Blaise Pascal once wrote:
“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”
The picture above, taken from the bottom portion of Rafael’s Transfiguration,could stand on its own as separate painting. As a composition, it appears to be complete. Yet even to the viewing eye, it certainly lacks something. By itself, its meaning is not clear.
Rafael intended this affect to to convey the darkness and turmoil of a world that has lost its bearing. A world bereft of Christ, becomes a world of strife, chaos, and anguish.
But, notably, although Christ is not visibly present, the gestures and expressions on people’s faces indicate that he is mysteriously present. There is a longing for peace and healing that only Christ can give.
Anyone who is familiar with the Gospel narratives knows that, in good time, Christ will dispel the demons his apostles are trying to cast out of the tormented boy. At that time we learn that they did not have to worry and wait for the Lord to come down the hill, or they wouldn’t have if only the Apostles had more faith and confidence in God. This is why the Lord allows them to struggle — to strengthen their faith.
There some things that can only be resolved through prayer and fasting.
The picture above, taken from the middle portion of the painting, depicts Peter, James, and John being aroused from their slumber when they should have been accompanying Christ in prayer. Note the men worshiping to the left of the picture. It is an indication that we must set aside times and places for prayer, especially when it is difficult. Again, the central message is faith.
Prayer is not always peaceful contemplation, a moment for tranquility, consolation, and deep interior peace. It requires faith to pray at times. Conversely, when we take time to pray in difficult moments, it strengthens our faith.
The upper part of the painting reveals the gratuitous reward of faith. In the word’s of Saint Augustine:
“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.”
Although faith requires a free act of will on our part, the power to believe does not ultimately come from us. Christian faith is a supernatural gift from God.
To accept this, we have to be humble and accept our human weakness before the power of the creator.
Sometimes we need special gifts from God, lights from heaven, that God allows us to have in order to sustain our belief. However, Christ does not want us to depend on signs and wonders. He wants us to struggle and stretch our faith in him so that we grow. When our faith grows, we can extend our faith through our testimony to others by sharing the reasons for our belief.
But again, none of this depends on us. We have to turn to Christ for answers, our works and even our prayers are futile if they are not Christ-centered.
Let’s step back now to get a look at the big picture…
Job put it almost despairingly: Life on earth is a drudgery. But Job did not see the whole picture. Our struggles in life are not a meaningless battle. We are called to work for our daily bread and do the will of God. Trust in God is essential for fruitful collaboration in God’s work, and in all things in this life.
The Church and its members always has and always will face difficult trials, as Christ promised. We should also recall Christ’s admonition that we are only united to the Church inasmuch as we are united to him through charity and prayer.
To participate more fully in the Church’s mission, we need to retreat from the quagmire of the world from time to time and unite ourselves with the militant Church in prayer. That is why the Church offers several opportunities throughout the liturgical year to put ourselves and our worries aside, to pray, fast, and give alms to the needy, and grow in our faith, fortify our souls with spiritual nourishment, and ask the Lord to reinforce the foundations of our belief.
For this we must also turn frequently to the inspired words of Holy Scripture. So I will conclude with a passage from Christ’s first vicar, whose words have been echoed by his successors to this day:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain. Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
(2 Peter 1:16-19)
A most enlightening post. I must go over to the Pinacoteca to examine that painting again 😉 God bless!
The first time I went to the Vatican Museum, I had no idea this painting was there among all the other treasures in the museum. So I was so pleasantly shocked to see it I could not tell you how long I stayed in the room viewing it. I also love the mosaic replica in St Peter’s Basilica.
God bless you too!
Very very great post! Now I will be thinking about prayer and faith all day and reading this again and again – thank you
Thank you Greg. I’m glad you liked it. God bless!
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I loved this!
Thanks, Reinkat. There’s so much to gain from contemplating Christian art. Rafael put a lot of thought into this one. It’s my favorite of his.
God bless you!
Yes, he did. Popular “wisdom”, at least in my neck of the woods where religion is disparaged (especially Christianity) is that all of these artists were secret atheists, laughing at the church while taking everything they could from that rich patron. This whole argument is belied by the careful thought and firm theological basis of most of the artwork.
The latest one I heard is Handel, in composing The Messiah, smirking as he pulled one over on the stupid church fathers, writing this opera during Lent so that it could still be perfomed then and add to his own coffers.
It is exasperating to listen to them all. They outnumber me 50 to 1 here, and are so smugly sure that they are correct.
So, thank you for this post, and others for their posts on similar topics. It gives me encouragement.
I just re-read this, wondered about deleting it, then decided to thank you one more time for letting me vent briefly. 🙂 I love your blog, always have.