(Wednesday of the First Week of Advent; This homily was given on 3 December, 2008 at the Chapel of The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain, Belgium; See Isaiah 25:6-10 and Matthew 15:29-37)
If you have ever been on the top of a very high mountain then you know how exhilarating that experience can be; thousands of feet above sea level, looking out as far as the eye can see.
And it is not difficult to see why the mountaintop plays such a key role in the Scriptures, in both the Old and New Testament. It is Moses who goes up on the top of Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God. Elijah the prophet goes to Mount Horeb and listens to the still, small voice of God Himself.
In our gospel this morning, Christ goes up the mountain—like He does so many times in the gospels—and He heals those who are sick, He opens the eyes of the blind. And it is there, on that mountain, that He performs the miracle of love and feeds the hungry crowd. The mountain is the meeting place of God and humanity; it is the place where heaven and earth come together.
In the 1960’s modern psychology began to use that religious language and imagery to speak about the human experience. Abraham Maslow talks about peak experiences, moments in our lives where things seem to come together, when we are at a high point; we’re on the mountaintop.
But we do not need Maslow to tell us the reality of peak experiences: they don’t last! No sooner are we on the top of the mountain than we are forced back down again. We can stay there only so long before the reality of this fallen world brings us back down; or worse, we are thrown over the side of the mountain! Many people find themselves so far from the top that they despair of ever being able to get back up again. They walk in the “dark valley” spoken about in our responsorial psalm this morning (Psalm 23). That tragic story is told from the beginning of time, describing in excruciating detail how far we have fallen from the mountaintop.
In the wake of the First World War, right here in Flanders and the surrounding countries, they experienced the destruction of humanity on a scale never before imagined. Corpses and destruction were strewn across the beautiful places that you and I visit and enjoy in much brighter times today.
But the world up to that point had been climbing the mountain; humanity was going places, progressing and surpassing all expectations. How far the world fell from that peak experience! The great Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, in his famous work, The Second Coming, writes to the people of his generation immediately after those devastating events. He likens them to a falcon, swirling around in the wind, climbing higher and higher…but the falcon can no longer hear the falconer. Without foundations, without a reference point, we are on our own, and there are consequences:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…
—William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
Things fall apart because we cannot hold the centre in place. We do not have to be Yeats or someone living in the aftermath of World War I to see things fall apart. That is the brokenness which is a part of our human condition. We see it all the time: broken hearts and broken homes; broken relationships, broken promises. Broken dreams. Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.
Yet the miracle that we celebrate right now, the unthinkable event that shines through like a beacon in the night, is that God Himself would choose to come—adventus—and enter into that world. He Himself would choose to become one of us, to be broken, so that we could be made whole.
God comes to be born as a child in Bethlehem. That child will grow up and as a man He will climb to the top of the mountain, and give us the teaching of the Beatitudes: a new way of living, a new way of looking at life. He will climb to the top of the mountain, and be transfigured before Peter, James and John. They will come to see that this is what God had in mind all along, this was His plan for us: that we should join Him for all eternity on the mountain, that we should be glorified forever with Him.
And to make sure that call and promise would be fulfilled, Jesus Christ climbs one more mountain: Calvary. He climbed to the top of that mountain and, in the word of St. John of the Cross:
… he climbed a tree,
and spread his shining arms,
and hung by them, and died,
his heart an open wound with love.
—St. John of the Cross
Christ pours out His very self, all that He has, to reach us in our brokenness; He heals us, forgives us, gives us the grace and strength to get back up again. That is what Isaiah the prophet is referring to in our first reading this morning:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich foods and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.
Christ comes to feed us with His very self, to provide a rich and eternal banquet for us, to destroy death forever, and He does it on this mountain, in the gift of Himself on the cross. And it is in Christ, and in Christ alone, that humanity has hope, for in Him, things do not fall apart. In Jesus Christ things come together and the centre can hold!
“Jesus Christ is the center of the universe and of history” (John Paul the Great, Redemptor Hominis, #1), He is heaven and earth held together in Himself. Christ is God and humanity wed together as one, and He pours out new life for us from the cross.
Here at this Eucharistic table we share in that banquet, that outpouring of Christ for the building up of His Church. We come here to receive Him in whom the centre holds. It is in Christ that all things come together, and “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Might we live in the Eucharist today, and let Christ live in us; for it is in that gift of Christ Himself in the Blessed Sacrament that we come together and in Him do we have the strength to walk upon the mountain and share in that rich banquet for all eternity.