I grew up with nothing but fear and distance from my father. It seems there was a mountain between us. I envied my friends who had great relationships with their fathers. But this changed. I grew up. One of the last few things we did was climb the highest peak in Iligan City. Together with my sister we crossed the bridge and walked for about an hour or less and reached the peak of Mount Agadagad. On the way up we had to wait for my father who was getting tired and out of breath. Finally we reached the peak and sat down on the bench. That was the first and last time we climbed mountains together.
My father died on the feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 2009. My father was proud, and his pride was his children. At his wake, people would come up to me and tell me how proud he was of us his children, how proud he was of his son who was studying to become a priest. He was not physically there for the rest of my journey into priesthood, but his presence felt even more real for me.
Our God is a loving and merciful Father. The mountains are signs of God's goodness, creativity and mercy. His love and mercy are as high as mountains and as deep as the oceans. God the Father loves his Son and loves us exactly how He loves His Son. In the Gospel we hear God the Father exclaim the words, "This is my Son, the chosen. Listen to him."
Earlier at the baptism of Jesus a voice was also heard saying, "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased." God affi rms and lifts up His Son all the time, speaks about Him before people, showing everyone His love for Jesus. That is exactly how God the Father loves you. Our earthly fathers may have fallen short of this. Yet no matter how many times human beings fail, God the Father is faithful and good. He pours His love into us. Imagine the image of a father seeing his child for the first time, embracing the child close to his heart that the child could hear the heartbeat of the father. Imagine yourself to be that child. Allow God to embrace you. Listen to His heartbeat. It beats with your name.
What can we learn from mountains and mountain-climbing? Listen, know and be transfigured. Listen. An important aspect in mountain-climbing is listening. When one climbs a mountain it is important to listen and be attentive to what is happening around you. Listen to yourself. If you think you can do it, then you can. But more than listening to yourself, listen to God more. In the Bible many encounters of people with God happened on top of the mountain. It is where God reveals Himself. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on Mount Sinai, and Jesus taught his Sermon on the Mount. Mountains are special places of encounter with God. In the Gospel, God the Father spoke to the three apostles, Peter, James and John, "This is my chosen Son, Listen to him." Do you hear Jesus Christ calling you? What do you hear? Pope Francis reminds us. "Do not be afraid! Ask Jesus what he wants from you?" Listen to Jesus.
Know. When climbing a mountain, it is important to know and study the mountain. There could be obstacles along the way that require you to go up and down in order to reach the peak. Our faith journey requires us to know and study Jesus. It requires us to pass through and face temptations just like Jesus did. We will fail at times and fall just like in climbing a mountain. When we hold on to nothing but ourselves we will surely fall. But what is important is that we know where we are heading in life, towards Jesus Christ.
Our experience on the mountaintop is momentary but truly wonderfully life-giving and fills us with hope that life can go on with all the heartaches and pains. We all need to go down and move on. Life is a journey.
One priest puts it that the Transfiguration was the mountaintop experience of the apostles that prepared them for the coming trials. For us today, the celebration of the Holy Eucharist is our mountaintop experience which prepares us for our own daily trials. At Mass, the transfiguration happens at the transubstantiation when the bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ the Risen Lord. Some attend Mass just for that experience of peace and feeling good. We want to only get that feeling and stay with it. But at the end of the Mass, the priest challenges us, "The Mass is ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." Go, we continue on with the journey and pick up our Cross.
Transfigured. It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves asserted Sir Edmund Hillary, an explorer and philanthropist from New Zealand. We do not change the mountain but we become changed. On the mountaintop Jesus was transfigured. His face and clothes dazzled with light unlike anything they had seen. The apostles had a glimpse of the glory to come when Jesus will change our lowly body to be like His glorious body. When we climb mountains, we are never the same coming down. Hopefully we are never the same after this journey.
Let us climb the mountain together. Let us listen to Jesus, know and understand Him more and be transformed. Let us day after day grow in our love and knowledge of Jesus as we also grow in understanding what Jesus is asking of us.
Now I have two fathers in heaven. Now I learned to trust like a child. Trust in our God the Father. Imagine a father throwing his child into the air and catching him or her. The child laughs with joy as he fl ies into the air and returns to the father's arms. We can do the same thing with God.
Fr. Kurt Zion Pala lives and works in Myanmar.