A few years ago, my wife and I took a short vacation in Maine. We rented a cabin on a lake, sent out invitations for the kids to join us, and enjoyed listening to the call of the loons. The weather wasn’t great at first, but the skies cleared on our last few days. In the small hours of our last night there, I awoke for some reason and stepped out on the deck.
There, before me, was the Milky Way, the center of our galaxy. It had just risen over the lake. I had seen the Milky Way before as a bright band across the sky, but this was different. Because of the darkness of the Maine skies and the angle I was viewing it I could see colors, patterns and complexity, could feel the immensity of the universe as never before.
What do you see when you look up into a clear night sky? Perhaps the moon, and a smattering of stars. If you know where and when to look you can see the space station as a bright star hurrying through the darkness. Maybe if you have learned a little about constellations, you might be able to recognize the Big Dipper or Orion the Hunter. Or, as sometimes is the case, you might not notice any of this!
In so many ways, the act of seeing is far from simple. What enters our eyes as light must be translated into electrical impulses and then interpreted by our mind. And understanding what we might see is even more complex. Think of the members of your family. How deeply do you see them, understand them, even know them? The same can be said about friends and neighbors. And how about your relationship with the Church? Relationships of any kind can be like icebergs – what floats above the surface of the ocean is only one-tenth of its true size and magnitude. Most is hidden unless you really look at it. And once you do, you will see more.More will be revealed.
Today’s Gospel presents us with that amazing moment when three of the closest disciples of Jesus suddenly see more. They see Jesus in a new way. He was transfigured before them. There is an explosion of light, of brightness, so that the Godhead is visible in the humanity of Jesus. Before this moment of new and intense light, the three Apostles had been tired by the climb, weary with doubt, eyes and minds clouded by their natural lives. Now the cloudiness was gone. They were able to see.
In the transfiguration, Jesus suddenly appeared differently. But was Jesus a different person than the one with whom they climbed that mountain? Surely not. So, did Jesus really change? Or were the apostles taught a new understanding of who Jesus is?
The apostles now saw Jesus, their friend and teacher, as one loved by God. They saw him in the context of their faith, their Jewish faith. And seeing him in those ways changed what they saw.
Now, look around. Look at those sitting in this church. In what light do you see them? Or even better, look beyond these walls, beyond those we normally interact with. The ones who live differently, who think differently. The ones who oppose you. The ones who oppose the Church.
Do you see them in the light of our faith? As individuals loved by God, who have a place in God’s kingdom, who have an important role to play in God’s hopes and dreams for humanity? If the answer is “no” then look again. You need Jesus to give you a new and deeper understanding of what your eyes see. That understanding does not come naturally, in the natural course of our thinking. In fact, it cannot. That seeing of each other, of every other, as every human individual, as beloved by God can only be taught by Jesus, who revealed his Godhead in his humanity. Only by his light will we begin to see the colors and patterns of God’s love around us. The light of the transfiguration compels us beyond our natural lives and our natural way of seeing by the supernatural grace of faith.
Once you have let Jesus bring you up the mountain and reveal himself to you, once seeing him transfigured, you can never return to your former way of life. That is what it means to love one another. It means seeing your brother and your sister and your enemy as loved by God and so loving them as God loves you. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Think of the apostles and open your eyes so that the light of Jesus jolts you too out of your stupor.
When the time comes and your creator calls you to himself, will you look on him with your natural eyes and understanding, or with eyes transformed by love to see love? In his presence, how much of God will you see? God is love. Best train your eyes and your understanding to see love now, in this world, so that you can recognize it in the next.
Now, look in the mirror. Who do you see? Do you see someone deeply loved by God? Do you see someone that God thinks about and cares for day after day? Do you see someone who has an important role to play in God’s hopes and dreams in human history? If the answer is “no,” then look again.