Feast of the Transfiguration: Climbing Down the Mountain

It’s easy to write-off the story of the Transfiguration.

It’s too fantastical, we might say. What does the word even mean? Scripture tells us that Christ’s “face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Most of us can’t identify with such a miraculous experience! And the idea of any mountaintop moment, even a less extreme one, may seem far removed from our daily lives.

But perhaps we live on the mountaintop without even realizing it. We examine when, like Peter, we say, “it is good that we are here,” in those situations where we are really comfortable, but perhaps no longer growing, being challenged or reaching out to others beyond our immediate community. Just when Peter suggests they pitch a tent and stay forever, Jesus leads him back down the mountain. It is not for them to remain isolated in each other’s company, and away from other friends, family members and colleagues.  He invites them—and us—to journey with him back into life’s valleys.

The Feast of the Transfiguration offers a chance for us to pause and reflect on the mountaintop moments we experience in the midst of our daily lives—and certainly to express our gratitude to God for them—but also to examine why we want to stay on the mountain. Do these moments keep us stuck in time? Do we refuse to go beyond what is pleasant and comfortable? Are we wary of reaching out to people who are not in our own inner circles?

How might Jesus be calling us in our own particular situations to come down from the mountain? It looks different for each of us. Perhaps it involves spending more time volunteering at a local charity. It could require giving—or seeking—forgiveness from a family member or friend. Maybe it means learning about uncomfortable truths, like the refugee crisis or climate change. Or perhaps it is in giving just a little more to charity than feels comfortable.

Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta can help us in this important discernment. She was serving as a Sister of Loretto as a teacher in a school in Calcutta when she heard Jesus call her off the mountain. This might not look like a moment of comfort atop a mountain; she had devoted her life to a religious order and was teaching in India, far away from home! But Mother Teresa experienced what she called “a call within a call,” when she heard Jesus invite her to let go of what was comfortable, to set out on her own to serve those who were most vulnerable in her community: men, women and children living in Calcutta’s slums.

As we examine our own comfort, let us reflect on the life of St. Mother Teresa, to learn how she answered Christ’s call. We might be surprised to find that Jesus, in all his glory, is not only to be found atop a distant, remote mountaintop.