August 4, 2023

The Transfiguration of the Lord / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThis weekend the Church invites us to celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.

The first reading for Mass on this feast is from the Book of Daniel. When this book was written, times were terrible for the Jews.

Alexander the Great died in 323 BC. His vast empire disintegrated and powerful generals seized parts for themselves. The part taken by Seleucus centered in Antioch, in modern Turkey, and included the Holy Land. Decades passed. Seleucus died, to be succeeded by his descendants, one of whom, Antiochus IV, saw himself as divine.

Imagining that he was a god, Antiochus IV brutally forced his subjects to worship him. Pious Jews stubbornly refused. The Book of Daniel is about Hebrew heroes who withstood this idolatry. The purpose of the book is clear. It was to rally Jews living under Antiochus IV to resist yielding to the royal demands that they salute Antiochus as a god.

In this reading, Daniel has a highly symbolic apocalyptic vision of the world in which Almighty God is supreme, and all proclaim his greatness.

If Daniel was written in symbolic code, so was the Second Epistle of St. Peter, which provides the second reading. This epistle appeared when times were bad, indeed fearful, for Christians. The Roman Emperor Nero was never timid when it came to oppressing Christians.  

So, in calling believers to be steadfast in following Christ, the Epistle filled a genuine need, but for many early Christians, following Christ could be confusing.

Stories and legends, some perhaps developed in good intentions, others with less noble purposes, blurred the message of and about Jesus. This epistle insisted that Christians listen to the true story of Christ as given them by the Apostles. The true story is the guide to salvation. The Lord made this story available to all by teaching and commissioning the Apostles.

St. Matthew’s recounting of the transfiguration of the Lord supplies the third reading. Jesus often faced demands for a sign from God that he was the Messiah. Skeptics, maybe honestly curious, raised these demands.

Jesus was not silent. This section of Matthew is filled with responses to these demands. Jesus fed the multitudes with five loaves and two fish. He walked on water. He healed the sick. He foretold the future. He forgave sinners, an action only possible for God since all sin offended God in the last analysis.

Dramatically, Jesus stood before Peter, James and John in the full radiance of divinity. He was God, the promised Messiah.

The transfiguration profoundly placed before human vision Jesus, God as well as human.


For Peter, James and John, the transfiguration was a breath-taking moment in their lives. They saw Jesus in the full revelation of the Lord’s divinity and majesty. As several years passed, they, too, were transfigured. Called by Jesus, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, no longer confused or hesitant, although at times still sinful, they became models of the Lord’s glory in their lives, ordinary humans though they remained.

Recently, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, of Munich, Germany, publicly acknowledged, and asked forgiveness for, the conduct during the Second World War of a now deceased Germán bishop, Matthias Defreger, who was an officer in the German army when it invaded Italy.

Captain Defreger led an especially atrocious attack on a small Italian village, virtually destroying the town, indiscriminately slaughtering men, women and children—all innocent civilians—to set an example for anyone who considered resisting the invaders.   This raid illustrated how terrible can be human behavior when it ignores God.

By seeing and responding to Christ’s perfection with its mercy, unqualified outreach, energy and love, we can experience God’s grace transfiguring us.  Then, how magnificent we would be, how beautiful life would be! †

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