Transfiguration of Christ, Paolo Veronese, 1555-56
Cathedral of Santa Maria, Montagnana, Italy [Web Gallery of Art]
A reflection by Maryknoll Fr William Grimm, publisher of ucanews.com, based in Tokyo. [5 August 2015]
August 6, besides being a feast of the Church, Transfiguration, is a terrible anniversary in human history.
Seventy years ago, at 8:15 on the morning of August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb exploded over Hiroshima, Japan.
Eyewitnesses to nuclear explosions describe them in terms similar to those used in the New Testament description of Jesus’ transfiguration, as a light as bright as the sun. However, in Hiroshima and three days later in Nagasaki, the light was followed by darkness as a cloud of smoke, dust and debris covered the sky.
The Hiroshima bombing was the first-ever use of an atomic weapon, and marked the beginning of decades of terror as various nations have joined the so-called ‘nuclear club’ and others work to develop their own nuclear weapons.
In fact, it is little-known that during World War II, Japan was also working to develop such a weapon at the Nishina Laboratory in Tokyo.
Uranium ore for the project was reportedly shipped by submarine from Europe, but the shipment never arrived and an incendiary raid on Tokyo by American B-29 bombers eventually destroyed the research facility on April 13, 1945. (The Nishina Laboratory continues to conduct nuclear research today in a suburb north of Tokyo.)
Though nuclear weapons have not been used since the two bombings in 1945, every one of us has been contaminated as nuclear tests and accidents have polluted our land, air, food, water and bodies with radioactivity. Radioactive pollution is so pervasive that in order to produce radiation-free medical tools, a fleet of sunken German warships from World War I has been ‘mined’ for their pre-atomic age steel.
We all suffer as incredible amounts of talent and treasure are wasted on weapons of mass destruction instead of being used to build solutions to poverty, ignorance, disease, environmental degradation, fear and hatred.
Yet, violence seems to be a part of our makeup. Whether we are children hitting one another, or nations warring against each other, or criminals attacking rivals or terrorists attacking strangers, humankind can legitimately be described as a violent species. Much of what passes for ‘entertainment’ is a glorification of violence. And, even though we use the verb ‘play’ to describe them, many of our sports and the attitudes of players and spectators are anything but playful.
Glorified children of God or demonic murderers — which are we? Are we both? The title ‘Killer Angels’ captures our plight.
Might the light of the transfiguration of Jesus before Peter, James and John offer us something to answer the brightness that ends in darkness for our violence-clouded world?
We must not forget that the one who was glorified on the mountain was the man Jesus. If it could happen to him, it could happen to us. Since God has created us for glory, living as glory-bound daughters and sons of God should be easy for us. It is what we are made for.
Yet, one of the mystifying things about us is that we devote so much energy to being what we are not.
Turning away from our brothers and sisters, turning away from God and turning away from our true selves presumably require extra effort. Yet, we (or to be more specific, I) continue to live the difficult way, the way of self-centredness, the way of selfishness, the way of competition, the way of violence.
The atomic bomb shows what we can be. The transfiguration of Jesus and this feast show us how we should be. If we could accept our destiny and live true to it, what a difference it would make for us and the world!
So, what would living toward glory look like? The life of Jesus, the transfigured one, shows us. Such a life would be at the disposal of others, the life of a servant. It would be a life in which violence toward others, including the quiet violence of using others for our own ends, would be unthinkable. It would be a life of confidence that God's love is stronger than anything we might fear, even death.
Can we live such a life? One man has, and his living it has opened the way to glory for us all.
August 6 shines a bright light on our possibilities both as a human race and as individuals. As individuals, nations and a world, we must choose the path of glory lest we go down the path of destruction.
Transfiguration of Christ, Unknown Cretan icon painter, c.1550
Ikonen-Museum, Recklinghausen, Germany [Web Gallery of Art]