Mountaintop Experiences: The Pauses That Transform Us
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
March 14, 2017

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent (Year A) on March 12, 2017 at St. Austin Parish in Austin, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; and Matthew 17:1-9.

Every year on the Second Sunday of Lent, we hear the story of the Transfiguration. This year, the story takes on an extra dimension because of the Gospel of Matthew’s interest in mountains. Jesus’ most famous preaching in Matthew is the Sermon on the Mount. Moses likewise received the 10 Commandments at the top of Mt. Sinai, and Elijah spoke with God at the top of Mt. Horeb. Today, Jesus goes up Mt. Tabor to talk with both Moses and Elijah.

Mountains are special places. There, we seem to be closer to God, both physically and spiritually. Right now, let us come closer to God by acknowledging what has kept us distant and by asking God for forgiveness. 

While I was in college, I had the opportunity to climb a mountain outside the village of Llangollen, Wales to the ruins of the 13th-century castle Dinas Bran. Frankly, the ruins of Dinas Bran aren’t that remarkable. But I still treasure making that climb. 

You see, this trip to Wales was a huge deal in my life. I was there with the University of Rochester University Choir and Chamber Singers to sing in the Llangollen Eisteddfod, sometimes referred to as “the Olympics of choral singing.” This was the furthest that I had ever traveled from home. In fact, it was the first time I had ever even been on an airplane. We had spent three whirlwind days in London, and now we were in this village of 3,000 people whose population explodes to 80,000 one week each year as groups from all over the world gather for a festival of song and dance. At the ruins of Dinas Bran, looking down on the Welsh countryside, I finally took a moment to reflect on the amazing trip I had been taking. Twenty-two years later, I still remember some of the people who made that hike with me.

Why did Jesus climb Mt. Tabor nearly 2,000 years ago? From Mt. Tabor, you can see the sites of many of the important events of the Old Testament. Perhaps Jesus climbed Mt. Tabor to survey all that had happened in salvation history to bring him to this moment. Perhaps he needed to be strengthened for the hardships ahead. Why did Peter, James, and John climb the mountain? They went in companionship with their friend Jesus, and they came to know him in a new way. Why is it recorded in the Bible? To remind us of the noble purpose and eventual exaltation of the life of Jesus, a life that has ennobled, exalted, and transfigured the very meaning of our lives.

Why does Peter want to stay on Mt. Tabor? Because it was an extraordinary experience: seeing Moses and Elijah, witnessing Jesus transfigured. It’s one of those moments on the journey that’s a spiritual shot in the arm. Who wouldn’t want to stay? Last year during the second week of Lent, I was in Israel, and I didn’t want to leave the top of Mt. Tabor, either! But we can’t stay on the mountaintop. The work of our redemption is ongoing. Jesus himself had to leave Mt. Tabor and resume his journey to Jerusalem.

Here are three reflection questions for the next leg of our Lenten journey:

  1. What have been the mountaintop experiences of your spiritual journey so far?
  2. Who has accompanied you in those moments? 
  3. If you’re traversing a dark valley right now, can you gain strength from recalling your mountaintop experiences? 


I’d like to close with a poem by Sister Elizabeth Michael Boyle, O. P. 

The Climb

It is not the ruin 
but the view from the ruin 
that is worth the long climb 
and the risk of a fall.
It is not the temple 
but the myth that built the temple 
that survives 
earthquake, erosion, murder, betrayal 
and the lightning bolt in the heart.
Day after day in the August sun 
we ascend and descend 
and ascend again 
chilled to the bone in our separate solitudes:  
ruins wandering the ruins 
islands adrift among islands 
stones communing with stones.
But it is not the ruin 
but the view from the ruin 
that will have been worth both climb and fall 
when, back to back at the summit, 
we pluck the last flower piercing the rubble 
and disappear into the view.