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Monday, February 27, 2012

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” (Mark 9:2, 7)

God's Hands 

 March 4, 2012
Second Sunday of Lent
Mark 9:2-10  Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

The gospel passage we hear today seems to invite the sharing of our own stories about meeting God in high places. While the scriptural event recalled today is known as the Transfiguration with a capital “T,” many of us have also had very personal transfigurations – experiences where, like Peter, James and John, we suddenly found ourselves breathing a new reality, caught somewhere between earth and heaven. St. Mark writes, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’” (Mark 9:2, 7)

Indeed, this scriptural account of the Transfiguration affirmed the truth of Jesus as beloved Son of God, while also affirming God’s great love for the 3 awestruck disciples. Caught between heaven and earth, they came to a mystical knowledge of God and also of themselves. Sometimes, though, these transfiguring moments, while leading to the same mystical revelation, are clearly not heavenly. As my cousin, Chris, recently related, sometimes they are terrifyingly hellish. I share his story with you:

“In my many years in the Valley Cottage [New York] Fire Department, I have been called upon to respond to accidents where drivers were not paying attention. I have been called upon to help rescue climbers who got stuck on the 500-foot high Palisades Cliffs. There are signs all over the place about how climbing the cliffs can be deadly and is illegal. Two of the rescues I was involved with really upset me.

“About 1988, a young man, aged 16, was climbing with a friend, fell about 100 feet and was very seriously injured. I led the team that had to climb 200 feet from the bottom to reach him. As 3 of us were ascending, a huge boulder became dislodged and fell, heading straight at us. There was nothing we could do except close our eyes and ask for heavenly intervention. The boulder, about the size of a VW Bug, hit something and veered away, missing us and the young man. We reached him, placed him in shock pants, splints, etc., and removed him. We had to perform CPR while climbing back down with him. We revived him and got him down to the medics who rushed him to the hospital. I didn’t expect him to live.

“I was summoned to the hospital to talk to the police, and while giving my report, a surgeon asked if I would speak to the family. I met with them and the priest who was with them. We said a brief prayer and they thanked me for all we’d done.

“I will remember that day always, as I was really shaken by that boulder and the condition of the young man we worked on. It was a very tough rescue, and it scared us all. The 3 of us who made the climb believed we got some heavenly help that day, as did that young man, who today is alive but disabled.

“The other rescue on the cliffs turned into a recovery as the man, in his 30s, fell 500 feet to his death. It was pitch black that night with no moon and a very light rain. He had been walking along the top of the cliffs when he lost his footing. A witness drove to a nearby restaurant and called the police.

“We were dispatched, and I was in charge of the topside crew. Our job was to locate the spot where the victim lost his footing so the recovery crew, 500 feet below, would know where to look for the man. We used our hand-lights and searched near the cliff edge for evidence. We came upon the suspected location that was slick from the rain and leaves, so I tied off my safety-line to a sign post so I could get very close to the edge. As I did, I began to slide. There was nothing I could do, but my safety-line stopped and held me until a fellow rescuer pulled me back. I was badly shaken, but I continued with the task. We were able to recover the man’s body, and as we were picking up our gear afterwards, we noticed the post to which I had tied my safety line – it was a warning sign: “Stay Away From Cliff Edge!” I said a prayer of thanks that night and didn’t sleep well at all. I woke up several times grasping for something, as I felt myself going over the edge.

“Yes, there are material signs about all kinds of dangers. And then there are some very important mystical signs that let us know we are being cared for. I believe we received help from heaven on both rescues. To this day I am afraid of those cliffs. I am no longer on that rescue team, as it is a young man’s job, but I pray every time they go out.”

In conclusion, Cousin Chris referenced words spoken by New York City Fire Chaplain Father Mychal Judge on September 10, 2001 as he re-dedicated the quarters of Ladder 42 in the Bronx – less than 24 hours before he died at the World Trade Center:

"Good days, bad days, but never a boring day on this job! You do what God has called you to do. You show up, you put one foot in front of the other, and you do your job – which is a mystery and a surprise. You have no idea, when you get in that rig, what God is calling you to. But he needs you, so keep going. Keep supporting each other. Be kind to each other. Love each other. Work together. You love the job. We all do. What a blessing that is.”

Indeed, it’s all about meeting God in high places.

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