On This Holy Mountain

Watercolor painting of our Abbey by our retired abbess, Mother Maria-Thomas, OSB

“Let the mountains bring peace to the people”

–Psalm 72:3 (NASB), from the Mass Responsorial Psalm for December 17

A reflection on the Mass readings for the first Wednesday in Advent (Isaiah 25:6-10; Matthew 15:29-37) by Mother Maria-Michael Newe, OSB

Today we hear from Isaiah that “the hand of the lord will rest on this mountain” (Isaiah 25:10). And we hear in the Gospel about Christ going up the mountain, and how He sat down there and was ready to teach. The people came to Him with the blind, the mute, the deformed, and many others, and they placed them at His feet and He cured them. When we kneel we are at the Lord’s feet. That is an incredibly powerful place to be. Isaiah says that His hand will rest on this mountain, and so too, does His hand rest upon us when we kneel before Him. There we can feel secure.

I looked up the word “mountain” in the Dictionary of Biblical Theology, and it says that mountains are a place of stability, of power, a place before God, a place of revelation beyond others (we see this clearly in Christ’s Transfiguration). And all through the Old Testament we see the mountain image. Moses receives the Ten Commandments on the mountain. Elijah is on the mountain, not only hearing the whisper of God, but also hearing God tell him to go look and see if anything was coming.    

We know that during His life, Jesus loved to retire to the mountains for prayer and solitude, which he sought as a refuge from the noise of daily life. And people everywhere do the same. That’s why people come here to our Abbey. They want that quiet. The mountains didn’t pass Saint Benedict by. Wasn’t he up in Subiaco? Didn’t he spend three years in a cave? Didn’t he have Monte Casino? Didn’t he build a monastery on a mountain? There’s something to say about the mountains.

We hear from Saint Benedict in the Prologue of his Rule,

If we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask the Lord with the prophets, ‘Who will dwell in your tent, Lord? Who will find rest upon your holy mountain?’ After this question, brothers, let us listen well to what the Lord says in reply, for he shows us the way to his tent. ‘One who walks without blemish,’ he says, ‘and is just in all his dealings. Who speaks the truth from his heart and has not practiced deceit with his tongue. Who has not wronged a fellow man in any way nor listened to slander against his neighbor. He has spoiled the evil one, the devil, at every turn, flinging both him and his promptings far from the sight of his heart. While these temptations are still young, he took hold of them and dashed them against Christ.’” (Prologue, v. 22-28)

That’s how we live on the holy mountain. We must take to heart what Saint Benedict teaches, who so loved the mountains because they brought him closer to God. During this Advent season, let us do what he says about how to get to the tent upon that mountain. Peter wanted to make three tents on the mountain of the Transfiguration—one for Christ, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But we want even more than that. We want a tent for the whole world, where everybody can have a place on that mountain with Christ. So we have a chance to pray for that this Advent. When we live faithfully, how many graces does that open up to the world? When we’re willing to strive for holiness, it affects the whole Church; and God asks this of us. So let’s all together answer that call, and really help one another to be holy.