“Lord, it is good that we are here.” These words of impetuous Peter in the light of and at the sight of the glorious vision of Moses, Elijah and of Our Lord Himself transfigured on a high mountain resonate throughout the centuries. For what could be better, what could be ‘more good’ in this life than a foretaste of the glory that is promised to those who persevere faithfully in the One True Church Our Lord Himself founded?
Amidst all of our trials and difficulties, be they brought upon us by our own sins, or be they visited upon us through the weakness or malice of others, Our Transfigured Lord calls us forward in the daily work of perseverance and, indeed, is our very consolation and strength as we try to pick up and carry the burdens of the day.
My brothers and sisters, it is good that we are here this morning. For what is the entire Sacred Liturgy of the Church, and in particular what is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, other than a tent permanently erected on the mountain of the Transfiguration? The glorious vision granted by privilege to Peter, James and John is, by right of our baptism, accessible to us in the liturgy of Christ’s Church.
This fact has important implications in terms of our approach to liturgical celebration – and the forms and very things we use for it. “Everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty,” Benedict XVI taught (Sacramentum Caritatis, 2007, 41) – but I hope at least here we can take that for granted.
What is crucial, though, is that we make use of the presence of Our Transfigured Lord in the Sacred Liturgy of the Church in our own Christian life and vocation. The Church requires this of us at least every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation. This is a minimum. We would do well to manage a weekday Mass, or assistance at Vespers or another part of the Divine Office when this is possible. In Lent we should make an extra effort so to do.
For if we do not keep the vision of our Lord’s divinity before us, and gaze upon it often, we may be tempted to reduce Him to a mere prophet or philosopher whose teachings are merely relative and not the unique Revelation of God’s Truth. It is easy to have a collection of favourite prophets and philosophers and to borrow occasionally from their wisdom. It is quite another thing to accept in faith the definitive revelation of God in history in the person of Jesus Christ and to accept that salvation comes through persevering in living according to His teaching taught integrally in the Catholic Church.
Indeed, such doctrinal relativism has as a natural concomitant liturgical relativism – and many of the informal and unworthy approaches to the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy that we have witnessed in recent decades are rooted in defective doctrine.
The words “Domine, bonum nos hic esse” call us all to ascend the mountain to behold the Glory of the Lord, but they resound in the ears of some in a particular way, calling them to dwell upon that mountain. For this is the essence of the monastic vocation, prefigured by the psalmist in his famous prayer:
“Unam petii a Domino, hanc requiram, ut inhabitem in domo Domini omnibus diebus vitæ meæ, ut videam voluptatem Domini, et visitem templum ejus.”
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after;
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in His temple. (Ps. 27:4)
Indeed, Saint Peter’s desire to build three tents reflects this, but in fact his vocation – his very important God-given vocation – lay elsewhere, as it does for many.
But for some, the Lord wills for their own salvation that they remain on the mountaintop to contemplate His glory and to intercede before him, day and night, for those who must toil elsewhere. It is a beautiful vocation, sometimes called a vocation to the angelic life; though any monk can assure you that we are not always angelic! Its beauty stems from the privilege that is ours to work out our salvation by singing God’s praises. It is a singular joy constantly to turn to the face of our Transfigured Lord – even in a cold church far too early in the morning!
So too it is a privilege, with the indispensable help of our oblates, associates, friends and benefactors, to build up a house of prayer and of worship where others might ascend the mountain – or stand firmly on rock, as is the case here – to bask in and draw refreshment from the glory of the Lord. If a monastery has a primary apostolic work it is to ensure that it is a place where this is available to all who come.
“Domine, bonum est nos hic esse.” These words of Saint Peter that the tradition of the Church put before us today call each of us. They challenge us in different ways to be sure, be that to make more of the availability of the presence of the Transfigured Lord in the Sacred Liturgy amidst the burdens of our life in the world, be that to renew our fervour and zeal in our monastic vocation, or be that to take seriously the prospect that Our Lord may be inviting me to remain on the mountain to maintain His tent for my own salvation and for that of others.
As we gaze upon the elevated Host and Chalice this morning, let us beg an increase of grace that we may accept these challenges for our own good and for that of all. +