The feast day of the Transfiguration reminds us that all men have been created in the light

Mount Tabor, August 6th

It was an atmosphere of great celebration and sincere joy that surrounded Mount Tabor, in Arabic Gebel et-Tur, on the morning of 6th August, for the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a solemnity that has been celebrated for many centuries in both the Oriental and Western liturgies. This peculiar and isolated hill in the Galilee, which stands at about 600 metres above sea level and offers a splendid view over the whole of the surrounding plain, was the evocative and moving backdrop for the solemn celebration held in the Franciscan basilica built on its summit by the architect Antonio Barluzzi on ancient Byzantine and Crusader remains.

The Holy Mass, presided by the Father Custos, Brother Pierbattista Pizzaballa, was celebrated at the high altar, which dominates the crypt commemorating the transfiguration of Jesus. In the background, decorating the vault of the central nave of the apse, there is the mosaic that illustrates the extraordinary event on Mount Tabor. In addition to Brother Mario Hadchiti, Guardian of the Convent of Mount Tabor, who was the concelebrant and gave the homily, many other friars of the Franciscan family of the Holy Land were in attendance, together with numerous priests from other religious communities who wanted to share in the joy of this feast day.

A climate of prayer and intense participation brought together the many people who had come to Mount Tabor for the occasion, including many Arabic-speaking Christians from the nearby communities in the Galilee, but also several religious, small groups of pilgrims and other Christians of the Holy Land from various parts of Israel as well as from the Palestinian areas of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur.

At the end of the Holy Mass there was the traditional procession, with the evocative accompaniment of religious songs in Arabic, which from the basilica moved on to the chapel known as “Descendentibus”, a small vaulted building which commemorates the words of Jesus to the three apostles who had witnessed the transfiguration, telling them not to reveal the event before His resurrection (Matthew 17,9).
A splendid lunch in the Franciscan Casa Nova of Mount Tabor brought the day of celebration to a joyous end.

The transfiguration is a historical event, an episode in the life of Jesus which, at the moment when it raises a veil on the meta-historical dimension and shows us a glimpse of the divine and glorious nature of Christ, accomplishes a long tradition of waiting for the Messiah and throws new light on the value of human nature. It reveals the real meaning of each man, vowed to a personal choice of good and participation in the intimacy of the life of God.

The transfiguration is first and foremost a manifestation of the essential divine inclination for communion, in which Moses and Elijah, two great friends of the Lord and protagonists of the long journey that the Lord made alongside the Jewish people and that culminated in the coming of Christ to history, take part in the revelation of the most precious elements guarded by God, His radiant face in the glory of the favourite Son. God repeatedly showed his face as a friend of just men: in particular, God allows Moses to speak to Him “face to face, as one man speaks to another” (Exodus 33,11) and the prophet Elijah, summoned here on behalf of all the prophets, is considered by Christian tradition, together with Moses and St. Paul, as the greatest representative of mysticism.
Three of Jesus’ dearest friends, the apostles Peter, James and John, simple men from Galilee who unexpectedly became leading figures in the greatest story ever told, were then summoned to witness the event. A little later, after having contemplated the transfigured and shining face of Jesus, they were to be the companions of Christ in the nightly vigil in Gethsemane and were to see that same face overwhelmed by suffering in the darkest hour that marked the start of the Passion. It is this mystery that conceals one of the greatest challenges facing man: to continue seeing the glory and the greatness of God in the mortifying drama of the cross.

The transfiguration then opens up to a very high message which addresses every man, created in the image of God and summoned to bear an increasing resemblance to him during his life. The words of Father Pizzaballa emphasized this: “On Mount Tabor, Jesus returned to us the dignity of the children of God of the time of the creation, because man was created in light. Mount Tabor is the anticipation of everything that we will all be, indeed that we already are, with the participation in the resurrection of Jesus.” The transfiguration invites us to recompose in an original manner the real subjective dimension and the ideal one that is present in every man, to love the present of the individual, with his miseries and his poverty, in the light of his “real human meaning”, of that hidden nucleus of good that the soul encloses as evidence of the ideal and adhesion to the Truth. The face of the other, therefore, as Emmanuel Lévinas observes, in its expressiveness, nudity and fragility, has in it a “trace of the Infinite” because “the dimension of the divine opens up from the human face and its epiphany consists of spurring us on through its misery in the face of the Stranger, the widow and the orphan.” And the eyes of Jesus neglect nothing, exclude nothing and do not stray from the world, but see the world in the light of God, that is, they “transfigure” every creature they meet, so that everything is in Him.

The transfiguration is therefore the celebration of the Truth of man, of his greatness in his misery, of his irrevocable vocation for the perfect life in the glory of God.

By Caterina Foppa Pedretti
Photos by Giovanni Zennaro

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