“Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.”
It was January of 1986, my second year of seminary. I was in the Cathedral of Munich, Germany for Saturday evening Mass. Together with about twenty other of my classmates I had spent two weeks in Rome and traveled to other cities. That morning some of us had gone for a half-day to the Nazi prison camp at Dachau. It was a trip I will never forget.
At Mass that night I could not get the images of the people in black and white photographs in the museum staring out at the visitors: men, women, and children – emaciated and nearly naked. The cathedral was dark and we were in the rear balcony. I do not know German, but I was following along as best I could with the Mass. At some point though during the Eucharistic prayer the faces of the prisoners of Dachau came back to me. The vigil lights, red and white, flickering throughout the church took on intensity. And it was as though they were the spirits of all those people who had suffered so terribly and who had died for their faith at Dachau. Jews, Catholics, Protestant. They were one with me and everybody else there at Mass.
Every time I say the words commemorating those who have passed on, every time I get to the part of the consecration where we ask God to receive the souls of our loved ones I remember that evening and the vigil lights and the martyrs of Dachau. I can identify with Peter, James and John who experienced the intensity of God’s love pouring out of and radiating from the Lord Jesus. I can understand why they were so overwhelmed that they hardly knew what to say, why they bowed their heads to the ground and covered their faces. The transfiguration of Jesus was an overpoweringly generous act of intimacy on the part of God. The apostles were given the gift of seeing Jesus as God the Father saw him – through the eyes of divine love.
I wonder if you have ever had the experience of being lifted up on God’s shoulders so that you could see people, places, events in your life as God must see them. Perhaps you have and shared that moment with a friend or your spouse. But maybe there was something that told you to hold that moment in your heart until another time. A time when the sharing would be needed and received. Could that be why Jesus told Peter, James and John to keep what happened on Mount Tabor to themselves? A vision is a gift after all, not for us, but for someone else. Caryll Houselander an English mystic and writer, shared her mountaintop moment in her book, A Rocking Horse Catholic:
I was in an underground train, a crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging – workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw in my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that: not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them – but because he was in them and because they were here, the whole world was here too, here in this underground train: not only the world as it was at this moment, not only all the people in all the countries of the world, but all the people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come. I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer- by – Christ.
May each one of us enjoy a blessed moment this Lent when we see the face of God shining out from the face of our child, our wife, our father or mother, or a passer–by. May that brief, shining moment strengthen our hope in the presence of God so that we can strengthen others.