Climb Every Mountain

It’s hard not to welcome this past Sunday’s gospel. It’s a source of strength even today, as it was meant to be for the Apostles who witnessed the Transfiguration of Christ.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them,
and his clothes became dazzling white,
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.
Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses,
and they were conversing with Jesus.

Peter, God bless him, thought he had things under control. But he had to listen yet.

A week ago today, I prayed at the basilica where the Transfiguration of Christ is commemorated. 1,843 feet high, Mount Tabor may or may not be where it took place, but it was good to be there.

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice,
“This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

Tabor is one of those mountains one wants to stay on — at least I sure did. God the Father, God the Son, and the holy apostles and prophets of old are quite the company! But like with Peter, James, and John, we are strengthened in our prayer, to go back down the mountain, to climb the next one.

On Mount Tabor last Monday, pilgrims sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee.” Doing so, it was hard not to think of the late Bill Buckley, founder of National Review, who wrote a book on Catholic matters, with the title Nearer My God. When Bill died, George Weigel said of him: “Bill Buckley may have been the most publicly influential U.S. Catholic of the 20th century; he would certainly be on any serious list of the top five.”

When I was asked to talk about WFB, as we knew him, as a Catholic journalist, I couldn’t quite read every word he had written on matters of faith – they were in his books, in his speeches, on Firing Line, in his newspaper columns, throughout National Review. He wasn’t a theologian but a layman with integrity, seeking to integrate his intellectual and his prayer, his Park Avenue living with his piety.

Of Nearer, My God, the book, he explained: “That is an incomplete phrase, but then my thoughts are incomplete, and I pray that my faith may always be whole.”

In the face of that brightest image of yesterday’s Gospel, we have a shot at it.

Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!
E’en though it be a cross that raiseth me,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Though like the wanderer, the sun gone down,
darkness be over me, my rest a stone;
yet in my dreams I’d be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

There let the way appear, steps unto heaven;
all that thou sendest me, in mercy given;
angels to beckon me
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Then, with my waking thoughts bright with thy praise,
out of my stony griefs Bethel I’ll raise;
so by my woes to be
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Or if, on joyful wing cleaving the sky,
sun, moon, and stars forgot, upward I fly,
still all my song shall be,
nearer, my God, to thee;
nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!

Most days we will not be on Mount Tabor, still all our souls shall be Nearer, we pray.

Listen to Him.


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