Parenthood & the Transfiguration

I always remember the Feast of the Transfiguration, for my oldest child was born on August 6, 1988. August 6, the date on which we celebrate the Transfiguration, became the date that my life was changed: I became a parent. In many ways, of course, there is no comparison between my experience, which has been shared by billions of people throughout history, and the unique event that was the manifestation of Christ’s divinity and glory to three chosen Apostles, passed on to the Church and all humanity through the Scriptures. To compare my becoming a parent to the Transfiguration would be the ultimate act of parental overreaching. And yet becoming a parent is an individual act in every instance. We are not given a generic "child" with a set of "How To Operate" instructions, we are given a unique gift of God, different, challenging and wonderful in each case. I quaked with fear, internally at least, as we left the hospital, wondering how anyone could let me leave with a child without checking my papers, or something to judge my fitness. I was scared to have in my care this beautiful boy.

The event that Peter, James and John experienced was also an historical event that changed their lives forever. They knew Jesus, were his inner circle, and certainly had some inkling of who Jesus was, however confused they might have been at times. Particularly, the apostles were struggling with the tension between Jesus’ identity and his destiny. They believed he was the Messiah, as Peter stated in Mark 8, but why then would Jesus say the Messiah must suffer and die? The Messiah would come with power and glory and transform not just individual lives, but the cosmos itself. Suffer and die? The Transfiguration gave the chosen apostles a glimpse of that power and glory, and it would be up to them to make sense of it in the context of the man on the cross and in light of the resurrection.


At the time, though, Peter, James and John heard the voice of God, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!" and were instructed to tell no one of what they had seen and heard until after the resurrection, a conception with which they were struggling to understand as they descended. One thing must have been clear, though, and that was that Jesus was God the Father’s Son. This relationship, Father and Son, would have been crystal clear and yet still somewhat opaque: what did it mean that Jesus was God’s Son? This can only be understood in human terms, the language of fathers and sons throughout history, yet it also raises the new reality that we now have a means of recognizing what it truly means to be a father and son. In every instance of becoming a parent, or being a child, we recognize our potential and our pitfalls, but we are called to model ourselves on the Father and Son: "Listen to him!" This is not a model intended to point to our numerous failures, but to call us to our true being. It does this because the Transfiguration becomes in the revelation of Jesus’ Sonship a sign of our destiny: however much we struggle or suffer in our daily tasks, whether as parents or not, we are called to become children of the Father, adopted into God’s family because of his Son Jesus Christ, called to glory in the presence of the Father of all. And as Peter, James and John struggled to make sense of what had taken place that day on the mountain, we all struggle at times to make sense of our lives, our fears, our successes and failures. Suffering, however, at the hands of an imperfect human father is not our destiny; Jesus showed us our destiny in the Transfiguration, a place where Father not only knows best, but where it is simply perfect.

John W. Martens

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