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Experiencing the Mountain Top
August 6, 2020
Ang Magmahal Nang Magmahal Nang Magmahal
August 6, 2020

Homily for Thursday of the 18th Week in Ordinary Time, Feast of the Transfiguration, 06 August 2020, Mt 17:1-9

There is a scene in Luke 11, where the Gospel writer tells us Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished praying one of his disciples approached him and said, “Lord, can you please teach us how to pray the way John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray?” (Lk 11:1)
I have a feeling that today’s Gospel scene was Jesus’ answer to that request, and that the request probably came from one of three apostles who were present at his transfiguration: Peter, James and John.
In the St. Luke’s version of this transfiguration story, we are told categorically that Jesus was praying when he was transfigured. This is one of the few scenes where, we are told, Jesus prayed, not alone, but in the company of the three disciples who were the closest to him. And so I look at this Feast, which we are celebrating today as Jesus’ way of MENTORING his disciples on the discipline of PRAYER.
First, Matthew tells us “Jesus led them up to a high mountain BY THEMSELVES.” I take this to mean that Jesus asked the three of them to each find a quiet corner on the mountain top where they could find some SOLITUDE. The Gospels tell us Jesus himself went into solitude every now and then by climbing a mountain, or going to the desert, or being in a boat by himself, or walking by a lakeshore. Usually he did it early in the morning before daybreak.
Secondly, perhaps because they were not that used yet to solitude, they ended up watching Jesus from a distance instead, and witnessing a change of appearance taking place while he was absorbed in prayer. We have a similar description of what happened to Moses whenever he went up to Mount Sinai to pray: that his face became bright, that there seemed to be a glow emanating from his whole being (Ex 34:29). And that is not surprising; through prayer, a lot of people are able to achieve an inner sense of peace and serenity that can indeed effect change on our appearance, demeanor, or behavior.
Thirdly, Jesus taught them never to regard solitude as an experience of isolation but rather as an experience of deep spiritual union or communion with God. Not only was he in the company of his Father, whenever he went into prayer; we are told that Moses and Elijah were “having a conversation with him”. It means reading and reflecting on the Sacred Scriptures was very much part of his prayer. The Jews referred to the Scriptures as the Law and the Prophets. Since the Law was associated with Moses, and the Prophets with Elijah, to reflect on the Law and the Prophets is figuratively described by the Gospel writers as a “conversation with Moses and Elijah.” In the later monastic tradition, praying with the Scriptures came to be known as LECTIO DIVINA.
Fourthly, perhaps for Peter, as it is for many of us, prayer is mainly about talking to God. Don’t we all go into prayer with the common motive of bringing to God our ardent needs and petitions? Sometimes we really find ourselves talking nonsense in our prayer, (like Peter who started suggesting to build three tents). Like him we sometimes need to be overshadowed by a “cloud of unknowing” so that we can just shut up and enter into silence for a while and be able to hear, not what we have to say to God, but what God has to say to us. No wonder the message of the voice behind the cloud was, “Listen to my Son.” In prayer, more important than talking to God is to allow God to talk to us. That cannot happen if we talk too much, if we do not know how to listen with our hearts and souls.
Lastly, prayer is never meant as an escape from reality. We do not go into solitude to escape from community and society. We do not ascend the mountain in order to build a tent and indulge on mental gymnastics over the Scriptures. We go into prayer so that we can face life’s challenges more calmly, to have what the famous prayer calls “the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change what we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” After the peak experience at Tabor , Jesus would invite the three to come down afterwards, this time on the way to Calvary in Jerusalem, where the Son of Man was destined to suffer and die. Hopefully having been given a foretaste or a preview of the glory of the resurrection, they will now be able to face the passion with serenity, with courage, and with a sure hope in their hearts.


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