Feast of the Transfiguration
2 Peter: 1: 16-19
Matthew 17: 1-9
In the first reading we are told about Daniel’s vision of God’s glory. In the second reading Peter recalls the vision that he, James and John had of the majesty of Jesus. The Gospel reading presents to us the transfiguration, which Peter mentioned in his Second Letter
A football coach encourages the players to envision themselves as winners. A CEO will talk about a vision of the company becoming a leading international manufacturer. John the Apostle had visions which became the basis for his Book of Revelations. St. Francis had a vision of rebuilding the Church. St. Theresa of Avila had visions and spent years trying to understand their deeper meaning. St. Paul of the Cross had visions: "After these visions of the tunic and the sign, God gave me a stronger, compelling desire to gather companions and with the approval of holy Mother Church to found a Congregation…" (Letter to his spiritual director in 1720).
What can be said about religious visions? The Transfiguration gives us some guidance. The vision comes from God and not from ourselves. Jesus invited the three apostles up the mountain. God initiated the vision, not the apostles. Peter wanted to stay in this awesome experience, but he was disregarded and the apostles were steered down the hill with the instruction: "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
A true religious vision will take us beyond ourselves. We enter the bigger picture of life. I am not the center of life; I am not the most important person in the universe. A hallucination is a projection from one’s unconscious mind into the outside world, e.g., delirium tremens experienced by someone withdrawing from alcohol or as a result of a psychotic breakdown. Hallucinations keep us in our own world, a small and self-centered world.
A true religious vision will help make us better prepared to work in the "real" material world. In contrast, the schizophrenic becomes isolated from society and much controlled by hallucinations. Theresa felt no pride, no greatness because of visions. To her, her visions were not the point of her spirituality. Her visions lead her to be of service to God for others.
Notice that Jesus instructed the apostles to remain quiet about the vision, at least until after the resurrection. Visions need time to mature. It is good to be wary when someone claims to have received a vision from God. Visions must be tested, which takes time. Paul of the Cross instructed Agnes Grazi: "I am much afraid that in your frequent imaginary visions you are being tricked by the devil." In fact he said that it was better to remain quiet in prayer and not to be looking for visions. A religious vision must be tested by scripture and spiritual direction. Paul of the Cross revealed his visions to a bishop or a spiritual director. "In this I defer to the judgment of my superiors, submitting to whatever they decide under the grace of the Holy Spirit."
When you feel "the morning star rise in your hearts" don’t be afraid of it. If it is of God, it will do the work God intends. God may communicate through visions even today, but we need to check carefully any such guidance we receive with the Word of God and a qualified spiritual director.
Fr. Don Webber, C.P., is Provincial Superior of Holy Cross Province and resides in Chicago.