A spiritual director asked a directee, “How many souls have you led to Christ during this prolonged intense experience of God?”
The directee said, “I don’t know.”
“Have you saved anyone from the pit of despair or the sting of death?”
“I can’t say that I have,” the directee replied.
“Well, that’s not the kind of mountain top experience that makes any difference.”
“When we get so high that we can’t reach down to other people, there is something wrong.”
The definition of transfiguration is a complete transformation into a more beautiful or spiritual state like Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 3:18, St. Paul says we also are “transfigured” into the image of Christ. It happens, geographically, on a mountain top because the higher you climb the more you see, so it’s revelatory of a person’s advancement in the spiritual life.
However, descent is a precondition for ascent.
Catholic author Sherry Boas said, “How often I have wanted to be apart with you, Jesus, on the mountain, but just as Peter, James and John had to come back down the mountain for the work that was ahead of them, so I too must depart from my place of peace and prayer to serve the souls you have placed in my care…. Love calls me down.”1
St. Thomas Aquinas says it was necessary for some of the Apostles to taste a glimpse of future glory. A little dab will do ya. Just a little glimpse of Glory! A pilgrim can get discouraged unless granted a glimpse of the glory that comes at the end, heaven. We see the wonder. Matthew 13:43 says, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father…” So, there’s a connection between what Jesus looked like on the mountain and what we will look like (Daniel 12:3). But, notice that Jesus says to them, “don’t tell anyone yet because no one will believe you until after the Resurrection!” (Matt. 17:9, Mark 9:9).
There are there different degrees of difficulty along the way to the top as we walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). God has arranged the route so that the way becomes harder and the faith of the climber is inevitably strengthened with each step of [this] journey.”2
However, after an illumination by a noticeable advancement in prayer and virtue in one’s life, with an emphasis on the purification of one’s thoughts and attitudes, it is common that a person will be taken back into the lower level in the spiritual life, called the purgative way, which is the struggle of the flesh. We drop back down into this first level, which many never leave, in order for us to cooperate more with God, and then go back up to the illuminative way, higher up.
The danger is that when you’ve made it up the Mountain of the Transfiguration and are getting illumined, but then you slide down halfway and stay there. Or slide all the way back to the parking lot where you started, which is a mortal sin.
“This is my beloved son—listen to him.”
Listening to Jesus is hard work because it involves the application of what we hear.
By not listening at the Transfiguration, the voice of the Father had to negate Peter’s suggestion to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, which put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. (Mark 9:7). It shows us that Peter was indeed at the top of the mountain, where his compulsiveness and talkativeness is being purified, a phenomenon which does happen during this second level in the spiritual life called the illuminative way.
1. Sherry Boas, A Mother’s Bouquet: Rosary Meditations for Moms
2. James Montgomery Boice, Ordinary Men Called by God: A Study of Abraham, Moses, and David, Jan 1998, Kregel Publications. P. 40