We all know the story. There was a time when his face was handsome and his palace pleasant. But that was before the curse, before shadows fell on the castle of the prince, before shadows fell on the heart of the prince. And when darkness fell, he hid. Secluded in his castle, he was left with a glistening snout and curly tusks and a bad mood. We have to ask ourselves the question, "What would have happened to the Beast if Beauty hadn't appeared?"
We know everything changed when the girl came. I wonder, what would have happened to the Beast if Beauty had not appeared? Better yet, what would have happened if she had not cared? Who would have blamed her if she hadn't? He was such a ..., such a beast. Hairy, drooling, roaring, defying. And she was such a beauty. Stunningly gorgeous, genuinely appealing, contagiously kind. If ever two people lived up to their names, didn't Beauty and the Beast? Who would have blamed her if she had not cared? But she did care! And because Beauty loved the Beast, the Beast became more beautiful himself. The story is familiar not just because it is a fairy tale. It is understandable because it reminds us of ourselves.
There is something beastly within each of us. Didn't the sixteenth president of the United States observe, "There is so much good within the worst of us and so much bad within the best of us that it ill-behooves all of us to complain about the rest of us?" Of course, it was not always so. There was a time when the face of humanity was beautiful and the garden-place actually pleasant. But that was before the fall, before the shadow fell across the garden of Adam and Eve, before the shadow fell across the heart of Adam and Eve and ever since, we have been different. Ugly. Defiant. Degraded. Angry. Challenging to God. We do things we know we should not do and then we stupidly wonder why we did them.
How many times do we ask ourselves, "Why did I do that?" Even for the typically calm guy, we can reduce ourselves, with proper motivation and provocation to being beastly. St. Paul had similar struggles, "I do not do what I want to do, and I do things I hate" Romans 7: 15. How many of us have felt like honestly appraising ourselves and saying these words? If so, you are in good company because St. Paul is not the only person in God's revelation to us who wrestled with the beast within. It is hard to rind a page in Scripture where the animal doesn't bare his teeth. King Saul chased young David with a spear. Shechem raped Dinah. Dinah's brothers in revenge murdered Shechem and his friends. We know of Lot selling out to Sodom and then getting out of the dirty town. We are aware of Herod's murdering Bethlehem toddlers and another Herod murdering Jesus' cousin. Blood rushes as freely through the stories of salvation history as ink through the quills that penned them for our benefit.
But the violence of the beast was never so raw as on the day Christ died. The disciples were fast asleep, then fast afoot. Herod wanted a spectacle show. Pilate wanted out of the misery drama. And the soldiers? They wanted blood! So they scourged Jesus. The legioneer's whip consisted of leather straps with lead balls on each end. His goal was singular; but it beat the accused within an inch of death and had to be then stopped so the suffering could be prolonged. The soldiers had some fun with the Saviour. They would beat up on him and scourge him. Yes, crucifixion and humiliation was ordered, but they would spit on Him as well, defame and degrade him as much as they could. When we do the same, we do it to Jesus as well. "I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me" Matthew 25: 40!
How we treat Jesus is how we treat others. And while it is true we do not like to be reminded of this realistic truth, it persists, not because we say it and repeat it, but we must face the fact that there is something beastly within each of us when we sin. There is something beastly in us which surprises even us. Haven't we all surprised ourselves because we stooped as low as we did? Have we not reflected on an act and wondered, "What got into me?" This feast of the Transfiguration reminds us of what happened in the last days of our Lord's life at the time of redemption. The Lord did not want his disciples to be overwhelmed with what they would witness. He wanted them to be stayed in their faith commitment, not to be swayed by the sins of the world. Jesus saw beauty within the beast of man as a result of his baptismal initiation. He wanted to assure the disciples would not be drawn away from his salutary message.
He is transfigured on the mount and the chosen ones are reaffirmed in belief. Here the correlation with Beauty and the Beast ends. In the fable, Beauty kisses the beast. In God's revelation to us, Beauty does much more. He becomes the beast so the beast can become the beauty. Jesus changes places with us. He showed us before hand, at today's feast what our common baptismal destiny is so we could aspire after it. Like Adam, in spite of our baptism, we choose the place of the curse so many times in our lives, but Jesus "changes places with us and puts himself under that curse" Galatians 3: 13.
What if Beauty had not come? What if Beauty had not cared? Then we would have remained the last beast. But Beauty did come, Beauty did care. Beauty showed himself and beauty proved himself, at today's feast and then once again on Great and Holy Friday! The sinless One took on the face of a sinner so that we sinners could take on the face of our God! Glory to our God now and forever!