Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone. There in their presence he was transfigured: his face shone like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared to them; they were talking with him. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘it is wonderful for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ He was still speaking when suddenly a bright cloud covered them with shadow, and from the cloud there came a voice which said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him.’ When they heard this the disciples fell on their faces, overcome with fear. But Jesus came up and touched them. ‘Stand up,’ he said ‘do not be afraid.’ And when they raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus.
As they came down from the mountain Jesus gave them this order, ‘Tell no one about the vision until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.’
In today’s gospel reading we celebrate the moment when, in the presence of three of his Apostles, Jesus was transfigured. In the Incarnation God hid himself under the poverty of created human flesh, on the mountain, for a few moments, Jesus let his true self be seen.
In his life, the Servant of God Joseph De Piro went through a similar ‘transfiguration.’ He who was born in a sheltered family, the seventh son of wealthy noble parents, chose to put everything behind him and transfigure himself into an image of poverty. His mother Ursola is often quoted a saying ‘here comes my beggar.’ I am sure she did not say this out of embarassment, because she fully supported his ministry and was totally behind his missionary ideals and works of poverty.
As a young man, Joseph was handsome and very sociable, to the extent that his father thought that he would not be able to live the life of a priest, an so stopped him from pursuing this vocation. Instead he started studying to become a lawyer, with the aim of being able to reach out and be of service to those who could not afford proper legal representation.
He was quite an accomplished young artist, as his surviving drawings can attest. He spent time in the militia where, because of his noble background, he could easily risen through the ranks to a respectful and important commanding position. As a lawyer and a son of the nobility, he could even have entered politics and ran a successful career there, either as a lay person or as a priest. At that stage there were even priests involved in politics.
As a seminarian, he was being strongly encouraged by his bishop and by the rector at the Capranica to continue his studies and become a Church diplomat, which could have easily meant becoming a bishop and an apostolic nuntio, a very important position in the Church.
Instead he set all this aside to live together with the poor, share their meals with the poor orphan boys and girls we worked with. When he died, they even found that his undergarments were made of the same coarse material as that worn by the orphans.
At the transfiguration Jesus let his divinity be seen. Joseph hid his nobility under his poverty.