The Encounter with Love:
Have you ever noticed at weddings, when the bride is coming down the aisle, looking radiant and joyful…have you noticed how people’s heads turn back and forth, like they’re watching a tennis match?
They look at her, then up at the groom, then back at her, then back to him. She is, objectively speaking, the most beautiful one there, commanding our attention, and yet, for some reason we turn our gaze away from her towards him. It’s as if we’re fascinated by seeing how her beauty affects him; we delight to see a man pierced and the stereotypical hardness fade, revealing his profound love and reverence for the beloved.
In that exchange of glances, we catch an “echo” of our origin and an icon of our destiny. We see a little glimpse, as it were, of Adam in the beginning waking up, gazing wide-eyed and filled with breathless wonder at his bride, Eve, who pierces his heart with “one glance from her eye.” “This one at last” he cries, “is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!”
This vision, this piercing, this cry of the man’s heart, according to St. John Paul II, was a sharing in the vision of God towards the woman and of the woman towards the man. However, when we are at a wedding, we not only get a glimpse of the Creator’s original plan for each of us, but because of Christ, we also get a snapshot of our destiny. Christ, the New Adam, arrayed in glory at the end of time, awaiting his Bride who, “comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”
But, this side of the veil and exiled from Eden, our souls are far from “adorned” and “bedecked with jewels”; our hearts are broken and wounded by sin. And yet – here is the most healing revelation – even now, despite how much sin has wounded or disfigured us, Jesus sees the Bride with the same spousal wonderment of the first Adam, but now with a gaze of mercy; yes, Jesus sees, knows, loves, and is pierced by His Bride’s beauty, us, the Church!
Lent is the time and setting given by the Church to recognize His look of love and, above all, to recognize where we hide from his face. Properly understood, the LORD invites us this Lenten season—and always—to stand naked before Christ, so that we can experience the Truth that “you are not the sum of your weaknesses and failures,” but “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” Lent culminates with “things of heaven being wed to those of earth,” with the naked Christ stepping out of his tomb in victory; and his heart longs to embrace his spiritually naked Bride.
And yet, for so many, Lent is merely experienced as a yearly reminder that “mean Mother Church” doesn’t want us to enjoy the pleasures of this life too much, so you had better abstain from that stuff you enjoy – chocolates, soda, radio in the car, etc.
If this is the posture of our hearts, we’ll miss out on the healing of Lent and the intimacy of Easter. Lent is not a season of stoicism and shame, but the liturgical season of romance.
Ash Wednesday commences with those haunting words from Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart!” for our hearts have gone astray, and he beckons us back, “Repent!” But do we know the authentic tone of his voice, or what is in his eyes as he calls us back?
Lent is a forty-day pilgrimage, a long walk up the desert aisle in order to be seen by the true Bridegroom who awaits us at Easter. And his eyes are locked on us, not with disgust or condemnation, but welling up with tears, “for the LORD delights in you…as a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; and as a Bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you” (Is 62:4-5).
The question for you and me as we begin this Lent is whether or not we will choose to trust the gentle voice of the loving Bridegroom who beckons us to come out from hiding, “Adam, where are you,” allowing ourselves to be seen by him – not covering, hiding, excusing, or explaining – but in our nakedness?
There’s a substantial part of us that believes that if I let him see me in all my naked complexity, if I disrobe my soul and return to him with my “whole heart” – even those parts – then the light in his eyes will fade, and he’ll hang his face in disappointment and disgust; he’ll reject me…won’t he? I’d reject me! Sitting with each of us, next to our futile wells, he repeats to each of us what he said to the Samaritan woman whose sin he knew – “Oh, if you knew the gift of God!”
As we commence this Lent, allow your heart to entertain the wild possibility that, perhaps, perhaps, Jesus gazes upon your poverty, brokenness, woundedness, sin, and shame with a different lens than you – the lens of mercy. And what he sees pierces his heart in love.
Jesus looks upon you and gasps with Adam’s joy – in you, he sees his Beloved; in you he sees a little one in need of mercy. Have the courage this Lent to step out of hiding, to return to Him with your whole heart, and to let his Merciful gaze heal all that shame has claimed within you. The Bridegroom’s eyes are locked on you – lift up your eyes; be downcast no longer; trust in his mercy.
Father Patrick Schultz is a priest of the Diocese of Cleveland and he currently serves as the Parochial Vicar of Communion of Saints Parish in Cleveland Heights, OH. He attended Theology of the Body I course in the fall of 2017, and hopes to attend other courses in the future.