He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Living on the Mountain: A Living Sacrifice

After a long walk around what some might think are mountains of snow, I made my way to church this morning.  The priest gave an excellent homily in which the theme of mountaintop experiences was brought out.

In Scripture, the mountain is a critical part of the spiritual landscape as well as the physical landscape.  Mount Horeb and Mount Sinai are probably memorable mountains associated with the Old Testament for many Christians, though there is some speculation that they may have been the same mountain called by different names.  Regardless, the avid reader of Sacred Scripture will notice that events that take place on the mountain always have significance of moral and spiritual weight.

This is something I'm sure my grandfather noticed in his studies of Sacred Scripture, given how dedicated he was to understanding the Word.  And because he lived among the mountains, he had journeyed to his fair share of mountaintops.  He liked to take a walk up the mountainside sometimes, enjoying the beauty of God's creation.  He even took me up the mountain for my first driving lesson in his truck, an experience that almost became very spiritual because I came very close to backing off of one side of the mountain.  I may have prompted him to pray especially hard on the mountaintop that day.  That is far from the only time that either he or I prayed on the mountain.

My grandfather not only lived a life of prayer, but also a life of sacrifice.  He sacrificed his health in many ways as a miner in the mountains, seeking to provide a life for his family.  He sacrificed his time in the garden with his children, teaching them the ways of growth and cultivation.  He sacrificed the livestock he purchased to feed his family, teaching them the reality of death and the necessary work of cleansing their bodies and our bodies for a meal, of the need to take care in how we prepare the table and ourselves before receiving our daily bread.  He was a living sacrifice of love for his family, offering everything he had for our benefit.

This is exactly how Jesus Christ lived, as a living sacrifice of love, and my grandfather strove mightily to follow Him.  Jesus seemed to have an affinity for the mountains just like my grandfather.  Many times Jesus would venture out to the heights to seek closeness with His heavenly Father.  In this weekend's readings at Mass during Lent, the Gospel passage detailing Jesus' meeting with Moses and Elijah on Mount Tabor was related to us through the perspective of the three Apostles who were there.  They were astounded by the mountaintop experience, and rightfully so.

At Mount Tabor, Jesus was transfigured and glorified, the Son of God revealed in His divinity.  At the Mount of Olives, his soul shone through as He prayed to the Father during the calm before the storm of the scourging and crucifixion.  At Golgotha, the mount of execution known as the place of the skull, he suffered and died in His weakened body and flowing blood.

In the liturgy, we visit these mountains through the time-pervading sacrifice of love known as the Incarnation and His death on the cross. We see Christ in his glory in the liturgy, the Son of God truly present to us in his glorified form just as He was on Mount Tabor. We see Christ's soul as he offers himself freely for our salvation, just as He was on the Mount of Olives before His crucifixion.  We see Christ's blood in the chalice and we see Christ's body, the Bread from Heaven we must eat to have life within us.  In this way, we see and can partake of His eternal life in body, blood, soul, and divinity.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is an astounding mountaintop experience, a timeless participation in the sacrifice on the mount of execution by receiving His body and blood, in the purity of His soul as he lovingly accepted his life and death for our sake, and in the vision of His glory on Mount Tabor.  We who pray to God in the Divine Liturgy do so with Him on the mountains upon which He left His mark, hoping to one day join him in ascending beyond the mountains to the house of our heavenly Father.

May we all appreciate the blessing of prayer among the mountains, gradually deepening our understanding of life and death and God on the mountain, preparing ourselves well for our meal of broken bread with Him just as my grandfather did.

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