In the summer of 2013, Archbishop Carlson sent myself and two of my classmates to the picturesque city of Villa de Leyva in the beautiful country of Colombia. The city located at the high elevation of 7,000 feet, is surrounded by mountains which peaked out another 5,000 feet above us at 12,000 ft. While I always felt safe in Colombia, living in a country that was recovering from drug wars, a country where the US State Department actively encouraged us not to go to because of the threat of being kidnapped and in a city where only four people spoke English, made for an atmosphere of constant stress.
To help combat that stress, almost daily we would climb the first 500 feet up a mountain to a statue of the Sacred Heart that overlooked the city. On a day off, we resolved to climb the whole mountain. While we had no problem with the initial 500 foot trek, as we climbed higher it became much more difficult to breath and we found ourselves stopping frequently to catch our breath. In the midst of the trek I felt like I was getting nowhere but when we stopped and looked out from the mountain I saw not only how much further we still had to go but I could also look down and see how far we had come.
If your life is anything like mine, it can be easy for us to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out and continue to ascend the mountain without stopping to look at where we have come from and where we are going. Yet if we constantly keep our head to the ground and simply pound the path we become worn out and it becomes very easy for us to get lost. During this season of Lent we are invited to stop on our journey up the spiritual mountain to take stock of where we are. This season of Lent gives us the perfect opportunity to look back to see how God has been at work in our own personal lives and then look up the mountain plotting our path to the summit of eternal life.
In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain where He showed them where they have come from and where they are going. In the presence of Moses and Elijah they see God’s plan which began with Abraham, continued with Moses, the lawgiver, passed through Elijah, the prophet, and was brought to fulfillment in Christ. As the apostles stood there in awe with their forefathers they were given an understanding of Jesus divinity and the hope of the resurrection.
Today’s Gospel reminds us that our earthly pilgrimage leads to our own resurrection into eternal life. If you are anything like me, so often when we look at our lives we immediately look forward to all those areas where we need improvement, and while this is certainly important, it skips the proper first step, namely to look back and see all the blessings we have received in our lives. Failing to only see our weaknesses is selfish, because it fails to give God the proper praise and credit He deserves for the great things He has done in our lives. Only after we have given thanks for the many blessings of our lives should we with all honest and humility seek those areas where we need improvement, and then with a firm resolve, ask God to assist us. When we stop to recognize the many blessings in our lives, before seeing those areas where we need improvement, we find the courage to keep going forward.
I think so often in our faith lives we experience that transfiguration like moments, where God reveals Himself so fully to ourselves. We come to some kind of encounter with him, which casts aside all doubt we have. Then, very quickly we forget that transfiguration experience and we find ourselves back to trudging up the mountain of life with our head down, just trying to survive.
This life we live is a trek up the mountain of life, God willing to the summit of eternal life. To stay on the path we need to pause and look up the mountain to see the path to the top, but before we can look up and plan how to keep going forward we need to look back to see all that has already been accomplished. Today, as we look back from where we have come, what do we see? Do we recognize the many blessings God has given us in our life?