One of the places we visited on our trip to the Holy Land last November was the Mount of the Transfiguration. In the gospel Matthew tells us that Jesus took his favorites, Peter, James and John, up a very high mountain. It really is a very high mountain. We rode up the mountain so far by our tour bus and took taxis up the rest of the way. If memory serves me right it took well over an hour to make the trip. When we got to the top I had a hard time believing the four of them really climbed to the top of that mountain. It would have taken them days. The view from this mountain is spectacular. There are ruins of a Byzantine church and a new one built many years ago. In the main body of the church is a beautiful mosaic of the Transfiguration with two small chapels, one dedicated to Moses, the other to Elijah. It was one of the most impressive places we visited.
There is one phrase in today’s gospel that stands out, “Lord it is good for us to be here.” In that moment of transfiguration, that moment of revelation Peter, James and John saw Jesus as they’d never seen him before. They were gifted to see Jesus with his divinity shining forth. They saw Jesus in his complete union with God, for in Jesus humanity and divinity are at one with each other. As we say in the Nicene Creed, true God and true man. Up until now they saw only the human Jesus but on that mountain he shows his friends his true self, his divinity in its complete oneness with his humanity. It must have been an unbelievable experience. No wonder Peter blurted out, “Lord it is good for us to be here;” Peter wanted to stay on that mountain as long as he could. He was set to build three dwelling places, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. This was truly an overwhelming religious experience for the three.
These three, Peter, James and John, were the same three Jesus took with him into the garden of Gethsemane. Gethsemane was a different story. In Gethsemane they saw Jesus is the fullness of his humanity. They saw Jesus, a man burdened and afraid, they saw Jesus the man struggling with his destiny, a man sweating blood and begging, “if it is possible let this chalice pass me by, yet not my will but your will be done.” In that dark garden no one was heard to say, ’it is good for us to be here.’ They missed the message of the mountain that the law and the prophets taught that the promised Christ had first to suffer and so come to the glory of his resurrection. As we know they avoided the darkness of Gethsemane by sleeping, shutting it all out.
There may be times when we are blessed with an awareness of God in our lives. We may be aware of God’s love or God’s peace and forgiveness. These moments are real gifts. I think for most of us these moments are rare.
Right after the glory of the transfiguration Jesus, with Peter, James and John came down from the mountain. They met a group of people with a man whose son was possessed by a demon, a man and son desperate for help. This was the reality of Jesus’ life and ministry. This was to be the reality of the lives of Peter, James and John, to be present to the suffering and the needy.
This is the reality of all our lives. We meet Christ in the needy, lonely, suffering men, women and children who come into our lives every day.
This was the reality of Mother Teresa. She tells us of her wonderful experiences of God in her prayer life. But most of her life she lived in darkness and dryness. Going about her daily service to the poor, leading her community, traveling the world trusting God was with her, trusting she was doing God’s work, trusting she was serving Christ, meeting Christ in her work with the poor and doing all this without the consolations of God.
Whether we are on the mountain or in the garden of our lives Christ is always with us. There may be times and stressful occasions when, in our darkness and doubt, all we have the strength to say is, ’Lord, I believe, help the little faith I have.’
As we continue to celebrate this Mass may we all be blessed with the faith and trust we need to know that He is with us in all the circumstances of our lives, on the mountain or in the garden.