Second Sunday of Lent (2015)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
As we all know simply from reading the news or watching television, there are many individuals who do not fit the pattern of so-called normal people: race car drivers, channel swimmers, people who fly small aircraft, canyon leapers and others. In recent times the news told us about two young men who could be called “wall-climbers,” for that is what they do, if not for a living, at least for pleasure. Their names are Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell. Their feat was to climb the Dawn Wall (The Wall of the Early Morning Light), a rock face in Yosemite Valley, California. At first this may not sound very newsworthy, but the Dawn Wall is a sheer vertical cliff with few handholds. Moreover these two young men climbed the Dawn Wall without protection gear except a safety rope in case they should fall which, by the way, they did on several occasions.
People who stood aghast watching the climb from the valley floor said that they were either very brave or complete fools. (take your pick!)
Ultimately, I should think that the only people who truly know the feeling of climbing a mountain wall like that are the climbers themselves.
When the two were interviewed afterward, they did indeed share their thoughts about the accomplishment. They said that it is difficult to imagine what goes on in one’s mind at that time because the entire effort is concentrated on getting to the top. But once the summit is reached, there is a feeling of pure exhilaration and even a sense of astonishment at what the world looks like from the top. It is an experience that can only be understood by a person who has struggled through fear and danger until success has finally been achieved.
Having climbed many mountains myself in my young and foolish years, I can vouch for those remarks. It is only after having struggled to reach a difficult goal that the sense of triumph becomes clear and a different, clearer sense of life itself takes place.
A very dear friend of mine, Father Jim Schultz, and I once climbed many mountains together. When we would reach the summit, Jim would always pull a small bottle of wine from his backpack, lift it to the skies and say: “Clem, you can’t get this downtown!” Indeed, we could not!
Now, after all that, we must now turn to the scriptures for this Second Sunday in Lent and strangely, we find there two stories about mountain top experiences.
The first lesson comes form the book of Genesis that tells the strange story of the sacrifice of Isaac, the young and only son of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham hears the mysterious voice of God calling him to take his son to a high mountain (Moriah) and offer him to God. When he reaches the sacrificial spot and prepares for the oblation, God speaks to him again, warning him not to harm the child. Strange as it sounds, it was a test of Abraham’s faith.
However, with a deeper exploration of the sad event, one might say that on the mountain, it suddenly became brilliantly clear to Abraham that God was not calling him to offer up his son. It was all a kind of divine invitation to something higher, more humane, a clearer view of life over death.
The gospel holds the story of what Christians have described as the Transfiguration event. Once again, Jesus invites his three closest friends, Peter, James and John to accompany him on a climb of a “very high mountain.”
Once at the top, Jesus’ presence became “translucent,” lightsome and the three experience Jesus in a spectacularly different manner than they had in their daily rounds with him down below. Did they suddenly experience Jesus as divine, as God? The text does not seem to indicate that. It is clear, however, that they saw Jesus in a different light. One is tempted to say that mountain atmosphere always make all things clearer. One can also say that there are moments in one’s life when truth suddenly becomes clearer and then we suddenly begin to see life differently.
Let me suggest that this scripture passage somehow fits the spirit of Lent. During this season we are invited to see our life differently, more clearly, more truthfully, more open to the light that Christ casts our way.
Most folks, of course, do not climb mountains, whether in Lent or any other time, but there is a certain satisfaction in knowing that in Lent we are invited once again to see life the way Christ invites us to see it.
The scriptures: Genesis 22:1-2,9a, 10-13, 15-18 • Romans 8: 31b-34 • Mark 9: 2-10
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: Second Sunday of Lent