2nd Sunday of Lent
March 16, 2014 – Year A
Readings: Gn 12:1-4a, Psalm 33, 2 Tim 1:8b-10, Mt 17:1-9
by Rev. Salvador Añonuevo, Pastor
Many of us here have probably been up or at least close to Sharp Top. That’s the first thing I did when I came here. I wanted to tell all my parishioners in Virginia Beach that I have been up that mountain. We can see Sharp Top from here at the church and the rectory. It’s a beautiful sight to be able to see the beauty of God’s creation here in Bedford County. Most especially during the season of Fall, it’s pretty hard not to wonder and be amazed by the beauty of God’s creation. And of course, it is always much easier for us to pray during those moments.
In the gospel it is not uncommon for us to read that our Lord goes up to the mountain to pray. When we pray, we are in close communion with God. If there is one person who ever lived in this world who did not really need to pray it is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, because he is God. He is the second person of the Blessed Trinity. So if he is praying, that means he is just talking to himself because he is God himself.
Today we read St. Matthew’s version of the Transfiguration. The same story is also told by St. Luke and St Mark, but St. Luke is more concerned about the details. He tells us that Jesus went up the mountain to pray. And he took Peter, James and John and while he was at prayer, he was transfigured before them. Our Lord gives an example to his disciples that if we pray, we will also be transformed. We will be able to see the world and ourselves in their proper perspectives.
Every time we pray, and we are in God’s presence, we have a foretaste of heaven. Every time we talk about heaven, our tendency is to look up. I don’t know if you would ever see somebody who looks down to see heaven. Heaven is always up for one reason or another. But we all know that Heaven is a state – it is not a place. Our faith tells us that is the place where we are all going and we believe we will be with God for all eternity. Where Heaven is, God is.
If we pray as Jesus said, where two or three are gathered together in his name, there he is in our midst. And that’s an experience of Heaven. He is spiritually present wherever we are; wherever we go. But as we gather in today’s celebration of the Holy Eucharist, he is not only spiritually present, he is sacramentally present, substantially present, physically present, in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist.
When I was in high school in 1971, I had no idea that one day I would see the glorious mountains, but I was already singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. I just loved the tune. “Almost Heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.” Most of the Blue Ridge Mountains are in the western part of Virginia, where Bedford is. Where we are right now is not just almost heaven, this is a foretaste of heaven because Jesus is HERE with us. That is why Peter said to our Lord when he was transfigured before them, “Lord, how good it is for us to be here.” He was able to experience pure joy – a joy which only God can give.
There is a difference between being happy and being joyful. Joy is permanent. Happiness is temporary. We can be happy one minute and then sad the next minute or the next hour. But Joy is from the innermost chamber of our hearts; it is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.
When we go and visit monasteries we think, “What is going on in there? Are they happy there?” There was one monk who decided to be a priest. After he left the monastery to join the seminary, he took a bus. On the bus, he could feel the sadness. The monks don’t read papers or listen to radio or watch TV. There’s only one monk there who has the duty to be informed, and he was not that monk. So he had no idea what was going on. “People are so sad,” he thought, “Maybe there is a tragedy that happened.” Then he read the newspapers and there was no tragedy; they were just simply sad. He was used to the environment in the monastery where people are always joyful and they are always in God’s presence.
I had that experience one month when I was with the Trappist monastery on one of the islands in the Philippines. They occupy the whole island. They have no radio. Since I was a guest, I was given a small transistor radio. One evening, I was listening. There was a typhoon that would be passing that island. But three hours before that, I was with the monks and they were preparing sandwiches since the next day was a feast day. That is the only time they go to the beach. Usually they don’t go out. I was thinking to myself, “Oh my, they were so happy preparing the sandwiches and food. There is a typhoon coming tomorrow and they have no idea.” And what surprised me even more, was that the guestmaster who is supposed to know, did not tell them. So I asked him, “Father, did you tell the rest of the monks?” “No, we will see; we will pray tonight.”
In evening prayer, late in the afternoon, one of the monks was chanting the prayer, “Let us pray there will be fair weather tomorrow…” What fair weather was he talking about? The chapel was almost being crushed by the wind, I was just listening to radio and it was typhoon signal number 3. When I was listening to the prayer, they were so serious and joyful.
I woke up the following morning at 3:00 to join the monks in their morning prayer. I turned on the radio just a few minutes before that. The typhoon had changed its direction. It made a U-turn. Well, I had never heard of that before. That’s prayer. The monks were so happy; they went to the beach and they lived happily ever after. That’s prayer, and that was their mountaintop experience. This is the same experience we have now. The same Jesus who was transfigured in that mountain, the same Jesus who told Peter, James and John, “Rise and do not be afraid,” is the same Jesus who is with us in this Mass. He is the same Jesus listening to our every prayer. He is the same Jesus who is also telling us, “Rise and do not be afraid, because I am with you, always.”