March 6, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Spend some quiet time in God’s closeness this Lenten season

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinThe Gospel reading for last weekend (Second Sunday of Lent, Mk 9:2-10) told the powerful story of the Transfiguration of the Lord. The experience of Jesus appearing in an aura of dazzling white with Moses and Elijah on top of Mt. Tabor left St. Peter not knowing what to say. Although he couldn’t put it into words, Peter had a profound encounter with God’s closeness. On this holy mountain, in the company of his fellow disciples James and John, Peter experienced the sacred in a way that remained mysterious to him until after the Lord’s resurrection. 

Last month, my fellow pilgrims and I ascended Mt. Tabor—not on foot, but in vans driven by Bedouin villagers who make their living escorting pilgrims up this holy mountain. “Awesome” doesn’t begin to describe the view from Mt. Tabor. Scholars say that people have had religious experiences on this mountain since before recorded history. Something about this place raises the minds and hearts of pilgrims to God, and commands a sense of reverence and awe far beyond anything ordinary words can convey.

The experience on Mt. Tabor reminded me of the time—more than 15 years ago now—when my mother, Marie Therese, and my Aunt Winifred came to visit me in Rome where I was assigned by my religious congregation, the Redemptorists. In those days, Pope John Paul II regularly received guests after his daily Mass. I was able to bring my mother and Aunt Win to the pope’s Mass, and afterward he spent a few minutes talking with just the three of us. 

My mother, who is not normally at a loss for words, was silent. I asked her later why she didn’t talk to the pope. Her reply was, “Joe, for all my life the pope has been someone far away—over there—just a name or a photograph. Now, here he is right in front of me, face to face. What was I supposed to say?”

In his recent message for the season of Lent, Pope Francis reminds us that God is as close to us as Pope John Paul was to Mom, Aunt Win and me. “God is not aloof from us,” Pope Francis says. “Each one of us has a special place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us, and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us.”

For too many of us, God is far away—over there—in heaven. How do we react to the news that God is actually close to us, closer than we are to ourselves?

Silence is not a bad response to the closeness of God. In fact, if we don’t spend some quiet time each day, it’s easy to overlook God and to miss what he is saying to us in the silence of our hearts.   

Pope Francis tells us that “God is not indifferent to our world; he so loves it that he gave his son for our salvation. In the Incarnation, in the earthly life, death and resurrection of the Son of God, the gate between heaven and Earth opens once for all.”

This Lent, let’s spend some quiet time with God who is not aloof from us and who invites us to be close to him. It’s not necessary to climb a mountain to experience the awe of God’s presence (as much as my fellow pilgrims and I recommend it). All you really need to encounter the closeness of God is an open heart and a few quiet moments each day. 

May our loving God persuade us all to come close to him this Lent. May he bless us abundantly with his personal, caring and intimate love. †

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