As I was dressing this morning to celebrate Mass for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus, I was listening to the news. There was a report about the 69th anniversary of the first detonation of an atomic bomb in warfare. Ican never remember reflecting on the coincidence of these two observances in the past. Ihad already prepared my homily for the Mass and I didn't really have time to mention the Hiroshima anniversary in any reflected way, so I simply chose to ignore it in the Mass and move on with my planned celebration and preaching (largely about the Glory of God not being contained in one place, but rather in the person of Jesus. We, as his disciples are called to experience and receive that Glory and make it available to others), but throughout the day, I have come back time and time to the obvious connection between Hiroshima and the Mount of Transfiguration: LIGHT. Mark's Gospel tells us that when Jesus was transfigured, "his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach the.." (Mk 9:3). In other words, imagine the whitest you could imagine and multiply it. Every photographic or filmed image I have ever seen of a nuclear explosion might be described in the same way: dazling. Eyewitnesses to the Hiroshima explosion speak of the brillance of the light that preceded the boom. Colonel Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the Hiroshima Bomb, said that the "whole sky was lit up with prettiest blues and pinks" he had ever seen.
The light of Mt. Tabor was the same light that "sun-burned" Moses' face on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34); the light of the Burning Bush; the same light that guided the people of Israel through their 40 year wilderness trek, the light that entered the Temple of God: the Shekinah - The Glorious indwelling presence of God. Perhaps it is the light that created the photo-negative effect on the Shroud of Turin. That light was a powerful sign of God's presence and could be destructive to God's enemies, but in the Transfiguration, it becomes a powerful sign of the power of God's Word at work in Jesus of Nazareth, the fulfilment of the Law and the Profits. It is ultimately the most constructive force in creation.
For me, the dazzling light of Hiroshima is the utter antithesis of the light of the Transfiguration. The harnessing of that kind of power would necessarily lead to its use in war. The development of atomic weapons would be our reaching for the power of God, himself. Steven Spielberg touched on these themes in the "Raiders of the Lost Ark." The Nazis in that movie wanted the most powerful light on earth in order to destroy their enemies. They sought out the power of God's Glory, knowing that it would be the most potentially destructive. As a movie goer, I am to be offended by that kind of arrogance. These destroyers of the Jews will harness the power of the Jews to do their bidding. Oh those silly, silly Nazi's: that arrogance would lead to their own destruction. But Steven Spielberg's fantasy got one thing wrong: it was not the Nazis that opened the Ark. It was us. The United States remains the only government on the planet who has ever unleashed the power of a split atom anywhere other than in a laboratory. We remain the only people who have ever used the "dazzling light" as a weapon against an actual human population. More than 100K people died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki the days the bombs were dropped, the destructive power of atomic weaponry continued to wreak havoc of years. As a child of the Cold War era, I am also keenly aware of the utter fear created in a whole generation by the awareness of the destructive power of these weapons (no longer merely a theory after the Feast of the Transfiguration 1945). Even today, how much of our foreign policy resources go into making sure no one else gets access to that power?
Self preservation has prevented us from ever reaching for that kind of power again. The madness of "mutually assured destruction" has kept the lid on the Ark since 1945. But one wonders how long this will be true. The call of the Transfiguration is for us to listen to Jesus. Jesus calls us to forsake power in favor of humilty; To seek union and build connections; to passively endure injury instead of seeking to overwhelm with power. Wee who profess to be sons and daughters of the light are called by Jesus to find of blessedness in Peacemaking, to harness the power of God's light to bring light to the world. We are called to be that City on a Hill (in a Jesus sort of way- not a Reagan sort of way). We are called by the Word of God to let that light shine before others that they can see our good works and give praise to our heavenly Father who makes those works possible.
On this Transfiguration day, let us pray for the grace to harness the light of Christ, so that the only dazzling white lights in our future will be our works inspired by Jesus.
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP
Fr. Bart Hutcherson, OP is a Roman Catholic Priest & a Friar of the Dominican Province of the Most Holy Name of Jesus-USA. He is on the Pastoral Staff at Most Holy Rosary Parish in Antioch, California, and uses this page to post Homilies and Scripture reflections.