Saturday, March 10, 2007

Back to normal and then on vacation

I'm hoping to have some deeper posts this week because I'll be on vacation. I'm actually really hoping to relax without a lot of responsibilities. It's spring break here at Iowa State and I'm hoping to take full advantage of it. I'm sorry that I haven't been posting well but the heart of the semester is over and now I'm hoping to get bck to more frequently posting. I hope all is well with you.

Being "in the zone"

I read the readings for this Sunday and thought that the connection between all three is that moment when you are startled out of the "normalness" of life. Moses, on the mountain, sees an oddity, a bush that is burning but not consumed. Some of Jesus' more arrogant followers thought that those people over there deserved their tragedy and didn't realize that they too could have been. Even Paul thought had to tell his followers that they can't take consolation in knowing the revelation of Jesus Christ. They have to live the revelation they've received.

One of the things we have that pulls us out of our illusions of "the zone" is the sacrament of reconciliation. It forces us to acknowledge that we make mistakes, that we aren't perfect. We are fallible and God loves us most when we recognize that.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The transfiguration of our bodies

Who's the most beautiful person in America? Every year, People Magazine publishes its list of the top 100 best-looking people. Last year, Angelina Jolie number one but it seems like we all know the profile of the person even before the results are released. The person is, usually, a woman because, in general, women are better looking than men. The person is probably going to be thin, without any blemishes, whether humanly done like tattoos, body piercings, or unusual hair cuts, sorry Brittany, or natural blemishes like a birth mark, mole, or deformed ear. The person is probably a celebrity, either in movies or television. And society is fixated with youth. It prizes attributes like hairless chests on men and wrinkleless faces on women. And, it is interesting to note when society conveys its double message to "be yourself" and “fit into the above stereotypes”. So, on the one hand, we hear that we shouldn’t conform to anyone else's stereotypes as to looks or expression but, instead, carve out our own look and, simultaneously, we should be thin, perfect, and young in order to be beautiful.

This becomes, then, very frustrating for those of us who aren’t thin, young, hairless, wrinkle-free celebrities. Of course, the solution we hear from our society is simple. Go dye your hair. Get liposuction or staple your stomach. Shave your body or, even better, wax it. And, of course, use oil of Olay to get rid of all those nasty wrinkles. Then you will be beautiful just like the rest of society and, finally, be able to be yourself. What a relief.

If you were to say what Catholicism believes to the most beautiful attributes of a person, what would they be? In other words, who should we, Christians, say is beautiful? We can probably all agree that we aren't going to base our opinions on outward appearances, right? Despite all the depictions of Jesus on the cross with six pack abs and that great picture of surfer Jesus with wind blown hair, we can probably all agree that Christianity isn’t known for a photogenic imperative. I mean, hopefully no one is going to say that we need a team of "experts" to come running into the Vatican to do a makeover. Well, in the gospel today, it could seem like Jesus thought he needed a makeover. On the eighth day, he takes his friends to go off to pray on a mountain. As is typical, they get sleepy and decide to take a nap in the middle of prayer. They'll do that again in the garden so they're just practicing here. While they nap, Jesus' face changes and his clothes become dazzlingly white. And then, Moses and Elijah are there. But, in truth, we aren't looking at anything as simple as a makeover. Peter and the brothers awake, they are given a vision of what it will be like in heaven. In truth, they are seeing heaven on earth. They even get to hear God's voice, just like at Jesus' baptism, declare Jesus to be God's son with the mandate to listen to him. The scene is so overwhelming the Peter doesn't want to leave it. He wants to set up some booths to keep Moses and Elijah from going back to heaven. Yet, he will know later that it is not the right time. The time will come when the Son of Man will open the gates of paradise for all his believers. That will be the most beautiful of times.

That's the true difference between the beauty of Christianity and the beauty of this world. No matter how hard we try, most of us will never look like a model. They'll say that we can and show us pictures of other people who have become beautiful. But, we know that we'll never be like them. And, in fact, the harder we try the more angry and frustrated we become. The beauty of Christianity, on the other hand, is open to all people. The beauty of Christianity is in the realization that we always live with a certain awkwardness in this world. The solutions it offers are always short term because we know that our real happiness is in heaven.

Especially during Lent, we recognize that our time on earth is passing away, not on our schedule but on God's time. Yet, just as Elijah and Moses had to return to the Father, so we know that we will have to go to him when he calls us. We patiently wait for that day knowing that, when it does come, we shall be transfigured just as Jesus was. This gospel, then, shows us what true beauty is all about. It's not in vain desires to be eternally 18 years old. It is in the realization that each day that we live is another gift from God even as we know that this world is passing away. It's in the hope that we have that, when God and God alone, takes us from this world, he will take us to himself to change our faces and make our garments dazzlingly white. All we have to do, is remain faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ and those he has appointed to preach his word.