find ourselves, perhaps astonishingly, more than half way through the year. With less than five months to Christmas and more than seven months since our New Year’s resolutions, August is a good month to take stock of where we find ourselves in our journey through this year, as well as through our lives. As the heat of the summer makes itself intensely felt in southern Florida during this month, and as we pray for the safety of all in the aversion of storms during this hurricane season, we realize that time does indeed move ahead and the circumstances of our lives change. It is important to evaluate where we stand in this changing life in view of the many experiences we have encountered. Two significant celebrations occur during the first half of August that give us insight into our journey — the Transfiguration and the Assumption.
We just celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration Aug. 6. The occurrence of the transfiguration in the life of Christ is one that helps us further to take stock of ourselves and our journey in our relationship with the Lord. It occurred just a little more than halfway through the Lord’s public ministry and can be compared to the August of the apostles’ journey with the Lord. It is an event that both reveals and transforms as the apostles experience the glory of Christ.
The account of the Transfiguration is found about halfway through the synoptic Gospels of Sts. Matthew, Mark and Luke. All three accounts mention that the event takes place at a specific time after Peter’s confession of faith, almost as if to draw attention to the movement of time as the Transfiguration approaches. Then, as Jesus takes the three apostles, Peter, James and John, up to the mountain where he is transfigured, time seems to be suspended. On the mountain, the Lord’s appearance changes and the three apostles are able to dwell upon the glory of the Lord as his radiance shines before them. In this moment of divine transcendence, Moses and Elijah appear speaking with Jesus. The apostles are so caught up in this experience that they do not want to leave. They want time to continue to stand still.
However, time resumes as Christ comes down from the mountain with his apostles and their ministry continues. Having been part of the awesome moment of his Transfiguration, Peter, James and John have a new insight into Christ. As they move with Jesus towards the culmination of his ministry on the Cross, they understand better that suffering is to be an integral part of the glory that will be revealed in his Resurrection. They also know that they are to be involved in that suffering. However, as astounding as the experience of the Transfiguration was, they still will shirk from Christ’s suffering. They will fall asleep when Jesus takes the same three apostles with him to his agony in the garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion. Peter will go so far as not only to abandon the Lord but also to deny that he ever knew him. Even such an exceptional moment as the Transfiguration is lost when the apostles no longer reflect upon it. It is hard to imagine how they could forget such an experience except when we recall how we, as well, often lose sight of what God has done for us.
The Gospel of St. Mark places the Transfiguration in the sequence of time in a very significant context. St. Mark writes his Gospel in the setting of the revelation of what has been termed the “messianic secret.” This “secret” is that Jesus is indeed the son of God but this has to be revealed to his disciples and to the world in a manner in which they accept such an astounding reality. Thus, in the Gospel of St. Mark, this revelation takes place slowly during the course of the Lord’s ministry in a deliberate fashion. When Jesus is baptized, the Father reveals only to Christ that he is the son of God. As the Spirit hovers over Jesus the voice of the Father from heaven is heard, “You are my beloved son; with you I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11). Halfway through the narration of the Gospel, at the Transfiguration, this revelation is made solely to the apostles when the voice of the Father from heaven says, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Finally, this revelation is made to the whole world at the death of Christ on the cross when the Roman centurion cries out, “Truly this man was the son of God” (Mk 15:39)!
It is fitting that we celebrate the solemnity of the Assumption of Mary Aug. 15 in the middle of the month as it also reminds us of our journey through life. As time moves forward, so do the days of our lives. That movement is a natural one and will eventually result in us moving from time into eternity. However, Mary’s assumption puts that movement into a wonderful perspective. She, too, had to depart from this world but her departure reminds us that we are put in this world precisely for that departure. Unfortunately, the consequences of original sin have brought an uncomfortableness and even pain to that departure. However, it was not meant to be that way. The Assumption of Mary helps to restore a necessary perspective of faith.
Mary’s assumption into heaven was infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII Aug. 15, 1950. He stated, “Finally the immaculate virgin, preserved free from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things, so that she might be more fully conformed to her son, the Lord of lords and conqueror of sin and death.” Mary’s life in this world had to be completed as do all of ours. Whether she knew the time of its completion or how it would come about cannot be determined. However, when her earthly life was completed, she was the first to share in the fullness of her son’s resurrection by being raised bodily into heaven. Like Christ, Mary shares in the life of heaven as no other. She has a privileged place but one that is meant to remind us of what we anticipate.
All of us face transitions in our lives. They are not all easy and many of the elements of death are included in these transitions. They remind us that someday we will have to move from this life into the next and that will also be a very difficult transition to make. However, heaven is our ultimate home and every transition in this life is meant to bring us there. Mary’s passage from this world and her assumption into heaven are wonderful reminders of this beautiful reality. The passage of time at this juncture of the year during August when we celebrate the Assumption makes it a fitting backdrop.
The month of August with the feast of the Transfiguration and the solemnity of the Assumption give us a good opportunity to reflect upon where we are heading in our relationship with the Lord. Before the pace of life begins to hasten, school begins and visitors return to southern Florida, August still offers us a slower pace to reflect. Life moves forward with a purpose and vision that is centered on the Lord and the peace he gives us in this life and ultimately in eternity.