The Mountain of the Lord

Douglas P. McManaman
October 18, 2017
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

This life is fundamentally about a wedding invitation. Our destiny is to attend this wedding. The first reading from Isaiah speaks of a mountain, and in primal religions, a mountain is a sacred place, because to climb a mountain is to ascend toward the heavens, the realm of the ancestors. The mountain is a symbol of the spiritual life, which is really an ascent. In the first reading, it says that "…on this mountain the Lord will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines." Wine, of course, represents joy, for God created wine to cheers the hearts of men (Ps 104). Getting drunk has profound religious symbolism. The other line that is striking in this first reading is the following: "On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations".

There is a thin veil that separates heaven and earth, and all the great mystics from Hinduism to Hasidism knew this. On this mountain, at the end of time, that veil will disappear. We will see God as He is in Himself, and the joy that this will bring is simply indescribable. The best we can do is to compare it to a banquet of rich foods and the finest wines, but of course that simply does not do justice to what heaven will be like, because as St. Paul says: "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no heart has imagined, what God has prepared for those who love Him."

But that veil, which exists now, can be thickened, and it can become so thick that in this life we can lose all sense of the divine presence in the depths of our own self. It thickens when we become the center of our own life. On the other hand, the veil can become increasingly thin, so thin that light from the other side floods our own interior. God is there at the very depths of our interior, giving us his undivided attention at every instant of our existence, and we are there with him, alone. And although we have God's undivided attention at every instant of our existence, he does not have our attention. We are alone with him whether we like it or not, and it is entirely up to us whether we are going to turn toward him in that deepest region of the self, or ignore him. God is patient, however, and he will wait for the rest of our lives.

In the gospel reading, many were invited to the wedding, and many refused the invitation; they took it lightly, for they had other business to attend to: "one to his farm, another to his business". And this is typical, even today. Many people will come to this banquet, the Mass - which is a real wedding banquet in which we feast on the bread of life and in which we become joined to the bridegroom in a one flesh union - when they have time, if there is nothing more important to do, as if there is something in this world that is more important than preparing for eternal life.

My ministry as a deacon has been to those who suffer from mental illness, and I have to say that some of the most fortunate people I've met are those who suffer from a mental illness. It can be a wonderful gift - a painful gift, but a gift nonetheless. If there is one thing that I do know for certain after 56 years, it is that we are at our worst in times of prosperity. Prosperity really does bring out the worst in us, and conversely, suffering tends to bring out the best. We are at our best in times of suffering. It is then, in the midst of suffering and difficulties that we begin to reach out to God in the darkness; we are at our most humane when we suffer. I believe the reason is that we are in touch with our own vulnerability to destruction; for we are spirit and matter; "human" is from the Latin humus, which means soil. We are from the earth, and it is because of matter that we are so frail and vulnerable to destruction. Anything can happen that could end our life or change it radically in a split second. A student of mine many years ago crossed an intersection at a green light and someone in an SUV was in a hurry and wasn't looking and struck her, causing her to hit her head on the sidewalk. So much about her has been permanently affected (cognitively, emotionally, and physically). It can happen to any of us, but the positive side of such sad stories is that such suffering can awaken us to an aspect of our existence that nothing else was able to do: we know our poverty. There are so many people in this part of the world who have their health, a high standard of living, they can travel, eat at the finest restaurants, play tennis at the club during the day, etc., but they are almost entirely unaware of their utter need for God. Religion is the last thing on their minds. But the first beatitude is: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs". In other words, the first condition for belonging to the kingdom of God is recognition of one's own poverty of spirit, one's utter need for God. This is the blessing that suffering can bring. Prosperity can and often does thicken the veil that separates us from God, unless we work to prevent that from happening, something that is very difficult to do, for when all is well in our lives, we tend not to feel the need for God.

In this gospel, the servants went out into the streets and gathered all who would come, and the first reading suggests that these were the suffering, because in Isaiah, it says: "The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face". Those on that mountain, ready to feast, have tears. We can't climb that mountain without suffering. One of the greatest saints of the Church, herself a doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, suffered tremendous depression. In her autobiography there is a description of some of her mornings that strongly suggest bipolar disorder, and reading some of the letters of Padre Pio would convince any of us that he was battling clinical depression. Mother Theresa experienced tremendous darkness the moment she left the Loretto Sisters for the streets of Calcutta; she said it was as if the lights went out and the Lord disappeared.

The ones who are accepting the invitation to the Lord's wedding banquet are the poor in spirit, and one does not have to be Catholic to be poor in spirit. According to St. Augustine, the wedding garment that one of the guests was not wearing symbolizes charity, that intimate love of God and neighbor, and caritas is not the exclusive property of Catholics or Christians by any means. I've had a number of young "saints" in my classroom over the years, some with extraordinary minds and extraordinary charity, most of whom were Muslim, and some Hindu. Charity is the key to the heart of God, for it is already the heart of God dwelling in us. This life is about learning how to love God with great charity; it is about learning how to climb the Lord's mountain towards the eternal wedding banquet. That climb starts here with a descent into the inner universe where the Lord waits for us patiently, giving us his undivided attention, loving us as if there is only one of us.