Icons - a path to Contemplation, part 3
“I shall be able, should it please God, to become absorbed in God’s gaze, in order to contemplate with Him His children as He sees them, completely illuminated by Christ’s glory – fruit of his Passion.’’
Fr. Christian de Chergé O. Cist.
So wrote one of our modern martyrs !
I wonder, had Fr. Christian already gazed many hours at this icon of the Transfiguration and learned from it to see like this ?
As I too look at this icon, can I at least, long and desire to become absorbed in the gaze of Jesus, in order to contemplate with him, firstly His Father, and then see each person I meet, completely illuminated by the glory of Jesus – fruit of his Passion?
Seeing each other thus, how our Community relations would be transformed!
“ This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him.”
But they kept silence and told no one in those days what they had seen and heard.
And although, at the time, they were overwhelmed, as we can see so clearly in this icon, John the Beloved, later remembered and was forever afterwards, touched by the ray of light that came from his transfigured Master, piercing his inmost heart.
Later still the Holy Spirit would come
‘to lead them to the complete Truth’ (Jn. 16,13)
Phrases like these, kept filling John’s mind and heart :
“As the Father has loved meSo I have loved youRemain in my love”
“This is my commandment, that you love one anotherAs I have loved you .”“ Father, may they be one in usas you are in me and I am in you.I have given them the glory you gave me.”
Jesus giving us the glory that was His.
His Father loving us as His own children.
What an extraordinary mystery ! Can I allow the wonder of it to overwhelm me, as it did John ? Do I hear an intimate call to deepen my surrender to the one who loves me ?
Wasn’t it Jane Frances de Chantal who told her sisters :
“ Give God your unconditional consent.”
Do I hear the Lord’s gentle and daily invitation to be faithful to my times of prayer in spite of weariness and distractions?
As Ruth Burrows reminded us :
“I wonder if anything gives God such joy as sustained fidelity to times of prayer ; demanding no sign, no ‘felt love’, embracing dryness and inner troubles of whatever kind, and yet trustfully, peacefully bearing the greatest weight of all my own human indigence, while believing and knowing with my heart that, I too, am the beloved daughter of my Father, as are all my sisters.”
The whole purpose of this mystery of the Transfiguration is our transformation – our salvation. Jesus, the Word, allows the light of his divinity ‘to be seen’ in His body, in order to communicate His life and love for each one personally. He reveals Himself, by giving Himself, in order to transform us into Himself.
Why did Jesus choose this particular moment to reveal Himself in His glory, to the apostles?
What was He – so passionately in love with His Father and so passionately concerned for us – experiencing in his heart ?
A few days earlier Jesus had begun to lift the veil from the not far distant ending of His own life. He has to suffer, to be put to death and rise again. It is between this first prediction of his Passion and the second one sometime later, that he undertakes to ascend the Mountain.
With the whole of his will, the whole of his body, He is committed to doing the will of his Father. He accepts this will without reservation. From now on, until the final struggle, everything will be an expression of His unconditional “yes” to the Father.
And it is because the humanity of Jesus is filial in every fibre of his being and in his love-inspired consent, that it can make its own the deepest wounds of our humanity, and fill them, transfigure and transform them into the life of His Father.
We too should try, in spite of our sinfulness, to enter into this mystery of committed love, if we are to understand that the transfiguration is not an impossible unveiling of the light of the Word to the apostles – dare I say to our eyes too – but rather a moment of intensity, in which the entire being of Jesus is utterly united with the compassion of the Father. During these decisive days of His life, He becomes transparent to the light and love of the One who gives Himself to us for our salvation.
If then, Jesus is transfigured, the reason is that the Father causes His own joy to flame out in Him. The radiance of the light in the suffering body of Jesus is, as it were, the thrill experienced by the Father, in response to the total self-giving of His only Son.
We can also understand the profound feelings of Moses and Elijah. These two men had sensed the closeness of the divine glory that was impatient to save man, and were now contemplating it in the body of the Son of Man. Were they hearing again those words from Exodus ? :
“I have seen the misery of my people,I have heard their cry for helpI am well aware of their sufferingsAnd I have come down to rescue them” Ex.3.7-8( cf. The Wellspring of Worship – Jean Corbon o.p. )
The wonderful truth that we must constantly discover is that the same Lord, who allowed his disciples to participate in His divinizing light at a time when His body was still mortal, continues now, with an infinitely greater exercise of power, to divinize humanity in His very body, the Church.
Icons show what is eternal, the inner sacred sense of what is happening, and their purpose is to take us into the world of the Spirit where we can experience the transforming power of divine grace.
As the homily for the 6th August told us :
“With Jesus, may the eyes of our mind shine with His light, and the features of our souls be made new; may we be transfigured with Him and moulded to his image”
With Peter we can cry out:
‘Lord it is good for us to be here’
Yes indeed Peter, it is good for us to be here with Jesus and to remain here forever, while being shaped by the Spirit into His likeness. Here even in our deep inner poverty. Here in our every day mundane things, where He is hidden
Drawn ever deeper into this mystery, the Spirit will show Jesus to those who are poor enough to believe and hope in him, leave everything for His sake, and become capable of carrying Him to others, even in times of tribulation.
With Mary, we too can surely sing out :
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,For he, that is mighty, has done great things for meAnd holy is His name.”
Was it here, at the foot of this mountain, that John caught glimpses of the secrets of a love that he was later to write so eloquently about ? The three apostles heard a voice saying :
"Listen to Him."