As a teenager in South Africa, I belonged to a parish youth group which sometimes held retreats at Mbona Mountain Estate in the Karkloof which is a part of the midlands of Kwa Zulu-Natal. Mbona truly is an oasis of tranquility and an area of stunning natural beauty; its many lakes remind me of the ancient magnificence of Glendalough – though the zebra and wildebeest that roam the hills on Mbona would be out of place on the Wicklow mountains!
On one such retreat, an Italian priest, who was a mystic, was part of the group. He led us into contemplating the wonder of creation, suggesting to us that it was almost like our Lord’s Transfiguration where we encounter the truth of the nature of the Creator. I still remember the deep experience of the Spirit that surrounded all of us that weekend and, also the yearning that we could stay there on those hills away from the hurly burly of homework, maths lessons and unrequited teenage love.
That is why St Peter’s response in today’s Gospel so resonates with me. Awash in wonder, Peter wanted to stay there and build tents. Like me at Mbona he wanted to stay present in the pure joy of the glory of God, shining with the reflected light of the Transfiguration. Yet, that was not the purpose of the Spirit, nor the end point of Peter’s, or of any of our, pilgrimages.
Like the disciples we left our mountain top and waded into the real stuff of life. Matthew, in today’s Gospel, follows his account of the Transfiguration by narrating how Jesus returned to the hurting people and healed the boy who was possessed. So, it is with us; we are granted glimpses of the Transfiguration, be it an ocean sunrise, a mountain sunrise, the laughter of friends, walking the dog in the rain or the smile of a loved one. These moments are the gifts the Creator gives us, a glimpse of the dream, and they sustain us as we return to a broken world to continue to make it more whole, more loving, ‘more free’ from poverty and want, more peaceful, and more like Kingdom that we profess to believe in.