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‘Lord, it is good that we are here’

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Climbing a mountain is a familiar spiritual image that can describe one’s journey to greater intimacy with God. After wandering in the desert, the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, where God revealed himself. Coming into the promised land, the Israelites eventually established their home on Mount Zion. In his youth, Jesus traveled there and frequently ascended mountains to heal, teach and pray. On his final journey to Jerusalem, Christ ascended Mount Tabor to pray: “Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them … Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, ‘Lord, it is good that we are here’ ” (Mt 17:1-4).

The Church’s eastern traditions consider the transfiguration to be the origin of the sacraments. Like the apostles, as we journey through life, we should yearn to be in our Savior’s glorious presence. The Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our Christian lives (The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324), where we are refreshed and given the strength necessary to ascend the mount. There, at its peak, we experience Christ in his glory.

In the Mass, our Redeemer is “really, truly, and substantially” present, and as such, we should be with him there whenever possible and practical (Council of Trent (1551): DS 1651). The Church teaches that “Christ is always present in his Church, especially in her liturgical celebrations” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium” 7). Jesus is not limited to or bound by the liturgy. Even when we are unable to participate in person, the Spirit unites us. Livestreams and recordings of the Mass have been a powerful resource to the Church, especially during the time of quarantine and uncertainty. They gave us a sense of spiritual connectedness while we remained physically distant. Nevertheless, those instances should be extraordinary. Thanks be to God, circumstances are changing and public celebrations of the Mass are now available for most people. I rejoice that we can once again proclaim, “Lord, it is good that we are here!”

In the Gospel, Christ does not ascend Mount Tabor alone. He ascends with those he serves. Similarly, when the priest, who acts in the person of Christ, ascends the sanctuary to celebrate the Mass, he does so with the faithful, whom he serves. As such, the Church gives glory to God when her members are able to gather around the eucharistic table as a unified family of faith. Our active participation in liturgy is important because God also calls us to pray together. When we do, Jesus is present as he promised: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18:20).

It is important to remember that gathering together for Mass is an event of salvation — because Christ, the Word of God, is speaking. In the fullness of time, the Word became flesh, teaching and healing those he met. The lame walked and gave their new strength to glorify God. The blind saw, and their spiritual blindness also was cured. Our presence, when Scripture is proclaimed during the Mass, allows us to encounter the Word who heals.

Christ’s true, real and substantial presence in the form of bread and wine invites us into communion with the Trinity. We are called to eat and drink, and St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, “The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Church’s unity.” Having received the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, we are made one in him and the whole Church, the People of God, and offer thanks for this spiritual nourishment.

While many have begun to return to Sunday Mass, it is understandable that many, out of care for their own physical well-being as well as that of those in their household, continue to utilize the dispensation from the obligation to attend. Over the past few months in the Commonwealth of Virginia, restaurants, stores and other public facilities have reopened to in-person dining and service. If we find that we feel safe enough to go to the grocery store, a restaurant, or socialize with family or friends and have not yet returned to Mass in person, now is a good time to reconsider that approach. In prayer, listen once more to how Christ is calling you to be united with him in the present moment. Our Lord always is attentive to our physical well-being, and we pray to him often for bodily protection. At the same time, the spiritual life remains our highest calling, and our participation in Sunday Mass is the foundation of that life.

Certainly, our parish churches are restricted to a lower seating capacity than usual. Still, many parishes are not reaching their current capacity for weekday Masses. If you are not vulnerable or caring for a vulnerable person, I encourage you to consider Mass on a weekly basis. For some, this may begin with attending a weekday Mass to avoid larger crowds. For those who already have been attending Sunday Mass, I pray that reconnecting with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament has been a source of inspiration and joy in your life.

After Peter replied, “Lord, it is good that we are here,” he asked to set up tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. He wanted to remain with the transfigured Lord. However, Jesus did not remain there. He walked down the mountain toward Jerusalem to bear the cross that saved us from our sins. We, too, are called to climb the summit to encounter our glorified Lord and carry our daily crosses. Insofar as each of us is able, let us return to the liturgy, especially the Eucharist. Refreshed there, we will then walk with him down the mountain, uniting our daily sufferings to his Passion so that we might come at last to the heavenly Jerusalem.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020