Poetry and Christophany
Pondering on the content of the Gospel passage for today, I imagined that after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, if Peter were not cautioned by Jesus himself to “[t]ell no-one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead,” Peter would have readily shared his experience of being there, through poetry reminiscent of William Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey:
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things…
What better way to understand why Peter, in his ecstasy at seeing Jesus transfigured and talking with the elders, would exclaim: “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”?
Here indeed is Peter expressing the “joy of elevated thoughts; / a sense sublime / Of something far more deeply interfused,” as evidenced by the first and second readings for today.
This sense of the sublime is evoked in the first reading from Daniel 7: 9–10; 13–14, wherein the prophet “gazed into the visions of the night” and saw “one like a son of man” on whom “was conferred sovereignty, glory and kingship” (Dn 7:14)
As Peter attests in the Second Reading, “[i]t were not any cleverly invented myths that we were repeating when we brought you the knowledge of the power and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; we had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him and said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour.” We heard this ourselves, spoken from heaven, when we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Pt: 16–18)
We also heard those words ourselves earlier this year in the Gospel of the liturgy for the Baptism of Jesus: “As soon as Jesus was baptised he came up from the water, and suddenly the heavens opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming down on him. And a voice spoke from heaven, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; my favour rests on him’” (Mt 3:16–17).
In the context of today’s Gospel of the transfiguration, St John Paul II explains that those words constitute “a christophany: that is, the transfiguration represents the revelation of the Son of God about whom the account brings several things to light – his glory, by reason of the splendour acquired; his centrality, almost the summary of the history of salvation, signified by the presence of Moses and Elijah; his prophetic authority, legitimately stated by means of the peremptory invitation, ‘Listen to him’; and, above all, the qualification of ‘Son’,which emphasises the close and unique relations existing between Jesus and the Heavenly Father ” (Prayers and Devotions from Pope John Paul II. New York: Viking, 1984, p 282).
In that light, the three readings for today can be regarded as collectively illuminating Jesus as the Divine Son whose sovereignty “is an eternal sovereignty / which shall never pass away, / nor will his empire ever be destroyed” (Dn 7:14), such empire being figuratively depicted in lines 99–104 of the excerpt from Wordsworth’s poem highlighted above: “Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, / And the round ocean and the living air, / And the blue sky, and in the mind of man: / a motion and a spirit, that impels / All thinking things, all objects of all thought, /And rolls through all things.”
Against that background, the admonition “Listen to him” becomes an important take-away from the Gospel today because it is the Father himself who is steering us towards his Son. In that regard, and relative to this column, Pope Francis advises that “[t]here is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in His word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call lectio divina” (Evangelii Gaudium, 2013 p77). However, we can also let the songwriter be our guide.
Listen with your heart / And you will surely hear / the message that awaits you / Soon becoming clear / The Spirit will awaken / The faith you’ve locked inside /The faith you have forsaken / Through envy, greed, and pride (‘Listen with your Heart’ Robert Ekonomou, 2000).
The Gospel reflections for August are by Rose-Ann Walker, a parishioner of the Santa Rosa Cluster and a Lay Dominican.