Lent 2, Fr Stephen Foster

Jesus led them up a high mountain…

Ascension Day 1977…the college ‘holiday’ at Mirfield Theological College in West Yorkshire. On this ‘extra day off’ the students board a bus and climb a mountain…that particular year it was Helvellyn in the Lake District.

‘Jesus led them up a high mountain.’

It was a cloudless, very warm day. You could see for miles and miles…to the north the
Scottish Border…to the west, the Isle of Man…to the south, the Welsh Mountains.

The scenery stretching out in front of us was simply stunning. We were stunned to silence with the awe…the beauty…the wonder of God’s creative power. (I remember that the silence was broken only by a helicopter flying BELOW us!)

‘Jesus led them up a high mountain.’

We had recently been learning about Aquinas and the five proofs for the existence of God…fascinating for a young academic! More especially we delved into teleology…the argument for God’s existence from the world’s ordered design. Here on Helvellyn was exactly that. Like Jesus on Mt Hermon…there was the beauty and majesty of our Creator God staring us in the face.

There we met God’s in all his glory. It was a sort of Theophany like the Gospel story today.. a vision of beauty and holiness.

Jesus led them up a high mountain.

Secondly, and this time on a ‘bit of a hill’…Chester Diocesan Conference Centre mid Cheshire.
I was invited to a Cursillo weekend. Cursillo is a Roman Catholic renewal movement.
I went kicking and screaming. Any renewal movement I treated with a great deal of suspicion!

What did I take with me to this renewal weekend…this walk up a hill?!?

Well, in my bringing up…I had to EARN my parents love by my achievements…and sadly, nothing was ever quite good enough. Even when I gained my doctorate, a PhD.cum laude, in 1998 there was not even a ‘Well done!’Far from expressing a ‘poor me’ scenario, for me I am just saying that this was simply normal.

‘Jesus led them up a high mountain.’

The problem was I mistakenly transferred that understanding of love to God. I thought I had to earn God’s love, as that was the model I had learnt from my parents for years and years before.

But at the early morning Mass on the Sunday of the week end, I experienced something of a Theophany. The Gospel was the story of The Prodigal Son with the loving Father reaching out to his Son before he has time to rehearse his carefully prepared speech of penitence.

‘Jesus led them up a high mountain.’

It was as if I was the Prodigal Son, God was the Father and I realised that he loved me for who I was then and there. God didn’t only love me if I proved I was clever!
I have always understood God with my head…but from that visionary moment, I began to understand him with my heart too.
This for me was a huge release. There were streaming tears…and much joy.
In a strange way, I felt then to have become a real Christian…
although I had already been a priest then for 20 years!

Jesus led them up a high mountain.

Two different sorts of mountains, one physical, one spiritual, but both a meeting with the glory and majesty of God.

Jesus led them up a high mountain.

There is a sort of ‘mountain’ here…at St Andrews now.
Here we can find God in each other, amongst the glimpses of beauty in the Mass, but also amidst the glimpses of beauty in each other.

By coming to Mass, by our prayers, by our spiritual disciplines… all these prepare the ground for us to see the beauty of God, to be looked for and found in the other person…in each and every person we meet day by day.

Jesus led them up a high mountain. 

In a sense wherever we are is that ‘high mountain’ where  we can learn to see God face to face in others in the beauty of holiness.

Amen.