The world around us tells us in a million ways that we are nothing special. Most of all, it tells us that the gift of our sexuality is nothing special — in fact, it’s a big problem. We manipulate our hormones, poison ourselves, make war on healthy organs, or place physical barriers between us, trying to control this “problem.”
Is it any wonder that the most powerful, dynamic, transformative force in mortal life is eventually bleached out to shades of gray? It’s like a thick veil has been cast over everything our sexuality was meant to be. A couple who embraces the full dignity and beauty of sexuality unveil something about human nature, something that was always there but that has been concealed and forgotten.
The Transfiguration of Jesus (the feast of which is today, August 6) is a moment of unveiling. What his apostles saw wasn’t an illusion projected onto Jesus, it was the truth of who he really is. It’s like a glimpse under the corner of the veil. The glory and dignity of Jesus — always there, but sometimes forgotten or obscured — was momentarily revealed.
It’s easy enough to forget our dignity. We can lose sight of it, especially when it is challenging and we are weary.
According to the preface of today’s Mass, this is one of the reasons Jesus gave His apostles the gift of that mountaintop vision:
“He revealed his glory to his disciples to strengthen them for the scandal of the Cross.”
That liturgical text is picking up a theme sounded by St. Pope Leo the Great:
“And in this Transfiguration the foremost object was to remove the scandal of the Cross from the disciples’ hearts, and to prevent their faith being disturbed by the humiliation of his voluntary Passion by revealing to them the excellence of his hidden dignity.”
The point is that when following Jesus gets tough, both his cross and ours can become a scandal (σκάνδαλον, literally, a ‘stumbling block’). It can look like failure, like weakness, like loss, like humiliation. But St. Leo saw, in the Transfiguration, Christ’s remedy to keep us from stumbling. He gives us a glimpse of the hidden dignity we can’t always see.
Practitioners and supporters of NFP talk a lot about dignity, about the unveiled beauty of who we are and how we are called to love in God’s glorious image. That’s all true. But we also respond to Christ’ call to take up our cross and follow him. There is always a cross! In the daily carrying of the cross, the dignity and glory aren’t always right there on the surface, are they?
For those of you who are parents, think back to before you had kids. How do your youthful dreams of childrearing compare to the actual experience? Those idealistic dreams don’t miss the reality of dirty diapers, late nights, and shirts stained with spit-up — they see through to the heart of the reality, to the true essence and beauty of parenthood. The tough realities of raising kids are instead a veil, sometimes obscuring the true beauty at work.
But the veil isn’t bad — it calls us to greater, more selfless love.
It would have been easy for the apostles to perfectly love Jesus if he was always in his brilliant, transfigured state. (In fact, Peter, the pope, loved it so much he wanted to literally set up camp there!) Likewise, it would be easier for us to consistently rejoice in NFP, in parenthood, if the tough realities were gone and the beauty of these lifestyles shone forth with their original brilliance.
But we live in a fallen world and we are called to love the world where it is, to love our spouses where they are, and to love our kids even as they scream in anger at us. This love is deeper, more profound, because it gives no pleasure in return. Still, a peek under the veil reveals to us the good work we’re really doing and in turn leaves us transfigured.
The growing NFP movement is revealing the true face of human love and sexuality, and every couple who joins the ranks makes the vision that much more clear and compelling. May we live faithfully without stumbling, remembering the beauty we’ve glimpsed until the day the walk is over and Christ once and for all lifts the veil of his Bride.
— Co-authored by Fr. Steven Beatty and Forest Hempen, Former Marketing and Communications Associate for the Couple to Couple League. Fr. Steven Beatty, V.F. is Pastor of St Kateri Tekakwitha Parish in Gallatin County, Illinois, and chaplain to Camp Ondessonk, a Catholic youth adventure camp in the Shawnee National Forest.