Homily of Fr Cameron Forbes
Many of us here today will have climbed a mountain. It gives a great sense of exhilaration, and not only in a physical sense, either. As well as the achievement of reaching the top, there is also a realisation that we are inhabiting a very different space. The air is clean, and the view is panoramic and uninterrupted. Standing atop the peak of a mountain, we are reminded that so much exists beyond the everyday world which we inhabit. Sometimes this realisation connects us to serious events by which we are otherwise untouched. In his Letter to the Romans, St Paul wrote that “the life and death of each of us has its influence on others,” and in a similar vein the great English divine, John Donne, wrote famously that “no man is an island.” Each of us are created in the image and likeness of God, and things which affect other people affect us too by virtue of our common humanity. For this reason, we feel sadness today at the horrific atrocity which took place in Christchurch last Friday, and we unite ourselves in prayer with all those who have died and who are suffering.
In a spiritual sense, a mountain is an indication of God’s closeness. Climbing a mountain lets us acknowledge God as our Creator, and, indeed, the creator of everything. It is a place of ascent, not just in an outward physical sense, but also inwardly as well. Climbing above everything frees us from the burdens of everyday life, and gives us a vantage point where we can see everything in its proper context.
Every time we pray, we are, in a certain sense, climbing a mountain. We are actively choosing to leave behind the cares and concerns of the world, and yet, in another sense, to engage with them more fully, by joining them with the action of God in the world.
Both Moses and Elijah had very special communication with God on the top of mountains. On Mt Sinai, the great lawgiver Moses received the Ten Commandments, those things which still govern the way we live our lives today. And centuries later, Elijah went to exactly the same place as Moses. It was here that he heard the voice of God, not in thundering deepness, but as a still small voice. Elijah had only recently felt discouraged, but God gave him the strength to continue his prophetic ministry.
And Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. In this sense the Transfiguration is all about prayer. When Jesus prayers to the Father, his true person is revealed. St Luke writes: “As he prayed, the aspect of his face was changed and his clothing became brilliant as lightning.” When Jesus talks with his Father, those present can see his innermost self. His being is light. Yet Moses had spoken to God on the mountain, too, and his face was radiant as well. His radiance, though, came from outside; Jesus’ light comes from within. Jesus has no need to reflect light, because he is the source of the light itself.
This image of light speaks of our own future too. The transfigured Jesus is clothed in light; his garments are incredibly bright. The Book of Revelation describes white garments as the clothing worn by those who are saved. They have been washed by the blood of the lamb. This season of Lent immerses us in the Paschal Mystery, in which Jesus dies then rises again. Our Baptism, at which we wore a white garment too, is our rebirth from sin into life. Through baptism we shine the light of Jesus out to others.
Then come the words from God’s own voice: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” This listening is described by Pope Benedict, who writes: “No one…is permitted to live [on the mountain] while on earth. Indeed, human existence is a journey of faith and as such, moves ahead more in shadows than in full light, and is no stranger to moments of obscurity and also of complete darkness. While we are on this earth, our relationship with God takes place more by listening than by seeing; and the same contemplation comes about, so to speak, with closed eyes, thanks to the interior light that is kindled in us by the Word of God.”
May our Lent be a time for us to listen and to learn. May it be a time for us to rekindle our life of faith and to be cleansed with the Sacrament of Confession. And may it be a special time for us to go up that mountain with Jesus, and let his light shine within us as the light of the world.