This Lent we will be sharing the homilies from various priests within our Diocese. This week we hear from Fr Ben D’Souza SM.
What is it in our human nature that causes us to look up towards the stars? We have this desire, this curiosity that drives us to want to know and even causes us to try to get closer to the stars. This is expressed in many forms, but the most fundamental is the desire to climb. Toddlers constantly scare their parents when they climb, or attempt to climb stairs, chairs and the like. As they grow up they practice their climbing skills at the playground, at school, or the bunk beds at home and one day will just climb up a tall tree when no one is looking. This gives them a great sense of accomplishment and they are content. Until of course they realise they can’t climb down and must call for help.
This desire to go higher doesn’t go away, teenagers will climb bigger and taller trees or scale roof tops, or go tramping in the hills and eventually mountains, the highest we can go on two feet.
Mountains have always been special as they have a certain sense of mystery. Mountains are normally hard to get to, isolated, challenging to climb and offer to those who get there a quiet place, away from the stress, anxiety and fears of daily life.
We see this desire to go higher in our readings today, and what this desire really expresses, our natural longing for God. Our God who is in the heavens!
In the first reading it is Abraham and his son Isaac going up a mountain. In the gospel we hear that Jesus goes up a high mountain with his friends Peter, James and John, His inner circle among His Apostles. He leads them up the mountain so that they could be by themselves, just the three Apostles and Jesus. They probably weren’t sure why they were climbing the mountain, presumably so that Jesus would teach them something that he didn’t want the others to know about, or to pray with them.
It is here on the high mountain that Jesus is transfigured. When he gives the Apostles a glimpse of his divinity, something to sustain them during His trial and torture. His glory literally shines through, making his clothes glow brighter than any earthly bleach could make them. This is one of the few times before the resurrection that we see Jesus’ power deliberately manifested. This is a foretaste of eternal life in Heaven, where Jesus wants us to be, with Him.
Then, suddenly on the high mountain, alongside the transfigured Jesus appear Moses and Elijah. The disciples would have known that the mountain was an important place, for both Moses and Elijah. It was when Moses climbed up mount Sinai that he conversed with God, where God gave him the 10 commandments and where he saw the face of God. It is on this same mountain that Elijah, the great prophet also had a special encounter with God. It is where God shows himself to Elijah in an unexpected way. Not in the strong wind, or in the earthquake. Not in the fire, but in the gentle breeze.
What a marvel for the Apostles watch, Jesus the messiah, conversing with Moses, Israel’s law giver, and Elijah the great prophet. It is no surprise then, that Peter, overcome with fear, awe, excitement, struggling to grasp what is happening, and in this confusion offers to build three tents. He wants this experience to last a bit longer, and who can blame him. It is completely normal for us to want to stay a bit longer when we find ourselves in a joyful situation. How many of us would love to have an extra few hours added to the long weekend away, or an extra 10 minutes added to our lunch break on a busy day. But Peter’s response is more than a search for just earthly happiness. He has seen the glory of God and he wants to prolong it. He wants to savour this extraordinary spiritual experience a bit longer. To stay there on the mountain, praying with his brother apostles, and adoring Jesus His Lord.
Peter is cut short when the clouds descend upon them and the voice from heaven says, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ Listen to Jesus, Gods only begotten son, by following the example of Moses and Elijah. By making the time in our busy lives to go to ‘our mountain’ an isolated place, a quiet place, a place of prayer and recollection. Then, in the silence, we may hear the voice of God and listen to him.
We are now in the second week of lent and this is the ideal time for us to ‘climb the mountain’. We have overcome the initial starting troubles of lent, and are now able to leave behind some of our bad habits, our worries, and able to search for the silence in which we can hear God speak. To look for Jesus transfigured in the presence of his saints. To remember Elijah’s encounter when God did not reveal himself in the great, the mighty, the strong or powerful, but in the small and humble. Today, God reveals himself in a similar way to those who listen to His word, those who ponder it, and put it into practice. Those who turn to God in prayer, strengthen their will by fasting, and by giving alms, express their love for their neighbour and their love for God.