Originally written on the Second Sunday of Lent, March 20, 2011
by Fr. Jet Villarin, SJ
If you do it right, the transformation of a woman into a bride or of a man into a groom can be a wondrous thing to behold. Even for just half a day, the couple are transfigured before our very eyes as they process to the altar like fairytale characters vowing to live happily ever after.
Danny Huang SJ tells this nice, true story about a fairytale wedding in which people were mesmerized by the bride who in her radiance seemed like she had just dropped from heaven (“hulog ng langit”). The groom’s appearance however was so ordinary, they remarked, he seemed to have just dropped from a tree (“nahulog sa puno”).
Often, I tell the couple to take care to remember this moment. The photographs help, the music and flowers too. The whiteness, the pageantry, the ritual and ambience of the sacrament are all more than just cosmetic concerns. These are to be cherished as a time in the morning of their lives when they could see each other clearly, yes even beyond the pageantry.
The radiance is not what has them spellbound. They know enough of their own dimness for them to be starstruck or beguiled. What has them spellbound is what they are seeing: the utter gratuity and freedom and grace of their love. The radiance that surrounds them, their beauty, is thus the consequence not the cause of their love.
When two people surrender themselves to each other for better or for worse, they become luminous to each other and to us as well. The light that shines comes from the happy grace of being given their very selves when they are together. In a transfiguration moment such as this, not even cord or veil can shroud who they are before the world and before God and His people: they are beloved of one another; and this is possible only because they are beloved of God.
In the gospel today, three friends go up the mountain with Jesus. There they see his face change and become luminous. Then they see him talking with two big actors of the faith, Moses of the-Law-and-Promised-Land fame and Elijah of the firestarter-and-Prophets series. We do not really know if they are talking serious strategy or merely talking shop.
Peter is enthralled by all this and proposes to stay for good in the mountain. He is still ironing out the details of the tents to be put up when a bright cloud comes to shut him up. It overshadows them and from out of the cloud comes a thunderous voice (well, it might have been a still, small voice but coming from a cloud, the volume dial must have been set to high): “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
The first listening they had to do was to the gentle voice of Jesus (it must have been gentle because they “were very much afraid”) who “touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’”
The point of such a story being told during these Lenten days is clear: before we are brought to the terrible events that lead to Calvary, before the shadows of betrayal and grief overwhelm us, before he is broken and disfigured beyond recognition, we are asked to cherish this vision of his gentle, luminous face. Lest we forget who the crucified One is, we are told that he is the beloved Son of God. Before his hands are stretched and nailed to the wood, we are asked to be open and sensitive to his touch. Before the barbs and mockery rise to a deafening crescendo, we are told to listen to his firm and gentle voice. Rise, do not be afraid.
We have all seen the horrifying images of Japan’s devastation. The after shocks reveal a volatile, tectonic world. We are reminded of all that is tentative and fluid in our foundations. When rumors of radioactive wind tossed us over waves of panic and fear, we were confronted once more with our utter vulnerability and inevitable mortality. While we work our way to wield some power over adversity and to not let things just happen, we also know we are so small to be in control.
Rise, do not be afraid, he touches us while we lie prostrate and powerless on the ground. Do not be afraid, we who are made in his image. We too are God’s beloved, God’s very own. We are more than who we think we are. Life is more than what we see it is. God is more than who we believe God is.
If you do it right, a wedding can be a moment of transfiguration. Jesus himself used the image many times in his parables to reveal the truth of our destiny and the depth of his love. How deep does he love us?
Even if the Groom who hangs nailed to that tree should seem ordinary, he will be faithful to his Bride no matter what happens. Even if she should doubt and forget, his promises to her will never be broken. He will love her even if she should no longer be as radiant as when she just dropped from heaven.
ABOUT FR. JET VILLARIN, SJ
Fr. Jet is a Filipino Jesuit priest and scientist, who just finished his term as the university president of Ateneo de Manila University. He received the National Outstanding Young Scientist award in 2000, and the Outstanding Book Award for “Disturbing Climate” in 2002. He is also an active member of several local and international environment and climate committees, such as the United Nations’ Consultative Group of Experts for Developing Countries, and the Inter-Agency Committee on Climate Change, among others.
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