Keep Eyes Fixed on the Final Goal
“Tell no one of this vision, until the son of man is raised from the dead.”
The late Itzhak Perlman was one of the great virtuoso violinists of the 20th century. Stricken with polio as a child, he wore large braces on both legs and maneuvered with the aid of two crutches.
Seeing him take the stage was an inspiring sight: painfully and slowly, but majestically and confidently, he would make his way to his chair. Then he would carefully lower himself into his chair, place his crutches on the floor, unfasten the braces on his legs, and tuck one foot back and extend the other foot forward; he would then bend down and pick up his violin, arrange it under his chin, and then nod to the conductor. It was a ritual that his audiences had come to respect and admire.
At a concert at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall in November 1995, the audience sawwhat a master musician Perlman truly was. After playing just the first few bars of the opening piece, one of the strings on his violin broke. Everyone in the hall could hear it snap — it sounded like a blast of gunfire. Both musicians and audience members expected the concert to stop and wait for Perlman to put his braces back on, take up his crutches and make his way backstage to restring the instrument or find a replacement. But Perlman didn’t. Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again and Perlman picked up the piece from the point where he had left off.
Itzhak Perlman then proceeded to do the impossible: he played a symphonic work with just three strings. Audience and orchestra watched and listened in amazement as Perlman modulated, transposed and re-composed the piece in his head. At one point, it sounded like he was “de-tuning” the strings to get new sounds from them that they had never made before.
When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room — and then a thunderous ovation roared from every corner of the great hall.
Perlman smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet the audience; then he said — not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone: “You know, sometimes it’s the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
Today, we hear of the Transfiguration of Jesus from St. Matthew’s Gospel. In the preceding chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel, Jesus reveals to His disciples that He must suffer and die at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders in power at that time!
Realizing that His death will demoralize His disciples, Jesus forewarns them and strengthens their faith. Not content with telling them in advance about His death and resurrection on the third day, He wants the three future pillars of His Church, Peter, James, and John, to see His transfiguration and thereby glimpse the glory and majesty with which His holy human nature will be endowed with in heaven.
Ever since the Incarnation, the divinity of our Lord has usually been hidden behind His humanity. But Christ wishes to show, to these three favorite disciples, who will later be pillars of the Church, the splendor of His divine glory, in order to encourage them and us to follow the difficult way that lies ahead, fixing their gaze on the glorious heavenly goal which is awaiting them and us at the end. This is why it was appropriate for Him to give them and us an insight into His glory. The fact that the Transfiguration comes immediately after the first announcement of His suffering and death, and His prophetic words about how His followers will also have to carry His Cross, shows us that only through many trials and tribulations can we enter the kingdom of God.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, what the audience witnessed that evening at Avery Fisher Hall was musicianship thatwas more than just skill. The lesson of the Transfiguration is that there exists more within each one of us – the Holy Spirit, who gives us courage to carry our crosses and strength to achieve the holiness God calls us to be. The same Holy Spirit which Sts. Peter, James and John beheld in Jesus in the Transfiguration, enlivens us as well.
With our eyes fixed on the glorious final goal of heaven, and like the late Itzhak Perlman, we carry our crosses and persevere through the trials and tribulations that come and go under difficult conditions, by imitating Our Lord’s humble obedience, mercy and compassion and thereby transform our souls and transfigure our ordinary everyday worlds around us.
Mary, Queen of Apostles, pray for us!