By FR. ROLANDO V. DELA ROSA, O.P.
We usually think that we have only two kinds of life: life after birth and life after death. There is, actually, another one: life after REBIRTH.
Birth and death do not depend on our decision. It is our parents who decide that we be born. And it is not we who decide that we die. Whether we like it or not, death eventually happens to all of us. You might object: What about those who commit suicide? Actually, death is not a product of their decision. Those who commit suicide decide only WHEN to die.
In contrast to birth and death, rebirth is always a product of our decision. The transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor gives us a glimpse of what happens when we decide to be reborn. Recalling the event, St. Peter writes: “We were eyewitnesses of the glorious splendor that enveloped Jesus and we heard a voice saying: ‘This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ We heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).
What St. Peter witnessed was a foretaste of the resurrection —the rebirth of Jesus from the dead. At the moment when he saw it, St. Peter did not understand what such a rebirth entailed. Like a wide-eyed child watching an exciting movie, he suggested to Jesus that they stay in that mountain and continue enjoying the spectacle. But after having witnessed the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, St. Peter realized that such a glorious rebirth entailed an extremely difficult decision for Jesus — to suffer terribly and die on the Cross. To be reborn, one has to die.
The season of Lent is an opportune time for us to decide to be reborn. This is difficult because it entails a kind of dying, or giving up or letting go of an old self in exchange for the new. It brings about pain — the pain of embracing a vague vision of the future in exchange for a secure grasp of the present; and the pain of venturing into unfamiliar territory in exchange for a familiar but a crippling comfort zone.
We can, of course, postpone making that decision indefinitely. We can just tell ourselves: “There is no need to change. I’m comfortable with the way I live and the way I am. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” But every time we do this, it makes making a decision harder and harder until we rationalize and say: “I can’t help it. It is beyond my control. I was born this way. “
Or, despite the chaotic life we are living, we can argue that being born again means being constrained by laws, rules, and norms. But freedom is not to be construed as absolute autonomy or absolute self-expression.
As Bishop Robert Barron says: “The exercise of freedom is inseparable from laws or norms. Real freedom is the ability to discipline our desires so as to make the achievement of what is good possible, and later, effortless.”
Indeed, we become really free to swim when we abide by the do’s and don’ts of swimming. We freely speak good English after we master the intricate rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax.
The transfiguration of Jesus reminds us that we can always change for the better. God’s initiative and the outpouring of His grace can start the process. But, as St. Augustine writes: “God created us without us, but He cannot save us without us.” In other words, rebirth always requires that we decide to cooperate with God’s grace.
Let us pray that during this season of Lent we can make the decision to be reborn anew, so that when Easter comes, we can say with conviction: “I am never the same again.”