One of the great blessings in my week is the occasional opportunity to assist at daily Mass at St. Peter’s. These rare opportunities typically occur on holidays, such as the most recent occasion of President’s Day.
I arrived at Church, took some time in prayer and then went to the sacristy to vest for Mass. Soon after my arrival, I was greeted by the infectious smile of Father Sebastian, who greeted me with his usual humor. “Good Morning, Cardinal.” On this day, Father Sebastian was accompanied by Bishop George Dodo, a visiting bishop from Nigeria. Needless to say, I was surprised and humbled to have the opportunity to serve beside such holy men.
In his homily, Bishop Dodo recounted an attack that happened several years ago, when his church in Nigeria was bombed by the Boko Harem. The bishop sustained injuries, and others died as a result of this violent act.
I will never forget how it felt standing at the altar next to Bishop Dodo and Father Sebastian. Here was the Church in all its glory, the Church of St. Peter in Mendota Heights, flanked by the Church in Nigeria. It was a beautiful blessing to raise the chalice at the end of the prayer of consecration, and feel the powerful presence of Christ in that moment and the unity of our Church around the world.
This Sunday, we read the story of the transfiguration, where Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain and reveals his Divinity to them. They are joined on the summit by Moses and Elijah, and soon the voice of the Father is heard. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” It is hard to imagine the overwhelming joy, as they witnessed this miraculous manifestation. This was truly a mountain-top experience unlike any other!
Have you ever had one?
I am speaking, of course, of a “mountain-top” experience. It might have been a moment in prayer where you heard the Lord speak to you, and your heart was overcome by His love. Maybe it was a miraculous event in your life that forever changed you. Perhaps you have experienced that “mountain-top” moment during the Mass, when we experience a foretaste of the heavenly liturgy. Our loving God gives us these special moments of grace and blessing as a glimpse of what eternal life will be like one day.
For most of us, this earthly journey has many more valleys than mountain tops. Like the beloved disciples, we try to follow Jesus in our daily lives. We pray and we get distracted. Perhaps we intend to pray, something gets in the way and we don’t get to our prayer. We struggle with the temptations of this world, despite our deep desire to love and serve the Lord.
There was something very significant and moving about what happened in our historic church on February 20, 2017. On an otherwise ordinary day, a diocesan priest from Africa brought a bishop from Nigeria to celebrate Mass with us. The bishop shared a painful story of religious persecution with those who were present. It was a story from a world away, and yet, there he was in our midst, a shepherd whose church was bombed by a militant group opposing Christianity. In the midst of the chaos, an 11 year old boy was about to be the latest victim, as he walked out of the church and into the angry crowd that pelted him with rocks and sticks. The brave bishop risked his own life to save that young boy.
As we, the Diaconate, the Presbyterate and the Episcopate, stood together at the altar, the fullness of holy orders was present before our community. I thought of the transfiguration experience when the Old Testament prophets Moses and Elijah joined Jesus and his disciples on God’s holy mountain. And in case there was any doubt of the wonder of this moment, the Father spoke the blessing of beloved-ness upon this enclave of holy men. Here on this holy mountain was the fullness of God’s providential plan, as the givers of the old law were joined by the One who would teach a new law of love.
Jesus has the power to transfigure us if we let Him. Jesus wants to take away our sin and make us dazzlingly white with the brightness of his Light shining through our hearts. As we journey through this Lenten season, let’s be grateful for both the “mountain-top” experiences, as well as our moments down in the dark valley. Jesus is with us through all of these moments. And let us today take a moment to pray for the persecuted church, both here and around the world.
Blessings on your Lenten Journey,