Now and then we experience moments when God feels so close and so real. They don’t have to be extraordinary events like the apparitions or visions of the saints. They can occur during an ordinary or banal activity, like the time when I was traveling in a bus one early morning. While praying the Lauds from my breviary, I looked out the window and was surprised to see the usual country scenery in its extraordinary beauty and brightness as if for the first time. I was then reciting the verse from the invitatory psalm 95, “The Lord is God, the mighty God, the great king over all the gods. He holds in his hand the depths of the earth and the highest mountains as well.”
I suddenly felt the whole creation was in the warm and loving hands of God, including myself. I never felt his presence so palpably near, and I lingered in it for as long as I could. I don’t know how long it lasted. It might have been some minutes, or even just a few seconds.
Moments like this are little transfigurations that God affords us now and then. As the experience of the transfiguration of Jesus at Tabor was meant to strengthen the faith and morale of the three apostles before they would witness his imminent passion and death, so are our the little transfigurations given to sustain us in the arduous journey to our own Calvary.
Before the transfiguration, Jesus had already set his eyes on Jerusalem and thrice told his apostles that there he would suffer, die and rise again. The disciples did not seem to understand Jesus’ prediction, or they might have simply wanted to conveniently ignore or deny it. But knowing they would be adversely shaken by the scandal of the cross, Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain and, wrapped in glory, he revealed his identity and mission. The appearance of Moses and Elijah in the scene confirmed that he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. No less than the Father in heaven (cloud) revealed him as his Son “in whom I am well pleased.”
The first reading recalls the story of Abraham. What is its connection to the story of the transfiguration? Abraham was called by God to leave everything, his property, his family and his own people, and go to an unknown land where he would be the father of a great nation. It was the promise of a future blessing that strengthened Abraham to obey and follow God’s call. For the apostles, it was the vision of the transfigured Christ that would sustain their faith in the crucified Messiah. For us, it is the little transfigurations, those instantaneous glimpses of God experienced in our luminous and prayerful moments, that give us the courage to follow Jesus in the way of discipleship. All that the Father asks is that we “listen to him.”
The story of Abraham is particularly significant and dear to me. Twenty years ago, when I received my appointment as bishop of Kabankalan, I found myself totally at a loss. I had to leave not only my native place (I had been in Cebu since my priestly ordination), but also my religious family (the Salesians).Without any pastoral experience (I had only taught in schools and seminaries), I was given a diocese with some 30 parishes to lead. I was asked to leave a familiar world to go to a totally unfamiliar one. Hence, the story of Abraham’s total trust in God has always been an inspiration to me. It was also a consolation to learn that together with Abraham’s call was the great promise that “all the communities of the earth shall find blessing in [him].”
Abraham was called and sent to be a blessing to the nations. This helped me understand the meaning of my own calling. I too was called and sent to bring God’s blessing to his people in Kabankalan. Thus, I took for my motto, “Amorem Dei Ferens” (Bearer of God’s Love).
Fast forward. Thirteen years later, I received a new assignment in another diocese. Looking back on my years in Kabankalan, I was embarrassed to realize that I was too presumptuous. I thought of bringing God’s love to the people of Kabankalan only to know that, in the end, it was they who brought God’s love to me, for I had never felt so much blessed and loved as in the 13 years I was in Kabankalan.