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The Transfiguration: Glimpses of Heaven and Hell

This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. The feast commemorates the occasion on which Jesus appeared to three of his disciples in the full glory of his divinity.

However, seventy-six years ago, there was a transfiguration of a different kind – another blinding light when the power of the atom was unleashed in the form of a bomb and exploded in a lethal flash over the city of Hiroshima in what Pope St John Paul called “a butchery of untold magnitude”.

It is appropriate that our annual commemoration of the first nuclear attack on human life should take place on the Feast of the Transfiguration – a feast which focuses attention on the Lordship of Christ over all creation.

It is very difficult to imagine the full horror of the suffering and destruction in Hiroshima on that day. We are numb before the film clips, the paintings and eye-witness accounts of the survivors. The temperature at the centre of the Hiroshima fireball was 300,000 degrees centigrade! The survivors are called, in Japanese, Hibakuska – “those who have seen Hell”.

However, the split in the public’s understanding of the horror on the one hand and expediency on the other, is due to the fact that the concept of evil has been practically abandoned. Every culture except our own in recent times, has had such a concept. The concept of evil implies a force or forces which have to be continually struggled against so that they do not triumph over life and destroy it. One of the very first written texts, from ancient Mesopotamia, speaks of this struggle which was the first condition of human life. Nowadays, the concept of evil has been reduced to an
adjective to support an opinion or hypothesis (eg abortion, terrorism, etc).

Nobody can confront the reality of 6th August, 1945, without being forced to acknowledge that what happened was evil. It is not a question of opinion or interpretation, but of events. The memory of these events should be continually before our eyes.

Ruins of Hiroshima after the atomic bomb blast, September 1945

The anniversary of Hiroshima reminds us powerfully that what is at stake in the nuclear debate is not the technology of weaponry – how many and how powerful – but frail human flesh and whether that flesh will be allowed to continue to exist on this planet or will be incinerated in unprecedented quantities. It reminds us, too, that our first loyalty should be to those members of our own species: the poor and oppressed, the despised and rejected, the broken-hearted and confused, the exploited and imprisoned and the starving millions throughout the world. In short, those among whom Jesus lived and for whom he died and continues to die daily even in our midst. These are the first victims of nuclear war since they are already being deprived in order to pay for the arms race. In a sense, those who starve or perish for lack of food or medical care, at home or abroad, are the first casualties of nuclear war even before a missile has been fired.

This feast is a good time to reflect on what we can do to make the world a more peaceful place. The scriptures tell us that we must first turn back to God and place all our hope and trust in Him. They tell us that we will have to work much harder on behalf of our sisters and brothers everywhere. And they challenge us to lay down our fear of the “enemy” since we are all members of God’s family.

And so, as we reflect on the feast of the Transfiguration, we pray for the grace to continue to witness to the Gospel which is the lamp for lighting our way through the dark “until the dawn comes and the morning star rises in our minds”. (2 Peter 1:19).

Fr. Gerry McFlynn

Author Fr. Gerry McFlynn

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