On the basis of the ancient sources about Jesus—the Gospels and the New Testament letters— nearly nothing is known about Jesus’ interior life. We know very little directly about what Jesus experienced from within, or how he prayed, or how he concentrated his mind, or controlled his desires, and so on. Like his exterior appearance, his interior life remains hidden in a cloud of unknowing. What we can know of Jesus’ spiritual life is what shows up in his words and deeds: his wisdom and penetrating intellect; his compassion and mercy to sinners; his strong sense of justice and speaking the truth fearlessly; his unassailable commitment to his mission; his fidelity unto death to the one he called “Abba,” Father; his characteristic obedience to the spirit—rather than to the letter—of the Jewish Law and Scriptures; Christ’s loyalty to his disciples; even his refreshing sense of humor. Jesus does not speak about his interior life, and not even about how he prayed.
The visions of the Resurrected Christ show us the Man utterly transformed by divine Presence. And according to the interpretations of those granted the Resurrection visions, he is now “LORD” for all eternity. In Eastertide we will again reflect on these experiences of the Resurrected, for they are crucial to Christian faith and practice. This Sunday’s Gospel, however, gives us a foretaste of things to come: the vision of Jesus “transfigured.” St. Matthew’s account tells us that Jesus was “transfigured” (literally, changed in appearance or form) before his chosen three apostles. St. Luke alone writes that Jesus’ “face was changed” as he was praying. One may ask: Was Jesus himself changed or transfigured in his appearance, or did the chosen three apostles see him in a new light? Or both? The case can be made for both, because the texts all assert that Jesus was changed in appearance (“transfigured”); and the three accounts give various details of the Apostles’ responses, culminating in awe, so that “Peter did not even know what he was saying.”
And we may wonder: What was there about Jesus of Nazareth that so many of his contemporaries were so attracted to him as to become his disciples? Did they sense not only his deep goodness and love, but the presence of the God of Israel whom they had been worshiping all of their lives? Apparently, Jesus lived so intensely in God’s presence that it showed up in his words, deeds, and even appearance. Divine Presence in Jesus surely showed up to the three apostles who saw him “transfigured” before them. If Jesus was profoundly aware of divine presence in him and with him ( reality emphasized in St. John’s Gospel), no doubt it showed up—at least to those “who had eyes to see.” Doubts, ill-will, hatred blind a person to the presence of God in Christ or anywhere. But some saw, and believed, and followed. By faith moved by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 16), they saw what was within Jesus.
The interior life of Jesus, although not described in the New Testament, can also be known to some degree through reflection, through imitation of his way of life, and especially through personal interior experience. The Gospels—and particularly St. Luke—tells us several times that “Jesus spent the night in prayer.” What was his prayer like? In addition to his prayer-word, “Abba,” we have accounts of his prayer in Gethsemane, “Abba, let this cup [of suffering] pass by; yet not my will, but your will, be done.” We see complete and utter surrender to God’s will, even as he faces brutal torture. We also know that Christ teaches us to pray and mean, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done…”.Jesus keeps inviting each disciple to keep surrendering to the Presence of God within: “unless you deny yourself, you cannot be my disciple.” To deny oneself means: Let yourself go into God’s Presence, holding nothing back. In this state of loving surrender, God’s “Kingdom” indeed comes, as the eternal I AM fills the heart and mind of the faithful disciple. Such a life shows up in saints, as in St. Francis of Assisi, St. Theresa of Avila, St. John-Paul. They have revealed to us the interior life of Christ in them: that interior life is “the Kingdom of God come in power,” as in the Transfiguration and Resurrection of Jesus. To study the saints’ writings and deeds, and to imitate them, is to allow Christ to live his Transfigured, Resurrected life is us. In the soul of a true and generous disciple, the interior life of Jesus lives afresh, and shines through.