The Transfiguration and the Son of Man

Douglas McManaman
Homily: Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
August 6, 2023
Reproduced with Permission

In the first reading (Dan 7, 9-10, 13-14), Daniel sees the One who is Ancient of Days taking his throne. Of course, Ancient of Days refers to God, who has lived throughout the entire course of human history; for he is not subject to the passing of time. And his throne is fiery flames, and a "stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence". In Scripture, fire is a symbol of the divine love; for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12, 29). And the first reading tells us that ten thousand times ten thousand attended him, and a thousand thousands served him, which are symbolic ways of expressing a number beyond counting.

But then Daniel sees one like a 'son of man' coming with the clouds of heaven, who was presented before the One who is Ancient of Days, and to him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. And his dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be destroyed.

This is a fascinating vision, because it is a vision of the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, which isn't revealed until the coming of Christ who reveals God as a Trinity of Persons. And of course Jesus is precisely the "son of man" referred to in this vision. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to himself so often as the Son of Man. For example, he asks: "Who do people say the Son of Man is?", or, "so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, he said to the paralytic...", or, "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath", and so on and so forth. This title "Son of Man" refers back to this vision in the book of Daniel.

But what is interesting is that in this vision, the One who is Ancient of Days transfers his glory to the son of man; to him is given dominion and glory and kingship. What happened to it? Why don't we see it? St. Paul provides the answer to this in his letter to the Philippians:

... though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Jesus divested himself of the glory that was his in eternity. He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and he was executed as a messianic pretender. And in the gospel reading today, Jesus, the Son of Man, takes only Peter, James, and John with him and he is transfigured before them. They are given the privilege to see him in his glory, "the glory as of the Father's only Son" (Jn 1, 14). And Peter actually writes of this experience: "We had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain" (2 Pt 1, 16). And he refers to this as a lamp shining in a dark place. And of course the voice they heard said: "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"

This is an interesting set of readings for me because I just returned from a trip to London and Paris, my daughter's graduation gift, which had been interrupted by the pandemic in 2020. And of course she had us going everywhere, especially the royal palaces: Kensington Palace, Windsor Castle, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London,and the Chateau de Versailles outside of Paris, etc. And if you've visited any of these, you know what they're like: huge ornate rooms with large neo-classical paintings on the walls, another large chamber with the king's royal bed, a dining hall with a very long table where guests are entertained, displays of crown jewels, diamond studded dresses, etc. So I'll be fine if I never see another palace again in my life. But what struck me walking through these royal palaces is the glory that was bestowed upon human beings who in the end are just limited, flawed, sinful human beings subject to death like everyone else. We don't have divine glory by nature, but human beings seek it for themselves. They desire it, usurp it, and the kings and queens of history were glorified with an earthly glory that feigns divine glory, and yet there was nothing in any of these kings, queens, or princes that would demand such extraordinary treatment and worship.

With Christ, we have the very opposite. He is the Son of Man that Daniel saw in a vision, to whom has been given glory, dominion and kingship by God the Father, Ancient of Days. He is God the Son, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. All things came to be through him; he is before all things, and he has one predominant love: the will of the Father, the glorification of God the Father. And so he entered into our darkness, which is a realm of darkness because humanity has lost its way. Instead of seeking to love, worship and glorify God, we have a proclivity to seek our own glory. The human heart longs to be treated like royalty. We find this tendency even in the Church throughout her history. It's a very difficult proclivity to overcome, even for clerics. But it is this that brings darkness to this world.

The true king of the universe emptied himself of his proper divine glory and came among us as a slave, a servant, in ordinary human likeness, revealing it momentarily only to Peter, James, and John, to strengthen them for what is to come. He chose to descend. This king does not compel us to worship him; we must do so freely. And since he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, our ascension to true glory is a descent. We ascend by descending in the Person of Christ.

We speak of life as a learning process; the spiritual life is a descending process. With every day that passes, we are 24 hours closer to the grave than we were the day before. Every day, the heart must die to itself, to its aspiration to self-glorification, and empty itself further, and the aging process helps us with this. We slowly lose certain abilities, physical abilities, mental abilities, we can't remember as well, we are increasingly dependent upon the help of others, the illusion of independence is gradually being dispelled, and if we have not stopped learning, we realize more and more as the years go on that we know virtually nothing. The aging process makes humility much easier, but we have to "go with it", surrender to it, allow it to show us what we really are in the end: dust and ashes. But that's our glory, not intellectual brilliance. Intelligence is not the glory of man. Intelligence is the glory of the angels, who are inconceivably more brilliant than the most brilliant human being. Intellectually we are very slow and sluggish, including the most brilliant human beings. The glory of man, on the contrary, is humility. We cannot outdo angels in terms of knowledge or intelligence, but we can outdo them in humility if we are willing. The problem is that very few are willing. But that is our glory, and that's why Mary is the Queen of Angels, higher than the angels. She is inferior in her nature, her human nature compared to the angelic nature, but she outdoes them in humility. In her magnificat, she says: the Lord has looked upon the "nothingness" of his handmaiden. She has no clue as to her uniqueness; she saw herself as 'nothing'. That's why she was a fitting vessel for God the Son to become a son of man. Her queenship is real, authentic, because it corresponds to a real glory hidden within her, which is the glory of her humility.