At certain points in our lives, we have an idea of where we are going. For instance, a student aims at finishing one level and starting the next. He or she has a good idea of what the next step will be. As we move beyond the clearly marked stages, we realize that we may not know where we are going.
I had a very sweet aunt, Aunt Peggy. Once, we decided to take her out for breakfast but we forgot to tell her where we were going. As we approached our destination, she asked, “Where am I and where am I going?” Many of us ask this question, where are we and where are we going.
Abraham was called from his country to journey to a land God would show him. Abraham didn’t know the way nor did he know where he was going. He knew that God would show him the way and lead him along the way.
We often do not know where we are going. What road are we on in this journey? How are we traveling? We might like to travel by a plane and get to our destination as soon as possible. We might prefer to sit in a train or bus and watch the towns and trees and rivers move quickly by us. We might prefer to travel by our own means, to go as fast as we want and to stop when we want.
If we choose to follow Jesus, we do not go quickly, we go step by step. We are not tourists, we are not observers. Like Abraham, we set out and let God show us where we are going, as we go.
Inevitably, we run into difficulties on the way. We think the difficulties are a mistake. They shouldn’t be there. However, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us that, after Jesus had foretold the Passion, He instructed His disciples to follow along His path (Mt 16:21, 24).
The Transfiguration gave them an inside view of who Jesus really was
We are, St. Thomas says, “those who follow the footsteps of His Passion” (3a. 45, 1). He recalls Paul’s and Barnabas’ preaching, “Through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).
As Paul’s disciple, Timothy was instructed: “Bear your share of the hardship which the Gospel entails” (2 Tim 1:8). The good news is that the tribulations are not our destination. The tribulations are because God is bringing us somewhere but where?
Like Thomas the Apostle, we might be inclined to say, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how can we know the way” (Jn 14:5). St. Thomas explains that, “In order for anyone to go straight along a road, he must have some knowledge of the end… Above all it is necessary when hard and rough is the road, heavy the going, but delightful the end” (3a. 45, 1).
Jesus knew who He was, the beloved Son of the Father and the Spirit rested upon Him.
Knowing where we are going strengthens our determination. Thomas adds that an archer wouldn’t shoot straight is he didn’t see the target. What is the target that we are aiming for? Where is the journey going?
Thomas explains that through our adoption as God’s children, we begin a process of being conformed to the image of His Son: “The adoption of sons of God is through a certain conformity of image to the natural Son of God” (3a. 45, 4). The Father is conforming us in the image of the Son.
Thomas shows that this process of our conformity into the image of the Son occurs in two ways. These are represented by two moments of Jesus’ life: His Baptism and His Transfiguration.
Thomas reflects that this process begins in our own baptisms: “In Baptism… we acquire grace” (3a. 45, 4). The process of our being formed in the image of the Son reflects the Trinitarian nature of Jesus’ Baptism:
Just as in the Baptism, where the mystery of the first regeneration was proclaimed, the operation of the whole Trinity was made manifest, because the Incarnate Son was there, the Holy Ghost appeared under the form of a dove and the Father made Himself known in the voice” (3a. 45, 4, ad 2).
Our conformity to Christ is also a Trinitarian process. Thomas explains that the visible manifestation of the Spirit was the dove at Christ’s Baptism, “in order to show forth Christ’s authorship over the grace given through spiritual rebirth.” This was confirmed by the Father’s declaration that Christ was His Son, “so that others might be born again in the likeness of His only begotten Son.” (1a. 43, 7, ad 6)
Our conformity to the image of the Son is imperfect,. Thomas says that we are moving “by the grace of the wayfarer, which is imperfect conformity” (3a. 45, 4). We are in process. Thomas recalls John’s First Letter: “We are now the sons of God, and it has not appeared what we shall be; we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn 3:2).
Thomas calls our attention to the fact that the voice of the Father declaring that Jesus is His Son is heard in both the Baptism and the Transfiguration: “The words are to be understood of God’s eternal speaking, by which God the Father uttered the only-begotten and co-eternal Word” (3a. 45, 4 ad 1).
The words are the same in each occasion, yet Thomas points out that they are “not for the same purpose, but in order to show the diverse modes in which men can be partakers of the likeness of the eternal Sonship” (3a. 45, 4 ad 1).
Thomas teaches that the imperfect stage of the wayfarer eventually leads to the perfect stage in glory: “Christ came to give grace actually and to promise glory by His words” (3a. 45, 4) (3a. 45, 4).
This second conformity is indicated by the Transfiguration, in which the Trinity is also present: “The Father in the voice, the Son in the man, the Holy Spirit in the bright cloud” (3a. 45, 4, ad 2).
Thomas says that “It was fitting that He should show His disciples the glory of His brightness, which is to be transfigured, to which He will transfigure those who are His” (3a. 45, 1). Even our bodies will be transformed as Paul writes: “He will change the body of our lowliness to be fashioned like His glorious body” (Phil 3:21).
According to Thomas, Christ wished to be transfigured to show us His glory to stir up a desire for it (3a. 45, 3).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae give the part of the Summa, which, in these references, is the third part. This is followed by the question, which in these references is question 45, with one reference to 43. Thirdly are the articles from which the quotations are taken. Those from question 45 are from articles 1, 3, 4 and 7. If the reference is to Thomas’ response to an objection that he raised in the beginning of the article, it is identified as “ad” (the Latin for “to”) followed by the number of the objection.