace here below, we would “die”: of Love. Instead, we experience a glimpse of eternal glory whenever we come to Mass. In Eucharistic Prayer I we pray: “… (Lord) command that these gifts be borne by the hands of your holy Angel to your altar on high in the sight of your divine majesty…” In the Prayer of Jesus to the Father, we find ourselves, as it were, gazing upon the eternity of Heaven. Communion is the foretaste (pignus) of the Kingdom, and transforms us: our outlook, our attitude…our love for our neighbor.
Still, while it may seem attractive to remain in that moment of union with God, we also take seriously the last words of the Mass: Go in peace. It is not only our privilege, but indeed our responsibility to leave Church, and bring the presence of Christ to our neighbors wherever we find them: the marketplace, school, work, and even (especially?) civil society.
In today’s Gospel, St. Matthew relates the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. The details of the episode—the scene on the mountaintop, Jesus’ dazzling appearance, his conversation with Moses and Elijah, and the message from Heaven—emphasize a number of important truths for believers. We notice that Jesus himself does not change; rather, his appearance, that is, the disciples’ perception of him, becomes far more profound. The Law and the Prophets “testify” to the manner in which Christ would save mankind. His followers, in turn, must be ready to take up the Cross and lose their lives for his sake (16:24-26). The Father’s voice, however terrifying, reassures us that Jesus’ suffering and apparent defeat are part of the divine plan of salvation.
Our cover art this week is the final work of the Renaissance master Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520), known to the world as Raphael. His Transfiguration was commissioned by the Medici family, but had to be completed by others after his death. Raphael’s artistry is remarkable on many levels, weaving together various dualities inherent in the Gospel: the divine and human natures of Jesus, the contemplative and the active elements of Christian life, and the spiritual and corporal aspects of salvation. Raphael conflates the Transfiguration with the miracle that immediately follows: the healing of an epileptic boy. Peter wants to stay on the mountain, where the Son of God reigns and all is clear. Jesus, however, brings them “down” the mountain, returning to the messy world of wounded humanity. Notice that the boy’s attention is directed, not at the appearance of the earthly Jesus, but that of his transfigured glory. It is, of course, the same Jesus, but his hidden divinity has a healing effect on the child. It has even been suggested that the artist’s last work was both a consummation of his own vocation, and a tribute to his patron: Raphael in Hebrew means “God heals,” and medicus (Medici) is Latin for “physician.” This Lent, let us find in the Cross a remedy for our sin and medicine for our soul.