Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily March 8, 2009. Jesus on the mountain. Ken Hughes SJ
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Homily March 8, 2009.  Jesus on the Mountain.  Ken Hughes, SJ

 

Last Wednesday in our Lenten Prayer Group I used a brief poem by a Polish writer, Adam Zagajewski, to begin the session.  The poem, entitled, “A Flame,” has stayed with me all week and seems appropriate both for our long winter season and for our Transfiguration Gospel today.  Zagajewski wrote:

 

“God, give us a long winter

and quiet music, and patient mouths,

and a little pride – before

our age ends.

Give us astonishment

And a flame, high, bright.”

 

I find in this poem two contrasting moods.  The first is almost despair, a giving in to the weariness of winter, the weariness of life, and wanting to be comforted by some  quiet music and good food.  And hopefully, at the end, dying with a “little pride.”  Then, in sharp contrast, the poet wakes up and shoutss, “Give us astonishment/ and a flame, high, bright.”

 

I wonder if Jesus took Peter, James, and John, up the mountain to wake them up.  There is nothing like a mountain climb to stir the blood.  Had they become weary of following Jesus around, weary of constant ministry, weary of conflicts, weary of rejection and lack of response?  Had they lost their zeal and enthusiasm, their initial fire? 

 

I say this because this mountain experience is all about light and fire and flame.

Jesus is transfigured before them with a light that glows all through his being and outwards in unbelievable brightness.  Notice whom Jesus is conversing with:  Moses and Elijah, two very experienced mountain climbers, -- Moses who had climbed Mt. Sinai, and Elijah, Mt. Horeb.  And both were men of great fire and action.  Somehow that burning bush in the desert got inside Moses as he courageously led his people through the desert from slavery to freedom.  Elijah was filled with so much passion that he could call down fire to destroy the prophets and gods of Baal, and then depart this world in a flaming chariot. 

 

No wonder Peter wanted to hold and tame all that fire and light under three tents.  Both Mark and Luke mention how the disciples were overcome by fear.  In Matthew, they simply fall asleep.  How could they?  Perhaps, the weariness of winter was so much upon them that they could not endure such great light.

 

But they did wake up in time to hear God say to them, “This is my beloved son.  Listen to Him.”  What did God want them to hear?  What word did Jesus speak to them?  We don’t know, but the next time Jesus is with these same three men, is in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He pleads with them, “Stay awake!”  But, once again they fell asleep.  Was Jesus’ message on Mt. Tabor the same, “Stay awake!”?

 

In January, Nancy and I gave a weekend retreat to 20 deacons and their wives in Willimantic Ct.  One of the deacons shared with us his life story.  As a young man he had entered the seminary but it didn’t work out.  So, he went on to college.  Then, he entered religious life, but, again it didn’t work out.   Realizing, he was meant to be married and raise family, he did so. Then, he decided to get a doctorate in education, and, afterwards, became a professor at one of our New England colleges.  On a vacation to Cayman Island, he became interested in their education system, and so, over the next 9 years, he took time to help re-organize it.  Then, he felt called to become a deacon and, after four years of study, he became one.  Now, at 77 he is retired, and has begun writing and publishing poetry. Wow! When I commented on his energy and enthusiasm, he replied, “It is like climbing a hill.  I climb up one hill and when I get to the top and look out at the scenery, I see that there is another hill further on and I know that I must climb it.  And then there is another and another and another.” 

 

Meanwhile, I have been asking myself for some time now:  “Ken, where has your energy gone?  Your passion? Your fire?”  I had been feeling myself ready to settle into a more sedate winter of quiet music, a patient mouth, and, oh yes, maintaining a little pride along the way.  I was accepting that I was now on the downward slope of life. And, here is this deacon, two years older than me, filled with light and fire and wanting to keep climbing.  His words kindled a new fire in me.  I am determined to climb again.

 

Jesus, as we know, had two more mountains to climb, --The Mount of Olives and  Calvary.  I think that he glimpsed them from the top of Mt. Tabor.  He saw and felt the glory that lay ahead.  But, He also saw his suffering and death within that glory.   Suffering and glory go together.  Was this experience on Mt. Tabor to energize himself and his disciples to climb those next mountains?  Why else would Moses and Elijah be talking with Him?  Why else would the Father affirm His son and plead for listening?

 

So, where are we?  Are we asleep in a winter of weariness or alive with inner light and fire?  May we at least stay awake and listen.  What might Jesus want to say to us  as we accompany Him during Lent to those next mountains ?  And, if He asks us,  will we be willing to climb with Him and help Him along the way? 

 

 

 

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