Saturday, March 19, 2011

Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent: El Salvador, a Mountain Top Experience

We have a tendency to want to stay on the mountain top, maybe not even because of the beauty of it, but because we may want to avoid what we have to go back to.

St. Barnabas recently took a mission trip to El Salvador. The diocese of Cleveland has a mission team there that has been established since 1964. We had the opportunity to visit a few of our parishes. The interesting thing was that the churches were at the top of the mountains. Actually two of them are on opposite sides of a valley. So when you are in Chiltiupán you can actually look across the valley and see on the church in Teotepeque on the opposite side.

On Ash Wednesday we were in Teotepeque with Fr. Mike Stalla, who is a mission priest from Cleveland. We celebrated mass with the grade school kids in the morning and then he had to hike down the side of the mountain to anoint someone in a remote village.

When Fr. Mike Stalla got back for lunch he was bright red, almost purple, because he was so exhausted from the hike. He was probably dehydrated because he forgot his water. He then celebrated another mass while we taught English to the grade school kids. Later, before the evening mass for the parish, Sr. Rose came and asked me if I would say mass for him. He got sick during his second mass at another village and barely made it through.

Now I’m like a beginner in Spanish, I can get by, but saying a whole mass in Spanish, this had me anxious. I could see that Fr. Mike was in bad shape so I did what I was ordained to do. We made it through and I was exhausted by the end of it and the people could tell. (You can see in the picture that the girl server clearly thinks I’m clueless!) So after I said the “The mass is ended, go in peace.” They could see the relief on my face and all began laughing and applauding. After mass I took some time sitting on a rocking chair overlooking the valley. There were palm trees and the sounds of birds chirping, the ocean was off in the distance, and the warm eighty degree sun was warming my pale skin that was used to the dark and gloomy Cleveland weather. It was beautiful… and I thought for a moment, this isn’t so bad! I kind of wanted to stay, not so much because I felt called to the missions, but because it was a moment of relief. I was away from the normal stressors of life, I didn’t have to deal with all the phone calls, emails, calendars, appointments, and crises of the parish. And best of all I was away from the cold and the snow. I felt like I could have stayed there forever.

We all probably have moments like this. Mountain Top Experiences where we experience some relief, when we see things from a different perspective, or are taken away for a while from our every day experiences. Think about the last time y0u had a vacation, or a trip, or a retreat, or a break from the day to day grind and the stressors and difficulties of life. And it feels good… like Peter we could say “Lord, it is good that we are here.” Let’s build some tents and stay here for a while.

The truth is though, in the previous chapter, Jesus “began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly… and be killed and on the third day be raised.” And after Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus rebukes him and tells his disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

So maybe this is part of the reason that Peter wants to stay on the Mountain with Jesus. Not just because it is an amazing and wonderful experience of the transfiguration, but also I would imagine, because he wants to avoid some of the suffering that is going to happen when they go back down from the mountain.

The mass is like this as well. In the Eucharist, we have this Mountain Top Experience of praise and presence, but we have to leave here and go back to our ordinary life. You have to go back to work or school on Monday. And while it’s good that we are here today, and it’s good to have the weekends, and it’s good to have vacations, and breaks, and Mountain Top Experiences with the Lord, we do have to head back down the hill and enter once more into the Way of the Cross.

When’s the last time you had a Mountain Top Experience? Hopefully you can think of it, because we do need them. And if you haven’t had one lately, maybe you need to take a Sabbath, a break, a retreat this lent. Maybe it’s even just taking some time aside during the day for prayer. After having that experience, however, we do need to return to the life that God has set before us. Allow yourself to be strengthened and renewed by the transfiguration and then enter once more into the Way of the Cross. In this Season of Lent we journey with Christ through our passion and suffering… with the assurance that through the suffering, through the valleys, through the struggles and the passion, ultimately we will find ourselves once more on the mountain, in the presence of Christ forever in the Resurrection.

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