Not long ago, we commemorated the anniversary of the death of Sister Cecile Faget, whom so many of us counted as a dear friend. The following was included among her writings:
“One of my students told me the other day that he learns best with images. I think many of us do. I believe that Jesus’ teaching remained alive in the memory of his apostles and disciples partly because the images he created were so beautiful, so meaningful.
“The gifted songwriter Carey Landry captured the image of today’s Gospel event when he relived the experience with Peter, James, and John and wrote:
“We behold the splendor of God – shining on the face of Jesus.
We behold the splendor of God – shining on the face of the Lord
“Both St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us in their Gospels that Jesus gave a special privilege to three of his companions to see him as beautiful, shining light. A few days before, he had warned the apostles about the death he was facing in Jerusalem. I wonder if any of them had begun to lose faith in Jesus; I wonder if they were frightened that they might have to die with him.
“Picture what happened: Jesus invited Peter, James and John to climb a mountain with him – perhaps to give them a chance to share their fears with him. But we read that when they arrived at the top, Jesus’ appearance changed. Suddenly, his three companions saw him all bright and shining, a glorious sight. And when they looked, they saw two people with him whom they recognized as Moses and Elijah – Moses, the leader who had stayed with God forty days and forty nights and received the Law on Mt. Sinai. They knew Elijah was the great prophet who had been taken up from the earth in a fiery chariot.
“We don’t know what they talked about except about the imminent passion and death of Jesus. But a cloud appeared and covered the mountaintop, and they heard a voice saying, “This is my Beloved Son … listen to him.” God the Father was assuring them that Jesus was really the person he said he was, that he came from God, and that he was doing God’s will.
“The apostles got so excited, they didn’t know how to react. But Peter couldn’t hold in his joy. He said, “Lord, it’s good for us to be here. Let us build three tents – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah.” (Building tents was a custom the Jewish people had when they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles, as they called it, remembering the years they had wandered in the desert.) Peter wanted the experience to last a long time. But, the Gospel tells us, when he looked he saw “only Jesus.”
“This Gospel event, as well as other stories in Scripture, has given us the expression, “a mountaintop experience.” I believe that everyone who really seeks God has moments of feeling very close to God. It may happen when you see a beautiful sunset, the waves of the ocean, a colorful landscape in autumn. Something happens inside of you that becomes a beautiful memory – something you may want to recall on days when you’re feeling discouraged or depressed.
“I think seeing Jesus so beautiful on the mountaintop probably gave Peter, James and John a memory they could bring back over and over after they had seen Jesus suffer and die on Calvary. Then when they saw him again after his Resurrection, perhaps they remembered, “Oh, yes, he showed us that day that he was full of the glory of God.”
“I wonder if they made a connection between that experience and the words Jesus had spoken to them: “You are the light of the world. … Let your light shine before all that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
“Those words apply to us as well as to the apostles. Jesus wants us to be like shining light as we continue his work on earth of loving and serving one another. You can be a light that makes your home a brighter, more cheerful place to live. As Christians we should be the most joyful people on earth. In Baptism we received a candle, lit from the Paschal candle of Easter – image of the Light of Christ shining in the darkness.
“We behold the splendor of God …” The song goes on: “And oh, how his beauty transforms us …” The vision the apostles had that day surely must have changed their lives, transformed them. Even though our experience – some two thousand years later – takes place in our imagination, in our hearts, the message is the same: How will we let the shining beauty of Jesus transform our lives?”
Little did we dream that she would be welcoming two more of our Texan Sisters as they joined her “on the mountaintop” where the shining beauty of Jesus has transformed them. Thank you, Sisters, for letting your light shine among us.
-Sister Louise Smith
Sisters of St. Mary of Namur . 241 Lafayette Avenue . Buffalo, New York 14213 . (716) 884-8221