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On Paper Towns and Jesus' Transfiguration
Galilee Center, Tagaytay City - Oratory
The Transfiguration by Raphael
Feast of the Transfiguration
Paper Towns. Prior to my coming here at the Galilee Center for the Assisted Intensive renewal (AIR) Program, I was hooked on reading this novel entitled, “Paper Towns” (now a movie) by one of my favorite novelists in the name of John Green. Based on my reading, paper towns are fictitious towns created by a certain company or mapmakers as copyright traps to catch plagiarists from copying their maps illegally. A good example of this is a town called Holen in South Dakota which is a town that existed only in the map. In this regard, we can say that the word “paper” when used as a descriptive word in a metaphorical sense could mean “fake” or “fictitious,” e.g. Paper City – fake city or Paper Girl – to mean “fake or maybe imaginary girl.”
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration – from the Latin transfigurare which is equivalent to the Greek word metamorphosis which means “change of shape or form.” In the presence of Peter, James and John, Jesus was transfigured before their very eyes revealing His true nature as the Son of God. What was once thought of as fictitious or simply words of scriptures was enfleshed in Jesus’ Transfiguration, who in fact, is THE WORD Himself. Yes, He is man with flesh and bones, but more than just a man, He is GOD.
The Gospel narrative on Jesus’ transfiguration, rich as it is, could be reflected under various aspects. Allow me, however, to focus on a particular phrase where I find myself very much connected to. The Gospel narrates: (After seeing Jesus being transfigured in the midst of Moses and Elijah) Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Two wonderful things about this part of the narrative:
First, there was Peter: the stay-away-from-me-I-am-a-sinner Peter; the command-me-to-come-to-you-on-the-water Peter; the You-are-the-messiah-the-Son-of-the-living-God Peter; the wash-not-only-my-feet-but-my-hands-and-head-as-well Peter; the though-all-may-have-their-faith-shaken-mine-will-never-be Peter. Like Peter, I was reminded of the person that I bring with me at the Galilee Center: the everything-has-to-be-perfect Fr. G; the I-can’t-go-any-wrong Fr. G; the self-confident-anybody-does-not-matter-anymore Fr. G; the domineering-I-won’t-tolerate-mistakes-even-to-my-friends Fr. G and most importantly, the I-need-to-be-needed-by-my-father Fr. G. I cannot but help but ask myself the question, “Am I bringing my TRUE SELF to the Galilee Center? Or am I simply bringing with me my Paper Self? I do believe that I come here for a reason and that Jesus has called me to be here not only to discover my deepest and inner self as it reflects the very Person of Christ, but also to come to a point of transfiguration not that I can transfigure like Christ but to reach a point of transformation. To use our Midlife Promises lingo – to go back to our default or original settings as God intended us to be.
Second, Peter awed by this reality before his very eyes suggested “building three tents” for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. At the spur of the moment, was he suggesting a make believe tents … paper tents where one could forever fantasize about one’s feelings and emotions? Or was he suggesting a place of retreat or renewal like the Galilee Center, where as it is so named, we humbly subject ourselves to the center for transformation?
My first encounter of the Galilee Center was in February of last year. Back then, there were 16 priests taking the PARI “Priests Assisted Renewal Integration” Program and 13 other priests taking the “Human Sexuality” Program. It was my younger brother (another priest in my family), who suggested that I come here. I have no idea what this place was, but urged by the need to take on something to address my then restless heart (depression). I went here with a hope to get an immediate “cure” so to speak. Though this place has already been existing for a decade or so, it started out for me as a Paper Center. A program or two thereafter, that idea changed from simply a place of refuge or an asylum to a place of transformation. But, what is this center for us? Why are we here in the first place? I do believe that unless one sees this center as a center for renewal, transformation or “transfiguration” we will end up counting the months, the days, the hours, every minute and every second of every waking day … a paper center. Before we know it, we are already at the very last period of the program forgetting the purposes why we are here in the first place.
One final note:
At the very beginning of the Gospel narrative, Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain. I was reminded of the reassuring words from the now Bishop-Elect of L.A. Robert Barron, in his book, “The Strangest Way” when he said: “A new center comes to us as a divine gift, and our first responsibility is to welcome it… We don’t stand at the bottom of the holy mountain wondering whether we can clamber our way to the summit, attaining the divine through our heroic efforts. On the contrary, through God’s grace, we start on the mountaintop, as the beloved children of God, cherished and redeemed.” And so, when Jesus led Peter, James and John up a high mountain part of the revelation aside from Him being the Son of God, was to remind them of God’s unceasing love. The initiative to LOVE came from God first before we even seek it out for ourselves. The beauty of being at the Galilee Center, therefore, rests on the truth that He has been waiting for us to be here to be loved, cherished and redeemed.
Going back to Paper Towns, there is another place which is in New York called Agloe which started out as a paper town. But as people kept looking for it, someone built a store making Agloe real and not fake or fictitious. Whoever that someone was, he/she is for me a living symbol of what Jesus is trying to tell us in the Feast of the Transfiguration. He wants us to make an active effort to allow Him to come to us in our lives … to transform us … to transfigure us by:1. Presenting and allowing our TRUE SELVES not our paper selves to be renewed openly; and more importantly, 2. Allowing this center to become a TRUE CENTER not a paper center as a sure place of renewal and transformation. May we find joy, in seeking Christ and more than what Peter actually desires, build “tents” where God’s love resides and will forever be at the center of our being.
“This is my beloved Son … listen to Him.” God bless us all!