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Homily for the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

Transfiguration of the Lord

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14: 2 Peter 1 :16-19: Matthew 17:1-9

Saint John Baptist de la Salle/Saint Stephen August 6, 2023

The first atomic bomb was dropped on the city of Hiroshima on August 6th, just four days before my first birthday, in 1945, and it transformed the world. Since August 6th, the Feast of the Transfiguration, was a Monday in 1945 and not a Holy Day of obligation, my mother and I did not go to daily Mass that day. However, since 1945, the observance of the Transfiguration and the bombing of Hiroshima have shared the same date in history.

Over the years, I have often thought of August 6th as the ultimate meeting of both positive and negative energy. The Transfiguration of Jesus is described in this way in the Gospel of Matthew: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves, and he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. A bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said: 'This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’” The Transfiguration did not destroy the known world as much as transform it. On the other hand, the dazzling atomic flash of the bomb over the city of Hiroshima killed over 100,000 people and injured another half a million people. Sachiko Matsuo, who was eleven years old at the time of the bombing and one of the few who survived, described the blast like this: "There was something like a big cloud covering the whole city, and the cloud was growing and coming up toward us. I could see nothing below. My grandmother started to cry: 'Everybody is dead,' she screamed, 'This is the end of the world.'” For many, it was.

Some people who study history believe that the dropping of atomic bombs on Japan was an unnecessarily evil on the part of the United States. Others argue the bomb attacks saved many millions of lives by bringing the war to an end, even though we had developed a weapon that could destroy the world. Yet, on every August 6th, the obliterating power of a nuclear bomb and the divine glory of Jesus are revealed to all people in direct opposition to each other. While we, the followers of Jesus, try to understand. I used to think that the Transfiguration of Jesus was a bit excessive. Why should people need this over-the-top demonstration of the power of God? Wasn’t Jesus enough for his followers? Isn't Jesus enough for us? But as I have gotten older, I understand the importance of that moment on the mountain when God lit up our world and invigorated our faith. An awesome display of the divinity of Jesus reminds us of the beauty and privilege of our place in God’s family. On August 6th, we humans wrestle with the dramatic extremes of good and evil. Good is symbolized by the ancient glory of the Transfiguration, and evil is symbolized by the utter destruction of the first atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. If it weren’t for the movie, 'Oppenheimer,’ few people would be thinking about the evil released in our world by a bomb. Most people are going about their day, contending with the noble and sinful tendencies that reside in the human heart. Yet we are the builders of the holy tents. Sometimes we are destroyers. But we are called every day to transfigure our world, in whatever small and shining way we can, into the Kingdom of God.

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