On August 6 we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, that spectacular moment when our Lord appeared in all his glory to the Apostles Peter, James, and John.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. (Lk 9:28-36)
I have often asked myself why Jesus chose to take only three of his apostles up the mountain with him. Even more, why those three? Three apostles saw for themselves Jesus’ glory; the rest had to wait for the appropriate time to hear about it, and then were left to believe based on the others’ accounts.
The three who accompanied Jesus were given a weighty responsibility. They were to keep hush about what they had seen, and at the same time carry within themselves the understanding of Jesus’ true greatness.
St. Ephraim said, “He took (Peter, James and John) up to the mountain, that He might show them His kingdom, before they witnessed His suffering and death…so that…they might understand that he was not crucified…because of his own powerlessness, but because it had please Him of His goodness to suffer for the salvation of the world.”
Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus’s Transfiguration. They knew what he was capable of. Yet, when the events leading up to the Crucifixion began to unfold, two of them abandoned our Lord and one of them remained. We hear little about James during the Passion, but we know that Peter, the “Rock” on which Jesus would build his Church and who swore he would die with Jesus, ended up denying three times that he even knew him and then disappeared into the periphery when things heated up. John alone held steady, finally standing at the Foot of the Cross as Jesus hung dying.
Our Catholic faith is a true privilege, much like the privilege Peter, James, and John had in going up the mountain to witness in awe the Transfiguration. Our challenge is to maintain that same awe throughout our lives, and to remain convicted of Jesus’ glory even when our faith is tested, as the apostles’ faith was tested. The only way we can ever hope to stand strong is through a life of deep prayer, humility, and dependence on the sacraments.
What we need to decide ahead of time is this: Will I be a Peter, or will I be a John?