Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” (Mark 9:2-10)
In the days following my ordination, I had the good fortune to travel to the Holy Land on pilgrimage. It was a memorable experience. To walk where Christ walked, to see what He saw, to celebrate Mass on Mount Calvary: these moments helped to shape and encourage the initial days of my priesthood. One of the most significant moments in the Holy Land was celebrating Mass on Mount Tabor, the place of Christ’s Transfiguration. But in order to ascend the Mount, one has to traverse a number of elevated switchbacks. The large tour buses that can clog the Holy Land highways can only go so far up the Mount. Unable to navigate the steep turns, the luxury liners sit idly side by side at a base parking lot. If you want to reach the peak, you have to be nimble, traveling a bit lighter than the normal tourist. The summit is scaled only by those willing to relinquish unnecessary and burdensome baggage. To go up, you have to let go.
During Lent, we are encouraged to put aside whatever baggage and extraneous creature comforts might keep us from ascending to our own place of transfiguration. Our Lenten penances and disciplines encourage us in this practice to learn to let go. By letting go of both things that are harmful and even certain good things we enjoy, we prepare ourselves to receive the best: a renewed sense of God’s presence in our lives.
But letting go is challenging. In the first reading, God asks Abraham to let go of his son, Isaac. God had called Abraham away from family, culture and all that was familiar in order bring him into a land of promise and blessing. At the heart of God’s promise was to establish a legacy through his son, Isaac. When God asks Abraham to let go of his son, Abraham is challenged. Though Abraham does not necessarily understand God’s motivation, he comes to realize that trusting God is a way through which he will be blessed. As Abraham and Isaac climb Mount Moriah the confused son asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham’s response is a shining example of trust, “God will provide.” God’s command is not simply a test to see whether or not Abraham would obey His almighty will, but rather is a moment when Abraham grows in trust because he was willing to let go of what is most precious to him. Abraham grows because he lets go.
As we continue our Lenten journey, we are invited to consider those things that we are challenged to let go of in order that God’s life might grow in us. Taking time to reflect can reveal that there’s more to let go of than we might imagine. In various ways we all hold on to hurts, grievances, bad habits and comfortable forms of selfish behavior which keeps God’s love from transforming us. In response, like Peter, James and John, Christ calls each one of us to journey with him to Mount Tabor. Jesus wants to show us what transformation looks like, if we are open to his grace. Yet this journey requires detachment, letting go of all that would keep us from striving for growth. This week join me in a simple prayer: Lord, help me to let go and in me to grow. Amen!
~ Fr. Michael Hurley, O.P.