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A quick, staggering glimpse of heaven

February 27, 2015
Sister Maria Catherine, OP

As I reread Mark’s account of the Transfiguration, I’m reminded of the multiple times God reveals himself so intimately to select individuals in Scripture. These episodes typically follow the same pattern (Revelation 1:10-18, Daniel 10:5-8, etc.): The Lord reveals himself in glory in such a way that the observer can hardly stand it and usually is shocked he’s lived through the experience, “I have seen the face of the Lord (and lived)” (Genesis 32:30).

By speaking intently about his own passion prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus prepares his Apostles to receive a similar epiphany. They will only be able to understand this occurrence after he dies and rises. This glimpse of Christ in glory, although puzzling and stunning, serves to strengthen them for the trials ahead: Christ’s rejection by religious authorities, his bloody scourging and way of the cross, and finally his humiliating death by crucifixion. With a theology so dependent upon personal experience and understanding, Jesus creates this touchstone moment for his most intimate friends.

This flash of the celestial is meant to be a brief slice of what heaven is like. The whole point of life is to participate fully in the eternal exchange of love in the Trinity, a love so sweeping and consuming as to stun and stagger us. We lose sight of this in the muck of sin, however, and lose our field of reference. The Transfiguration is a sign of hope that is both terrible and exhilarating, so much so that Peter wants to build tents and stay there to keep the experience alive. He can think of nothing else in his confused grappling. The Transfiguration is a quick, staggering glimpse of heaven – gas for the journey, something to keep us going, so that when times get rough we remember what it’s all for.

I can think of touchstone moments like this in my own life when I received a glimpse of the communion of love that God possesses (and is) and wants me to possess. For example, I remember the night when I entered a perpetual eucharistic adoration chapel for the first time. A friend had explained to me Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, speaking with such conviction and absolute certainty that the little host was really God. I had to see for myself. I was in awe as much with the realization that God was waiting for me there in that chapel as I was with the majesty of the monstrance that held him.

Christian life is about my participation in that deep, awe-filled, exchange of love, a love that carries a splendor that cannot compare to any other earthly thing, a love that makes me want to grasp a hold of those moments and do anything to make them last forever. Alas, like Peter, James and John, I also have to descend from the mountain of these experiences. The key for me is that I’m descending with Jesus, and enjoying this experience of him that keeps me wanting more. These special moments with him, his Father, and the Holy Spirit are meant to draw me closer during the times when I cannot feel his presence, when he doesn’t seem close by. These are what give my prayer the lifeblood and encouragement that I need for the journey: Heaven is not far off.

Sister Maria Catherine is a member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and teaches English at Marin Catholic High School.

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