It was on this Second Sunday of Lent two years ago (24 February 2013) that Pope Benedict gave his last Sunday Audience in St. Peter’s Square. On that Sunday, the gospel reading at Mass was the same as today’s reading: the Transfiguration of Jesus. You can read a summary of Pope Benedict’s brief reflection at this link.
The people of God throughout pre-Christian history had always looked to a God who dwelt in far-away heavens, high above earth. The powerful signs of God were often noticed in the skies when “a voice came from the heavens” through a cloud by day and pillars of fire by night or the rainbow sign of the Covenant. If the people wanted to communicate with God they might send the holy person up the mountain where altitude would give greater proximity to God. When Moses made this climb on behalf of the people, God not only spoke but wrote on tablets of stone. Moses took these tablets down to the people who rejoiced that they now had this tangible communication from God with the command to translate into every breath action and word of every day by living in harmony with this law.
In the account of the Transfiguration of Jesus we see Jesus and three of his friends make the climb up Mount Tabor. I was there a few years ago and took this photo from the back seat of the car I was travelling in. Tabor is really little more than a hill but it is as audible in the landscape as our own Taranaki. I am not surprised at Jesus’ and his friends wanting to use this hill to help them rise above the demands of their daily lives.
As Jesus was transfigured, Peter, James and John were caught up in the wonder of the moment. On this mountain-top in that moment, heaven and earth became one. They wanted to set up camp and remain there forever. “It is good for us to be here” they said. But this feel-good moment did not remain and soon the shadows enveloped them. It was in this darkness when they were reduced to silence that they heard God present Jesus to them as Son of God: “This is my son, the beloved. Then comes the real point of connection: “Listen to him.”
There were and are many people who do not desire to keep the Old Testament commandments. They are free to do this. There are many people today who do not desire to listen to Jesus. Again they are free. But the real connection with God comes when we express some desire to respond. Initially our response does not have to be whole-hearted or even enthusiastic. Jesus welcomes any weak expression of longing that we might offer from the midst of our sin. The wise person realises that the depth of health and happiness that humans are created to seek can only be found in relationship with Jesus.
When this little group descended from the Mount after this encounter with the divine, they were very different. Perhaps the reason they did not speak about what had happened to them was that this kind of experience does not fit easily into words. The little group of three were not magically transformed themselves. We know one of them (Peter) later denied knowing Jesus. But the great beauty of Peter is that when he later did sin, he acknowledged that he would rather live on the mountain-top with Jesus and wept bitterly at his lack of love for Jesus who had given him everything.
In Jesus, God has come down the mountain to meet us in the every messy and mundane moments of our lives. Very often the clouds that enshroud us, while frightening, are the place where we are being readied to hear the voice of God personally and lovingly.
Let us help each other to listen to Him.
‘The Christian life—I wrote in this year’s Lenten Message—consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from Him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love.’”
“I hear this Word of God addressed to me in a special way at this moment of my life. The Lord has called me to ‘scale the mountain’, to dedicate myself still more to prayer and meditation. But this does not mean abandoning the Church. If God asks me this it is precisely so that I might continue to serve her with the same dedication and the same love with which I have tried to give up to now, but in a way more suitable to my age and my strength. Let us call upon the intercession of the Virgin Mary: May she help all of us to always follow the Lord Jesus, in prayer and in works of charity.”
Pope Benedict at his last Audience.