Bringing the mountain down
Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A (Matt 17:1-9)
August 6, 2017
By Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
IF you ever go to Brekenridge, Colorado, you will see a large, round topped mountain overlooking the village. That’s Mt Quandary. It’s a 14,000 footer, and a rigorous but make-able hike, even for someone like me. I remember climbing Quandary one summer. I had to get up early to get onto the trail by 7 am. It’s about a five hour hike, but thunderstorms start rolling in during the early afternoon, so you have to get up the mountain by noon and only spend a little time on the summit. When I did it, I really hated to turn around and leave the mountain. The view was spectacular. You could see the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park to the North. You could see Pike’s Peak to the Southeast. But I didn’t want to become a human lightning rod, so I started down by one and was safely below when the storms hit the peak a couple of hours later. When I got to the bottom I had a Rocky Mountain High. I felt a real rush knowing that I had done it. For the rest of my stay in that area, I would look up at Mt. Quandary and feel that same rush, that same high, in more meanings than one.
Peter, James and John felt a huge rush on the top of a mountain in today’s Gospel. They saw Jesus there, transformed, or transfigured. His face shown like the sun. His clothes were dazzling white. Moses and Elijah were also there. “It is good for us to be here,” Peter said. “Let us pitch some tents for everyone, so we can hold on to this experience.” But they couldn’t do that. They had to leave the mountain, and rejoin the people of the world, people searching for the mountain, people searching for the experience of God.
The rush the disciples felt on the top of that mountain was infinitely better than the one I felt after climbing Mt Quandary, but not better than the feelings I have had and hopefully you have had when we sense the Presence of the Divine, the Presence of Jesus among us and within us. Sometimes we feel this Presence during a Parish Mission, or during a retreat. Sometimes we feel this Presence in Church during one of the peak celebrations of the year, Christmas, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter Sunday. Sometimes we feel this presence at special prayer events like the Taize Services, Eucharistic Adoration or XLT, the Life Teen praise, worship and adoration services. Or sometimes it will come during what might seem to be a routine event, like daily Mass (as though Christ’s offering Himself on the Cross for us could ever be routine.)
But what happens between the rushes, between the experiences? If we just live to go from one experience to the next, we’ll live in two world, the nitty gritty world of everyday life with its problems and trials, and the wonderful world of the retreat, service etc. Besides, not everyone has these experiences or has them in the same intensity. Not having these experiences does not mean that we don’t treasure the Presence of God. St. Theresa of Avila wrote that she went thirty years feeling empty and dry.
St. Theresa of Calcutta wrote something similar. She said that for many, many years she never felt God’s Presence, but He was there all the same.
Religion must be more than those wonderful experiences we may or may not have. The very word religion comes from the Latin, religo, and means being tied to God. If we Catholics are serious about our faith, we need to be tied to Jesus Christ in every aspect of our lives. We frustrate ourselves if we are holy on the mountain and everything but holy when we leave the mountain. We become bitterly disappointed when we look for feelings instead of for God.
We need to nourish the Presence of the Lord and we need to bring this Presence to others.
But how can we do it? How can we nourish His Presence in our daily lives and bring His Presence to others? That is why we have the Eucharist. That is why we have the Scripture, the Word of God. That is why we have the Mass. We receive the Eucharist to unite ourselves to Him who is our Love and to build up our commitment to Him. We read Scripture to make His Word a Living reality in our lives. We celebrate the Mass to be united again to him at the Last Supper, on Calvary, at the Resurrection. We have to worship Him daily in our homes. We need to receive Him at least once a week in communion. We need the Eucharist.
And we need to trust in Him. We need to have faith that if we are open to Him, He will draw us closer to Himself today than ever before and use us as instruments to draw others to Himself, even when we don’t feel His Presence, perhaps, especially when we don’t feel His Presence.
The Presence of the Lord, whether we feel it or not, is not ours to hoard. Christ did not come to the world to create a selfish clique of people who turn in upon themselves in all things. He came to the world to bring His Joy, His Happiness, His Peace and His Presence to all people. A religion that closes in on itself, is not religion at all. True religion lives in God’s presence and brings this presence to others. But how are we to do this? The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Micah tells us how to live our faith.
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8.
To do justice means that we treat others as God treats us. You remember the parable of the steward who was forgiven a great debt but who refused to forgive another man who owed him a pittance. The steward was condemned by the master because he was unjust. He did not treat others as God treated Him. On the opposite, the Good Samaritan is called justified because he brought God’s mercy and compassion to someone who needed help, even though that person might have grown up being taught to hate Samaritans. To do justice means to bring to others the love and compassion we have received from God.
Micah says that we are to love kindness. I am convinced that if anyone were to ask the original disciples what was Jesus like when they spent those three years with Him, they would have said, “He was kind.” I think about the woman caught in adultery. She was embarrassed. He was kind to her. I’m thinking about the little girl he rose from the dead–Tabitha. He told her parents, “She’s hungry, get her something to eat.” I’m thinking about the way he reached out to Peter, a disciple who publically denied him three times. He was too kind to give up on Peter.
Micah says that we are to walk humbly with our God. We need to point to His presence in our lives and recognize how good He has been to each of us. We need to let people know that just as His Love has overwhelmed us, He will overwhelm them. We need to walk with Him humbly recognizing who we are: sinners that He is turning into saints. We need to be happy. We do not walk alone. He is with us always, until the end of time. No one wants to joint the First Church of the Perpetual Grouch. But people do want to be with people who are sincerely happy, people who know that God is with them.
Usually at the start of the school year, teachers will ask children to write an essay or to talk about their summer. I challenge you, whether you are little children or are in Senior Show and Tell, or whether you are adults who have come to a realization of what truly matters in life, I challenge you and I challenge myself: Tell people about the mountain. Tell them about the experience of our Loving, Wonderful Savior. Speak to them in a language they can understand: Be Just, Love Kindness and Walk Humbly with God.
If we have the courage to do this, we will bring the mountain down to the valley.