Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary - Homilies

"Lent: a time to reflect on our mountain-top Experiences"

2nd Sunday of Lent
Fr. Joseph Palermo
March 16th, 2014
Year A

I really enjoy mountain vacations.  When I’m driving towards mountains, I love to pull over on the side of the road and take in their beauty from a distance.  The long-distance view of a mountain range is breathtaking.  When I finally reach the mountains and ascend to the top, I love the panoramic view from above.  It’s awesome to see landscape for miles in every direction:  valleys, lakes, and a myriad of colors.  Actually I don’t know which I enjoy more:  looking at mountains from a valley below, or being atop a mountain and taking in the view from above.  I think I probably like the views from below and from above equally well.

In our lives, figuratively speaking, we have both mountain-top and valley experiences.  Most of our lives are lived in the valley.  The valley is the place of the ordinary:  family life, child-rearing, work, chores, school, fixing meals and washing dishes.  There’s a simplicity and routineness to the ordinary stuff of life.  But there are also mountain-top moments in life – moments of grace that pull us out of our routine:  a walk in the park on a pretty day, a comfy chair where we read a good book, a trip to the beach, a vacation, a Super Bowl victory, a spiritual retreat, and an hour of peaceful prayer.

In the Scriptures, mountains are often the place of life-altering experiences with God.  Atop a mountain, Abraham was prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac when the angel interrupted him and said God truly knew how devoted Abraham was to God.  God appeared to Moses in a burning bush on a mountain and gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on a mountain, acts which changed the lives of Moses and the people of Israel forever.  Elijah encountered God in a tiny whispering sound inside a cave on a mountain.  And in today’s gospel, Jesus and three of his closest friends, Peter, James and John, had a powerful encounter with God atop a mountain in an experience that we call the Transfiguration.

Here’s the background to the Transfiguration:  Jesus knew that his death was getting close.  The opposition from the Jewish religious leaders was mounting.  Jesus wanted to pass the torch of his mission to his disciples before he died.  The disciples had seen many miracles that Jesus performed – on people who were blind, deaf, lame and mute.  Seeing all the miracles had caused Peter to say about Jesus, “You are the Son of God.”  But Jesus also knew that the common form of death in the Roman Empire was crucifixion, and he understood that his crucifixion would stun and deflate his disciples.  Would they stay together once they saw Jesus brutally killed, or out of fear or disillusionment, would they scatter?  Were the miracles and signs which they already had witnessed sufficient to preserve the group and the mission?

Jesus wanted to ensure that his disciples would not disband after his death.  So he brought the group leaders to the top of a mountain where he was transfigured before their eyes:  he changed completely in appearance; his face and clothes became dazzling white; he appeared in his glory, leaving no doubt about his divine nature.  Moses and Elijah, giants of the Judaic Faith but long-dead, appeared alive and were conversing with Jesus on the mountain.  And then the heavens opened and the voice of God the Father proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”  This was a light-and-sound spectacular to end all others.

Peter’s response was understandable, “Let’s set up tents and move in up here.”  When we have a profound experience in life, and especially a profound experience of God, we don’t want it to end.  Who wants a vacation or retreat to end so they can go back to doing dishes?  But the experience did end, and Jesus led his disciples down the mountain and back to the valley.  And he said to them, “Don’t reveal this vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  It was time to get back to the hard work of salvation:  preaching and teaching about the kingdom of God, healing the sick, and, most challenging of all, dying on the cross.

Hopefully all of us have had some kind of extraordinary mountain-top experience of God in our lives.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote about such experiences:  “Whenever someone has the grace of a strong experience of God, it is something similar to what the disciples experienced during the Transfiguration.  For a moment they experience what the happiness of paradise will be like.”

The truth is we need mountain-top experiences in life as much as we need to live in the valley.  We must learn to savor the extraordinary moments God sends us:  to treasure vacations and retreats and the fragrant smell of roses and the awesome sight of a newborn baby.  We also must learn to see God in the ordinary stuff of life:  in changing diapers, running errands, driving in heavy traffic and returning phone messages.  Even in life’s hurts, disappointments and humdrum, God is present and acting.  God is present in the ordinary and the extraordinary parts of life.  We can’t afford to miss seeing God in either place.

The Season of Lent is a special time to sharpen our ability to see God.   It is a time to ask God for the grace of seeing him at work in the ordinary stuff of life.  It is also a time to reflect about our mountain-top experiences.  It is an ideal time to recognize the extraordinary, transfiguring experience that happens at every mass:  bread becomes the Lord’s body and wine becomes his blood.  We are invited to soak in the awe and glory of that transformation.

In these sacred days of Lent, O Lord, we ask that you let us find you in all things:  the spectacular and the ordinary, the mountains and the valleys of our lives.


Fr. Joseph Palermo is a priest for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, Louisiana.
He serves serves as spiritual director at Notre Dame Seminary and spiritual advisor for the St. Thomas More Catholic Lawyers Association.


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