Reflection on Simon Peter
Matthew 17:1-3 “Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. He was transfigured before their eyes. His face became as dazzling as the sun, his clothes as radiant as light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them conversing with him.”
This episode in the Bible, no matter which Gospel it appears in, has always puzzled me, in fact, meditating on it when praying the rosary is something I haven’t been able to do in the past. This story of the Transfiguration appears also in the Gospels of Mark and Luke, and in the first chapter of the second letter of St. Peter, there is an allusion to the event. Before the Transfiguration occurs, we read that Peter made his profession of faith where he answered for himself and presumably for the other apostles when he said “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Peter’s profession of faith occurred at Caesaria Phillipi which is situated 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It is the location of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River. If you remember the scene that now Bishop Barron showed us on one of the Catholicism videos, it is a lush area with a large waterfall and a pool of water at the base surrounded by rocks.
So what went on in the six days between Peter’s profession of faith and the Transfiguration? We could imagine that after a period of rest and teaching of the Apostles at Caesaria Phillipi, Jesus and his disciples began the journey to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths. The Transfiguration occurred on Mt. Thabor, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, about 5 miles south-east of Nazareth and 11 miles west of the Sea of Galilee, quite a walk from Caesaria Phillipi.
The common name, feast of Tabernacles — among Greek-speaking Jews skenopegia, that is, “the pitching of the tent” (John 7:2) — recalls to mind the custom established by the law of Leviticus 23:40, of erecting on the roofs of houses, and even in streets and public squares, booths of branches and foliage, wherein all who were not exempt through illness or weakness were obliged to live during the entire celebration.
The story of the Transfiguration includes a suggestion of Simon Peter that he build three booths for Jesus and His heavenly visitors. Much has been said about his reasons for requesting to build those structures. So often, you will hear people say, “Oh that Peter, always wanting to be helpful” or some such statement.
But I have another suggestion, which may or may not be correct. In order to explain my suggestion, I have to tell you of an experience I had a couple of years ago in 2015.
My youngest sister, Jill, had been admitted to the hospital on a Monday, because she was bleeding from her kidneys. Over the course of six days, Jill received 5 units of blood. I visited with her almost everyday and called her often on the phone.
On Friday night, five days after Jill had been admitted, I decided to spend the night at the hospital. A visit earlier in the day led me to believe that things were not improving, but were getting worse, and I was more worried than I had been before. I called the Church that evening to ask for a priest to anoint my sister, but was required to leave a message. Fr. Sang called my home after midnight, and the next evening did visit and anoint Jill. I took a couple of rosaries with me to the hospital – one for me, which I carry in my purse, and one for Jill. My sister wasn’t sleeping during her stay, and I thought that praying the rosary aloud with the quiet repetition of the words would lull her to sleep. And it is always a benefit and a blessing to ask for Our Lady’s help.
All the lights were off in the room, as I settled down for the night. I had left the bathroom door cracked just a bit, so I could find my way in the dark. Jill seemed to be resting, though not asleep when I started to pray the rosary. I hadn’t gotten that far in the prayers when I looked over to Jill’s bed to see if she was sleeping yet. Next to her bed on the far side stood my parents, praying with me. My dad died in 2005 and my mom in 2008, so they had been gone quite a few years. Their presence in Jill’s room didn’t frighten me, in fact, I wondered if my other two sisters, who had also passed away, were also present, but just standing in a place where I couldn’t see them. I turned back to praying the rosary.
So what happened that night? Did I have a vision? Was I taking a part in some kind of religious experience? It wasn’t a dream as I was wide awake and didn’t sleep at all that night. I was just praying the rosary. Something happened in Jill’s room that night to which I was an observer. I was not scared or confused at what I saw, and yet I didn’t do what might have been considered normal – I didn’t wave or speak to my parents, although I have missed them terribly. I didn’t get up to see if my sisters, Jean and Christine, were also there, but out of my sight.
So – what does this have to do with Peter, James and John at the Transfiguration? Why did Peter ask if he should build three booths – one for Jesus, one for Elijah and one for Moses? Perhaps, like me, those three men were wrapped up in, or inside of a religious experience. They spoke and acted as they might be expected to speak and act in a normal, everyday experience. As far as they knew – just like me, what they were experiencing was absolutely normal. As a leader of the group and someone who was a faithful and observant Jew, Peter did what would have been required for the Feast of Booths – build a shelter for the three men. Until God the Father spoke, none of the men were afraid of what they were seeing.
I know that there are no words for describing what happened to me or to the three Apostles on that mountain. But speaking of this experience, thinking about it, makes it easier for me to understand why Peter would have offered to build the booths and even why he asked if he, too, could walk on the water during the storm. Who would do that in normal life?
Nothing is as it seems, and yet the person experiencing the phenomena doesn’t realize until later that something “unreal”, something out of our normal experience, has happened.
As for my sister – she was anointed by Fr. Sang on Saturday evening. The next morning, before attending the 11AM Sunday Mass, I went to the hospital to see Jill. When I had left her Saturday morning, the catheter bag was full and the blood was dark, thick and very red – I had even remarked to the nurse about it. On Sunday morning the catheter bag was absolutely clear. Jill returned to her home that afternoon. A miracle had occurred. The anointing, the praying of Mary’s rosary, the presence of my parents praying for her as well – perhaps all of that contributed to her healing.