NE OF MY FAVORITE subjects for consideration on this blog is beauty. I would like to turn to this theme again today, since the readings & orations for Mass today relate to the topic.
In the Transfiguration, Jesus appears in all His radiant beauty. He reveals Himself to his closest friends, allowing them to see the splendor that He customarily reserves from sight. Bishop Sheen once shared a great insight concerning the radiance of the Transfiguration: “It was not so much a light that was shining from without as the beauty of the Godhead that shone from within. . . . Divinity shone through humanity.” 1
This is what so often happens—beauty shines through humanity, by God’s grace.
Upon seeing our Lord transfigured on Mount Tabor, Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” He then suggests the building of three tents, so as to prolong the experience.
So often, Peter’s impulse here is disparaged. Scripture scholars make a big deal of how petulant Peter can be. Preachers take up the theme of how “you can’t stay on the mountaintop.” All of that has its value. But, viewed another way, isn’t Peter’s impulse perfectly natural? We desire quite intuitively, after all, to be in the presence of beauty. Once we are in beauty’s presence, why should it be judged unreasonable to want to remain there?
Peter’s desire that the Transfiguration be prolonged is a wholesome longing. We all share similar experiences, every time we attend a concert that we hope will never end or when we stall our departure so as to sneak in extra time visiting with nieces or nephews or grandkids. Beauty begets within our hearts a desire for further exposure to that beauty.
True beauty inspires within us a hunger for more, a longing for time spent beholding the beauty. This pondering is the essence of contemplation, and it’s a quality I admire in St. Peter.
One of the gifts of the third edition of the Roman Missal is its inclusion of solemn Prayers over the People for each day of Lent. The prayer of blessing appointed for the Second Sunday of Lent is an eloquent reflection of the beauty surrounding the Transfiguration:
Bless Your faithful, we pray, O Lord, with a blessing that endures for ever, and keep them faithful to the Gospel of Your Only Begotten Son, so that they may always desire and at last attain that glory whose beauty He showed in His own Body, to the amazement of His Apostles.
The beauty of our transfigured Lord did, indeed, inspire “amazement” in the Apostles. May the glory of the Lord elicit a similar “amazement” in each of us!
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1977), 158-9.