Sunday, February 28, 2021


Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
Jesus was transfigured before them.
Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Mark 9:2-10

What a difference a few years make. Depressed by the sexual abuse scandal and feeling unsupported in my work as a Vocation Director, during this time of the year in 2004, I was at an all-time low. News about the sexual abuse scandal was so bad that I asked for some time off to get way and regain my balance. I needed to pull myself together and get some clarity about what to do next. I spent the whole month of February that year, alone, in a small cottage, on a deserted beach, in northern Florida. I probably spoke to one person that whole month. I probably ran into less than five people on that cold and windy beach during the whole month. I loved it. I would love to do it again someday.

I came home with the clarity I was looking for. I went from having one of the worst years of my life, to one of the best years of my life. Even though things had gotten worse before they got better, I came home able to handle the constant drip of bad news much better. It even prepared me to handle the next round of bad news when I retired six years ago. I even went from that bad news to six very good years before the next round of bad news. I guess, in time, you can get used to the "bottom falling out" every once in a while if you take the time to go off for a while to reflect and pray for God's guidance as you wait for another "golden age" to manifest itself.

Three weeks ago, we read about Jesus getting up early, before dawn, and going off to a quiet place to reflect and to ask for direction for the day ahead. That was followed by many trips to quiet places, during his ministry, to seek clarity from God about what he was supposed to do next. Last week, we followed him into the desert for his forty-day retreat. 

Today, we fast-forward to the end of Jesus’ life, the time before his final entry into Jerusalem for his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Today he takes his closest companions on a mountaintop retreat to prepare them for what was coming.  At this point in his ministry, Jesus could read the handwriting on the wall and it spelled SUFFERING, in big letters. This time he went to the mountain to get final clarity on whether embracing this impending suffering was really the right thing to do. The question to which Jesus wanted an answer, was not “what do I want to do” or “what do people want me to do,” but “what does God want me to do?”

Just as a desert is a good place for introspection, a mountain is a good place for perspective. In a desert, there is nothing to distract you. You are forced to look within. On a mountain, you can see in all directions at once. On the mountain where one can see in all directions, Jesus got a glimpse of the past, the present, the future and how they all fit together. On the mountain Jesus was able to “see the connections” between where he was, where he came from and where he was going.

(1) Jesus saw his connection to the past. Israel’s two great heroes appear to him and talk with him: Moses and Elijah. They told Jesus that indeed he was the one they had, centuries ago, dreamed of and had foretold would someday come. They told Jesus that he was indeed on the right path and that he should indeed proceed onward. If their word was not enough, from a cloud God repeats the words that he spoke to Jesus at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”

(2) Jesus saw his connection to the future. The words used to describe Jesus’ clothes becoming “white as light” are the same words used of his clothes at the resurrection. His “white as light” clothing, gave him a glimpse of the glory to come. It helped him get a sneak preview of what was going to be on the other side of the suffering he was about to endure.

(3) Jesus saw his connection to the present, where he was on his journey. He tells his disciples, flattened with fear, that there was nothing to be scared of, even though they had to go down from the mountain and go through the pain ahead. Their tremendous mountaintop experience would help them go through what was about to happen. In fact, this is where we get the expression “peak experience.” A “peak experience” is one of those magical times of spiritual experience that people, like good old St. Peter, try to hold onto or repeat again, but cannot. They are simply “glimpses of glory” and “sneak previews” of heaven itself. They are not meant to be permanent. They are meant to get us through the hard times.

Going off to the desert, going off to the mountains, going off to the beach, going off to the woods or simply going off to your room to listen to yourself think, to listen to your heart of hearts, to listen to God, is an absolute necessity for those who would follow Jesus. The place is not important, but the listening is! If you listen with your heart, you will get the clarity you need, no matter what questions you need to answer or what problems you need to face.

No wonder so many in our culture seems to be so confused! Our world is so crammed with noise that we cannot hear ourselves think. We have been raised to believe that answers come when we can say what we want to do or when others tell us what we need to do. The only thing that will make us happy and get us back on our path is when we want what God wants for us. The desert, beach, mountain, the woods or our room are places of quiet, places quiet enough to hear that tiny whispering voice of God himself, deep within our own hearts. Lent, I believe, is not so much about giving up things as it is about giving up the constant noise that prevents us from hearing ourselves think!

No wonder our culture seems so confused! Our ears are being blasted with constant noise from cell phones, earphones and an over-saturation of electronic stimulation. No wonder our culture seems so confused! We consult our horoscopes and seek out expensive advice gurus, but we don’t take the time to just be quiet and to listen to ourselves. We are driven to fill the quiet, to kill the quiet and to run from the quiet, as if the quiet were our worst enemy. The truth of the matter is that it is in the quiet that we can get our bearings, clarity is given to us and a sense of who we are and where we are going is shown to us.

My friends, the message today is simple: make friends with the quiet. In the quiet, everything falls into perspective, the path becomes clear and where we need to go becomes obvious. To stay on the right path, we have to go to the quiet often, regularly and routinely, just as Jesus had to do! That can happen when you are all alone in a deer stand, on a walk by yourself in the woods, on a visit to the Blessed Sacrament in an empty church or just driving down the road by yourself with the radio off! Lent is a time to simply shut up and listen! Doing that has always worked for me in times of confusion and doubt and it will work for you - if you give it a chance! I learned a long time ago that, when people come to me when they are confused about what to do next, all I have to do is get them a to talk. I don't have to give them an answer. They already know the answer. They have just never been quiet enough to hear themselves think! Most of the time, our answer is not in what we want to do or what others think we should do, but in hearing what God wants us to do! 

Friends, forget all that giving up all that candy bar stuff for Lent! It's a waste of time - your time and God's time! It would be better if you would just take a few minutes to shut up and listen. You'd be surprised what you would learn if you'd just shut up for a while, cut out all the external static and just be quiet and listen to yourself think!  

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