The glory of God might seem an odd topic for reflection during Lent. After all, we omit the Gloria at Mass, and we direct our attention to the Lord’s temptation and his passion. But the Sanctus reminds us, week by week—even during Lent—that ‘heaven and earth are full of [God’s] glory’. We don’t always recognize that glory: it is hidden. As John’s gospel tells us: ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father’ (1.14). Jesus makes God known to us; all the fullness of the Godhead was pleased to dwell—hidden—in Christ. Peter, James and John glimpsed that glory at the transfiguration of the Lord. They learned to see in Jesus, even after his brightness subsided, the radiance of divine glory. So also we learn to see the world differently as the eyes of our hearts are trained by faith: to see Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, for example; or to see his face in the faces of the poor and the marginalized.
Learning to see in this way does not give way to full vision, however. The mystery of God’s presence in the world is like the mystery of the Incarnation itself. How does God become human without eliminating or overriding the human? The Old Testament reading from the third Sunday in Lent gives us a way in to contemplating the mystery: Moses encounters a bush that burns, but is not consumed. So also God’s presence with us and in us throughout creation enlivens and enlightens us, but does not consume us. Only that which is incompatible with God’s presence (that is, sin) cannot survive the coming of the Lord. The flame of God’s holiness burns in us—as in the burning bush—but all it consumes is sin.
As we sing ‘pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua’ (‘heaven and earth are full of your glory’), let’s remember that ‘caeli et terra’ includes us. We strive for holiness in the hope that the glory of God may one day be revealed in us as well.
The day after my Corpus Christi post I was thinking about ‘stuff’. It’s not exactly a technical term, is it? But it serves an important function in the account of sacraments I was sketching there. God can do that with stuff–change it completely without making it appear as anything other than what it was before–because God is already sustaining everything that is. I realized this morning how much I owe my understanding of sacraments and sanctification to John McDade’s essay on the incarnation. He borrows Peter Geach’s phrase to describe the presence of God in the world: ‘God sustains the world as a singer sustains his song.’ Thanks also to McDade (and to his reading of Aquinas) I think about sacraments and sanctification together with the incarnation and transfiguration. God has a way with creatures that allows them to be creatures, and yet to be wholly alive only as God’s creatures.
If God is already so intimately present to us, already keeping us in being from moment to moment, it doesn’t make much sense to think of ourselves as somehow competing with God for ‘control’ of our lives. The breath of God enlivens us, makes us who we are. I am who I am because of the mysterious interaction of God’s life and the human being–body and soul–who appears and thinks and speaks in the world. God transforms me–just like the Eucharistic elements–without violence.
I thought about this all in a different way as I read the account of Transfiguration that JK Rowling gives in the first Harry Potter book. (I admit to being a decade and a half behind with this. I am a loyal citizen of Narnia, and somehow it felt like treason. Now, I have to attend to the world of Harry Potter because of my children.) Hermione remarks that she’s looking forward to Transfiguration, which she glosses as (something like) how to turn something into something else. No, I thought (I might even have said it out loud…) that’s not really what transfiguration is, at least not as I remember and celebrate it on the 6th of August. That’s not why it is my favourite of the Luminous mysteries. And it isn’t why I connect transfiguration with holiness and the sacraments. When Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, his disciples see him as Jesus. The point is not that he’s suddenly something other than what he was before; rather, his identity becomes clearer to them as a result of his being temporarily, blindingly bright. So, I think, it is with us as God transforms us into the image of Christ. Our identity in God becomes clearer, even as we remain recognisably ourselves.
I’m told that Rowling’s account of Transfiguration becomes more nuanced as the series goes on. Guess I’ll just have to keep reading.