Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on March 16, 2019 at the 4:00pm Mass and St. Kilian Parish on March 17, 2019 at the 8:00am Mass
A young man was having trouble driving through a bad snow storm, until he remembered what his father told him, that if he ever had trouble driving in snow, he should just pull off and wait for a snow plow and then follow it, so he pulled off the road and waited. In a short while a snow plow drove by and so the young man pulled out and followed it. After an hour of driving around, the snow plow driver was fed up and got out of his truck to ask why he was being followed. The young man explained what his father had told him about what to do if he had trouble driving in snow. “OK,” replied the snow plow driver, “I’m done with the Walmart parking lot now, but if you want you can follow me to Target.” “Sure,” the young man replied, “but after that, could you swing by the Hallmark store? It’s Valentine’s Day and I need to pick up a card for my wife.”
An atheist was hiking up a mountain when he heard a noise behind him. He turned to see a very angry bear running toward him. He started running, but the bear caught up to him, knocked him down, and pinned him to the ground. As the bear was about to rip him apart, the atheist yelled, “Oh, God! Somebody save me!” Just then the bear froze, a bright light shown down on the atheist, and a voice said, “If you change your ways, God will save you.” The atheist thought for a moment, then said, “I would rather not change my ways. Couldn’t you make the bear change his ways instead?” The voice answered, “As you wish.” Then the light disappeared and the bear started moving again, no longer angry. The bear got off the atheist, knelt down, and prayed, “Bless us, O Lord, and these, thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
When we think of mountains, there are many ways we see them. We might see them as things to be conquered, like climbing Mt. Everest or Mt. Kilimanjaro. They might be scenery, like driving the turnpike through the Laurel Highlands or flying over the Rockies. Sometimes they are just a destination or a view, like visiting the Smoky Mountains or having dinner on Mt. Washington to look at downtown Pittsburgh.
But in biblical times, mountains were much more important than how we see them today. Mountains were where you went when you wanted to be close to God. That’s why in today’s gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray, to be closer to the Father. Jesus was often found on a mountain. He chose his disciples on one. He often taught there, including his most famous teachings, the Sermon on the Mount. He often prayed there, like in today’s gospel and during his Passion on the Mount of Olives. Jerusalem itself was built on a mountain, Mount Zion. Abraham went up a mountain to sacrifice Isaac and Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. All of these were places and events where God was encountered. We don’t often think of encountering God when we think of mountains.
The time of Lent is much like what the mountains were to people in biblical times, a chance to be close to God, to encounter him in a very real and personal way. It is our opportunity to spend time with the Lord and make him more a part of our everyday lives. It is our time to sit quietly and pray, and yet that is so hard for us because our lives are better suited for conquering mountains than praying.
We climb mountains and we climb the career ladder, we rip through schedules full of activities, we complete bucket lists, and we finish to-do lists. We are doers and our lives so filled with stuff that it leaves little time for us to pray. Even if we have a few spare moments with nothing to do, we panic and start looking at our phones to check the news, play a game, or watch those amazing cat videos on Facebook. Much like the disciples in today’s gospel, we can find it hard to just simply pray. In the middle of the incredible miracle of Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus, and Peter wants to construct a few tents instead of praying or reflecting on the moment. He feels the need to do something. He is also a doer and for whatever reason he selects camping as the thing to do. We have so many things that come before our relationship with the Lord, that even if we do have a few minutes for prayer, like the disciples, we might be so tired and exhausted that we might fall asleep.
We need to move our relationship with the Lord from being just scenery, or in the background of our lives, and bring it to the forefront. We need to realize how truly important it is. As we seen today in the Transfiguration, climbing a spiritual mountain and drawing near to God is transformational. It changes us, much more than dieting, exercise, self-help books, or that bew mindfulness ever will, because it changes us on the inside, it changes our hearts. It makes us who we were meant to be and allows us to shine the light of God into the world.
Our relationship with the Lord also changes the way we deal with our lives and others. During the Transfiguration, a cloud cast a shadow over Jesus and the disciples, and they entered the cloud and the disciples were frightened. Our lives are sometimes filled with dark clouds and shadows. We may face problems at work or school, and in our relationships. We may be faced with a serious illness for ourselves or a loved one, or be struggling with financial problems, addictions, or sin. The answer is to draw near to the light of God to guide us through. The Transfiguration occurs just as Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem for his passion and death. He was about to face some serious dark clouds in his life, and he draws near to the Father for the strength and the resolve to see the journey through. We need this same strength and resolve just as Jesus did.
Life is a journey, and the ultimate destination of our journey is God, and so that is where we need to be going. Every day we need to take steps in that direction. We give up things during Lent. Hopefully we give up our cellphones and cat videos, or maybe its video games or television. But whatever we give up, it gives us the opportunity to spend more time working on our relationship with the Lord.
Relationships are a journey, they take time and commitment. The more time we commit to someone, the more our relationship with them grows, and the easier it becomes to be with them and talk with them, until soon we can’t live without them. The same is true in our relationship with God. We need to remember that prayer with our Lord is a conversation, and as such we should be listening as much, or more so, than we are speaking. As the Father reminds us in today’s gospel, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Every time we climb the mountain of the Lord, we receive grace and other unique gifts that help us on our journey through life. We might not receive the gift of experiencing the Transfiguration like Peter, James, and John, but we will experience our own personal transformation and we will experience what the disciples did on that mountain – the presence of the glory of the Lord in our lives.
Our life is a journey that ends in the presence of the dazzling white light of our Lord.
Rejoice and be glad!