Second Sunday of Lent - Fr. Pete Iorio
February 27, 2021 - 5:00 PM
February 28, 2021 - 8:30 AM
Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? This is what we call something like a profound spiritual experience that fills you with joy and unconditional love that you do not have adequate words to describe. It may have been at a retreat like Cursillo or during a time of adoration of the Eucharist or in the awesomeness of Creation. This pure gift of God who surprises us with divine love and joy comes when we least expect it. The Bible is chock full of these encounters of humans with the divine. This is what we hear on this second Sunday of Lent with the story of the transfiguration that 3 out of 12 disciples experienced with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It is so awesome that Peter wants to erect three tents and stay forever because it feels so great. It is also terrifying because they do not know what to make of it all. Jesus gives them this cryptic message not to tell anyone except after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. But what does rising from the dead mean? The passage ends in mystery.
We might say that Jesus had given them a taste of His rising from the dead or heaven to spur them on and give them trust and hope. Because of 2000 years of Christianity, we kind of know what rising from the dead means. The promise that we will receive it should be something we long for… to enter heaven after we die. On another level, we have no clue what the fullness of rising from the dead entails. It is still a mystery.
People, including myself, are fascinated with books and movies about near death experiences. And maybe you have had one. This literature chronicles the experience of persons who were clinically dead for only minutes or hours and were medically resuscitated and brought back to life.
What’s interesting and consoling is that virtually all these stories are wonderfully positive, irrespective of the person’s faith or religious background. In virtually every case their experience, while partially indescribable, was one in which they felt a warm, personal, overwhelming sense of love, light, and welcome, and not a few of them found themselves meeting relatives of theirs that had passed on before them, sometimes even relatives that they didn’t know they had. As well, in virtually every case, they did not want to return to life here but, like Peter on the Mountain of the Transfiguration, wanted to stay there.
During these peak experiences, parts of your life seem to make sense and come together. You realize that everything happens for a reason. However, these special messages are fleeting, and that is why faith on earth is so difficult. After the experience, we must live with the “not knowing” because we trust at some level the one who does know, and that person is so good. Jesus was building that trust in the disciples, and by going down the mountain, he indicated that they had to enter into the difficulties and sorrows and challenges of life once again. He was going to show them that no matter who we encounter in life or how difficult it is, love is the path. The affirmation of the voice, “You are my beloved son. Listen to Him” and I would add, “follow him” is both identity and mission. God always chooses to love us at the very core of our being. When you have a “mountaintop experience,” You know that you are OK. And though you probably want to stay, you receive courage to go back to the everyday challenges of life. God is the one who takes us there and accompanies us.
During World War II, George Ritchie had a near death experience and later wrote a book about it. His encounter with Jesus transfigured and dazzling white was all about “an astonishing love. A love beyond my widest imagining. This love knew every unlovable thing about me – the quarrels with my stepmother, my explosive temper, the sex thoughts I could never control, every mean, selfish thought and action since the day I was born – and accepted and loved me just the same.”
George was also questioned by Our Lord, “How much have you loved with your life? Have you loved others as I am loving you? Totally? Unconditionally?”
He was baffled even though he knew the Scriptures about Jesus Christ.
Jesus explained to George that George had been taught about Jesus’ mission. Jesus replied to George’s bafflement by telling him: “I told you by the life I lived. I told you by the death I died. And if you keep your eyes on Me, you will see more.”
In Lent we have certain ascetic practices that help us to become more Christlike. But, if I do all the penances and almsgiving and fasting and do not have the love of Jesus Christ in me, I am just a clanging gong or a clashing cymbal.
The mystery of God’s intimate, personal presence inside us is beyond our imaginations. But everything within our faith tradition, and now most everything in the testimony of hundreds of people who have experienced the afterlife, assure us that, while God may be infinite and ineffable, God is very close to us and loves us immensely, more than we can ever imagine.