Fr. Di Noia, O.P., on the Transfiguration

From a lecture by Fr. J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., entitled: Living the Gospel of Life: A Tale of Three Encyclicals.

In the Transfiguration, the disciples saw Christ gloriously transformed. St. Leo the Great said that there were two reasons why Christ allowed them, and us as well, to see his glory. First, he wanted “to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of his disciples.” Having seen Christ transfigured, they knew that the apparent defeat of the cross was in reality a victory. The second reason, St. Leo explained, was that we, the Church, might see what was to become of us. As St. Paul reminds us, “We are being changed from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). The idea that we are moving towards glory is hard to accept and requires faith: we will not see the glory revealed until the end.

We discover that our transfiguration is really a transformation in Christ: the glory of Christ will be revealed in us. In a passage that follows shortly after the Transfiguration, Christ affirms: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” And then he offers this strange paradox: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (cf. Matthew 16:24-26). In other words, unless we become like Him, we will not find our true selves. We need only to consider our own experience to grasp how startling our Lord’s assertion really is. Think of yourself as a supervisor, parent, a teacher, a bishop, a spouse or priest. Who would ever say to anyone in his or her charge (no matter how high an opinion we have of ourselves), “You will never find your true self unless you become like me”? On the contrary, we want them to realize their own gifts, not become clones of ourselves. Only the Son of God could say to the human race: you will find your true self only by becoming like Me. He says this to every human who has ever lived, who lives now, and who will live in the future. The harder we try to be ourselves without Him, the less we can really become ourselves.

Some people seem to think that Christian faith involves the suppression of the human. Once you accept the Gospel, they say, your freedom to be yourself is constrained and your ability to explore the many possibilities that life offers is frustrated. But, in fact, as the deepest meaning of the mystery of the Transfiguration reveals to us, to follow and imitate Christ is not to suppress our freedom, and, with it, our distinctive human and personal identities. On the contrary. The whole point of freedom is to make it possible to embrace the good to which Christ directs us. In the end, to become more like Christ is not to become less ourselves, but more uniquely and distinctively ourselves.

To be free is not to be faced with an unlimited number of choices, including sin. Authentic freedom is the God-given capacity to embrace that which will make us truly happy: to choose God. This is one of the key messages of Veritatis Splendor. God does not compel us to choose. Love cannot be compelled; it must be free. God wants us to embrace Him freely, and freedom is the gift God gives for this purpose.

A brief (8 min) audio excerpt on the Transfiguration of Christ and our own moral transformation in light of the teaching of the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. From a lecture by Fr. Augustine Di Noia, O.P., entitled: Living the Gospel of Life: A Tale of Three Encyclicals. Presented by Fr. DiNoia in Washington DC in March of 1999. From the audio archives of the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.