The Transfiguration of Jesus: Illuminating Parts Through the Luminous Mysteries

Jun 21, 2023

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

I am so glad to bring you Dr. Gerry’s fifth weekly reflection in his series on the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary, as he brings together the psychological and spiritual in ways that support both human formation and spiritual growth.

In this reflection, Dr. Gerry employs systems theory and parts work to deepen our understanding of both the experience of the Transfiguration and of our human natures in our fallen condition with glimpses of the glorious hope of our own ‘inner transfiguration.’


The Transfiguration of Jesus: Illuminating Parts through the Luminous Mysteries

By Gerry Crete, Ph.D.

The Fourth Luminous Mystery is described in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. In the Transfiguration, Jesus takes his apostles Peter, James, and John up a mountain where he appears to them in radiant glory. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. (Matthew17:2) With excitement, terror, and impulsive readiness, Peter offers to build tents to offer hospitality to Moses and Elijah, whose appearance at Jesus’ side must have been quite an unexpected and shocking surprise.

Moses is the great lawgiver chosen by God to deliver the Ten Commandments and to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Elijah is the renowned prophet who raised a child from the dead and boldly defeated the prophets of Baal in a dramatic, fiery face off. The mountain top Transfiguration of Jesus becomes a meeting place between the natural and supernatural realms. Jesus is the connecting figure between the temporal and the eternal. In this moment, Jesus’ true divine identity becomes clear. Without a doubt, he is revealed as God’s true son.

Through the Lens of Parts

In the Transfiguration, Jesus represents the inmost self, with Moses and Elijah representing unburdened parts literally coming from heaven. Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. There’s an integration and a balance between the law, which brings about order, and the prophets, which brings about repentance and renewal in the Spirit.

Peter, James and John, not expecting to see Jesus’ full divinity revealed in such an awesome manner, are overwhelmed by this manifestation and its powerful glory. They are in fact fearful, and they become emotionally dysregulated. At first Peter does try to do something, always the man of action, so like a manager part he tries to figure out if he should set up a tent. He misses the point just as our own manager parts often get very busy and miss the important thing that is happening in the here and now. We may become so busy that we fail to connect with God, and even fail to recognize his transcendence and beauty when it’s right in front of us. We are easily overwhelmed.

It is fitting that God the Father and the Holy Spirit appear again as this is a deeply relational and Trinitarian moment. The Father’s voice echoes his words spoken at Jesus’ baptism: Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7).

Jesus’ identity is again revealed and reaffirmed. This time God the Father adds the command, “listen to him.” The apostles are being called to listen and to respond to what Jesus is asking of them. Jesus is clearly now the heir of the law and the prophets, taking the next step in assuming his role of king and savior.

Like Jesus, the higher, regenerated and inmost self also assumes the role of heir of the law and the prophets. In this he completely embraces the law (the teacher of morality) and the prophets (the proclaimer of the will of God). He is devoted to God and God’s will because he knows it is directed to the good. His goal here is to help the parts as they realign to this new focus. The disciples, Peter, James, and John represent our various parts. Peter has enthusiasm but sometimes lacks faith. James and John are ambitious and strident, but they may at times lack love. Jesus is there to redirect them and help them become who they are truly meant to be.

Jesus’ love, and the love of each person’s inmost self, holds a key to the true transformation of all parts from their burdened roles to their unburdened and authentic states.

Managers in Training

There are many instances where Peter shows his initial excitement but fails with follow through. When Jesus invites him to walk on the water, Peter is incredulously successful at first, but soon sinks with a splash. At the last supper Peter insists that he will never deny Jesus, yet before the crock crows, he does so three times. He may be enthusiastic, but he fails in the face of fear.

Don’t we all have parts like Peter?

We are excited yet we lack follow through.

We are ready for a full commitment but then we bail.

We play the part of a committed disciple, but in reality, we are undependable and unreliable.

James and John are described as the “sons of thunder” and some scholars believe they were zealots, political activists. They may have been encouraging a major overthrow of the Roman Empire and liberation of the Jewish people. They were ready to fight. But Jesus challenges them. “Are you ready to die?” This must have been confusing for them. They are the same two apostles who asked Jesus, Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You. And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory. (Mark 10: 35b-37)

The intensity of James and John can be seen in their desire to deliver justice upon an unwelcoming town: When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But He turned and rebuked them. (Luke 9: 54-55)

Authentic Humility to Know Our True Identity

We too have enthusiastic parts, ambitious parts, holier than thou parts, self-righteous parts, and crusader parts. We want to change the world, take down our enemies and rise in glory. Jesus turns this all on its head. He actually tells them they need to die to self in order to be glorified. Jesus says that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45). It is the role of the higher or inmost self to help these parts embrace humility. This humility is not shame and not self-depredation. It is quite the opposite. It is accepting one’s true identity which is rooted in God who is love. In this way we become truly alive. We can affirm with Jesus that he is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is God not of the dead, but of the living. (Matthew 22:32) Moses and Elijah appear with him alive! The apostles, like us, are called to new life and to become transformed.

Unburdening for Transformation

We see that the apostles are transformed. Peter must be unburdened from his impulsivity and his fear. James and John must be unburdened from their aggression and ambition. Jesus is gentle and patient with them. He knows it is a process that will take time.

Peter is notoriously impulsive. He acts before he thinks. His faith is challenged on numerous occasions, and he fails. He refuses to allow Jesus to wash his feet until Jesus insists that he can’t inherit the kingdom otherwise, then he asks Jesus to wash his whole body! He is a man full of energy and life. He wins big and falls big. Despite his big words, he denies Jesus three times. Peter is also the one who repents – unburdened by the absolute love and mercy of Jesus – and is seen running to the empty tomb to greet Jesus. He becomes a leader, a fisher of men, and he embraces Jesus’ threefold command to “feed his sheep.” Jesus appropriately renamed him from Simon to Peter which means “rock” or “precious stone” as Peter becomes the leader and spokesman of the Church. He founds churches in both Antioch and Rome. With the apostles John and James the Just, he is called a “pillar of the Church.”

James and John suffer several rebukes from Jesus in their burdened states, notably in the occasions when they requested the heavenly fire of justice, when they forbid a non-disciple from exorcising demons, and when they requested the highest seats of honor in the new Kingdom. In the process of being unburdened, they are specifically chosen to witness the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the Transfiguration, and Jesus’ agony in the garden.

John and Peter are sent to make the preparations for the Last Supper. They follow Jesus after his arrest when he meets with the high priest. John and Peter heal a lame man after Jesus’ Ascension. They are both thrown in prison and visit Samaria to see new converts.

John is described as the “beloved apostle,” and he leans against Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper. He is the only apostle at the foot of the cross. At Jesus’ request he takes Jesus’ mother Mary under his care. He is the first one at the tomb of Jesus. He is the disciple “whom Jesus loved as a brother.” The son of thunder becomes beloved and becomes a man who loves authentically.

James also becomes a traveler, pilgrim and preacher. A natural and spiritual change happens to each of the apostles after experiencing the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Peter, James, and John all experience radical transformations as they encounter Christ, unburden their fears, ambitions, and agendas, and accept and grow into their true identities.

Reflection Questions

  1. Moses and Elijah may represent an integration of law (order) and prophets (spirit) in the self-system.
    • Within our self-system, do we have a balance between discipline and spontaneity?
    • Between following rules and responding from the heart?
    • Between justice and mercy?
  2. Do we allow our justice-oriented parts to dominate, or do we allow our merciful parts to dominate?
    • Are we too rigid or too loose?
    • Can we commit to listening to both parts and allow the inmost self to lead in making decisions? 
  3. Have we seen growth and change in our parts over time?
    • How has that unfolded? How does it relate to encountering Christ in our lives?
    • How does it relate to discovering our true identity? How do we support our parts when they are fearful? 

Join us next week as we explore our parts with the Fourth Luminous Mystery: Jesus’ Institution of the Eucharist!

I welcome any thoughts, critiques, and new insights. Feel free to reach out to me with your comments at [email protected]


Once again, thank you Dr. Gerry, for sharing your insights and models with us in such a creative way.

Be With the Word for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time – How to triumph over fear

Come join Dr. Gerry and me for a 42-minute discussion on the difference between courage and fearlessness and how to grow in courage in our episode for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Dr. Gerry and I read the Mass readings for this Sunday aloud here.

Interior Integration for Catholics podcast

Join Catholic IFS therapists Marion Moreland, Jody Garneau, and me in this 78-minute episode titled Unburdening in Internal Family Systems — A Catholic Discussion for an in-depth conversation about unburdening, informed by Internal Family Systems and grounded in a Catholic understanding of the human person. We explore three kinds of burdens — personal burdens, legacy burdens, and unattached burdens (the IFS equivalent of demons). Providing examples from our own lives, we emphasize the importance of felt safety and protection for all parts, and we discuss the role of attachment theory in unburdening. In our Q&A with our live audience, we discuss how to better connect with “hiding parts” as well.

The Resilient Catholics Community

Perhaps you’ve been considering joining us in the RCC – but you’re not sure. Maybe you have concerns about the investment – of time, of effort, of money, of relational connections. Maybe you have other concerns. Doubts and anxiety about joining the RCC are not at all uncommon. That’s why I created this 19-minute experiential exercise to help you in the process of discernment.

We don’t use any high-pressure techniques and we don’t use manipulative tactics to try to “sell” the RCC to anyone. Rather, we invite those who sense a call to join us, a call to work on their human formation in a deliberate, structured, consistent way. The RCC is not for everyone. The RCC is for those who resonate with these weekly reflections, who appreciate the Interior Integration for Catholics podcast, who gravitate toward the experiential exercise, and who are seeking an adventure in our pilgrimage to better human formation, who want to shore up the natural foundation for the spiritual life, who want to overcome their obstacles in the natural realm to embracing authentic love.

Read about the RCC at our landing page.  Bear in mind that applying to the RCC is just a first step in a longer discernment process to determine if the RCC is a good fit for you – you can apply and decide later not to join or to join at a future time. But you can’t join without applying.

Once you register, you’ll go through a 60-day onboarding process, including taking our PartsFinder Pro (PFP). RCC staff will share with you our hypotheses about the specific parts in your inner world – there’s no other process like this available anywhere else. Take a look at these downloadable PDFs for a sample (fictional) PFP report for a man and a woman.

You’ll have an opportunity to review your PFP results with either Marion Moreland (for the women) or me (for the men). The report is yours to use as is helpful for you. Many RCC applicants share their PFP reports with their therapists, spiritual directors, coaches, and others.

RCC testimonials

Our RCC member Elizabeth shared this 2-minute video about her experience in the RCC – I invite you to take in what she has to say about her experience in the RCC.

Check out what RCC member Jessica Knowles has to say about her experience of the RCC:

I have been a member of the Resilient Catholics Community since October 2022.

I believe the RCC and Dr. Peter are truly doing the Lord’s work for myself (and others like me), who have wounds that need deep, transformative healing.

The RCC has helped me start to find freedom from lifelong habits that (despite many years of various modalities of therapy) were negatively impacting the relationships with those I love most (including and most importantly, myself). The RCC has brought me closer to God, my guardian angel, and our Blessed Mother and through the growth in this intimacy, I am feeling a sense of peace and freedom in my life, that I honestly believed I’d never have here on earth.

I don’t actually have enough words to illustrate what the RCC is, but I can’t thank Dr. Peter enough for his rootedness in our faith, his talents around synthesizing quality human formation resources, and his attention to detail. I have learned so much and recommend the RCC to every Catholic I encounter. ~ Jessica Knowles

Thank you for sharing your experience, Jessica. This is from J. Conrad, about his experience in the RCC:

I was intrigued when my therapist started introducing me to the concept of IFS and parts, but I was completely lost when trying to apply it to myself.  After a few months listening to Dr. Peter’s podcast and continued discussions with my therapist, I decided to join the RCC.  The RCC combined with continued work with my therapist helped me to go from understanding the theory of IFS to applying it to myself and getting to know my parts through experiential exercises.  The accountability that came with walking the journey with other men was also extremely helpful.  I don’t think I would have gotten nearly as far without those men.  Getting to know my parts was difficult work, but I’m seeing the fruits everywhere.  I have more compassion for myself, I have a MUCH better understanding and appreciation for the good intentions behind many of the behaviors that I didn’t like about myself.  I even discovered a correlation between a part and mild, chronic headaches.  Now when I notice that headache sensation, I can spend some time with that part and usually the headache sensation subsides.  The best part is that in having greater understanding and compassion for myself and my parts, my capacity for love and compassion towards others and their parts is slowly growing.  This is by far the greatest gift.~ J. Conrad

And from one of our original RCC members, in our first cohort, this sharing from Bridget Adams:

For years my deep desire for increased well-being, for healing of wounds and for healthy relationships led me to spiritual healing retreats, charismatic healing Masses, deliverance prayers, dozens of recommended books, traditional pilgrimages… These resources and prayers bore great fruit, yet a major piece of my puzzle was not falling into place. Turns out, I had unknowingly neglected to address healing from past trauma and relational injuries on a ‘natural’ level. Discovering Dr. Peter’s podcast and weekly emails and finding so much connection gave me the courage to take a chance in joining the fledgling RCC community in late 2021. The first year’s formation, weekly online meetings with my company members, and daily check-ins with my ‘parts’ provided the structure and safety I needed to begin learning to ‘know and to love’ myself in an authentic way. The second year’s ongoing formation has helped me break into even deeper levels of healing. I am eternally grateful for Souls and Hearts, the RCC, and my friends within. Highly recommend. ~ Bridget Adams

So, if it is on your heart to join us on our journey in the RCC, reach out and let us know. Again, here is our landing page

You are more than welcome to reach out to me on my cell at 317.567.9594 or via email at crisis@soulsandhearts.com with any questions. Marion Moreland, our lead navigator in the RCC is also ready and willing to connect with you about the RCC discernment process and she can be reached at her cell at 304.503.3611.

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

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