A few years ago, Madelyn walked through the doors of the Uffizi Museum in Florence. As she wandered through the galleries, taking in all of the beautiful Renaissance paintings, she spotted an image of our Lady. She later shared with us how deeply it impacted her life. “I was so moved by its beauty that I sat on the nearest bench and I cried and cried, like a little girl. I’m sure everyone thought I was crazy – but I was crying for joy. I think it was the joy of being loved . . . I knew somehow through experiencing beauty that God loved me and that I wasn’t alone.” A young New Yorker had a similar experience of having his life transformed by beauty. One afternoon, after years of searching for mean- ing in his life, Colin wandered into Our Lady of Lourdes Church in upper Manhattan. As he entered, he was envel- oped by the Gregorian chant filling the glorious church as the schola practiced up in the choir loft. Colin felt drawn out of himself and his problems, being so deeply inspired by the beauty of the music, that this experience became the turning point of his life. Through this experience he had been given the grace to believe that God existed and that he was known and loved by Him.
There are countless stories and examples of people being attracted by the beauty of the world around us, and experiencing God through it. What is it about beauty that is so healing and makes us feel like we’ve come alive? Why is it able to fill us with the assurance that there is a good and loving God – and that He loves us intimately? Perhaps there is more to beauty than what meets the eye. But what?
Part of the power of beauty is that it is able to lead us to truth – truth about God and about ourselves. Each of our lives is beautiful because God desired that we exist and share in His image of truth, goodness, and beauty. This truth about the beauty and dignity of our lives cannot be taken away or diminished. However, we often forget our own inherent dignity and the dignity of others. We seem to lose sight of the beauty and goodness of life and the world around us. What might keep us from seeing the beauty that surrounds us?
The Triumph of the Cross
Beauty has the potential to draw us out of ourselves, and into communion with God and others. Sin is the opposite – it creates division, clouds our vision, and pre- vents us from seeing beauty in ourselves and around us, giving us a negative outlook on life. So, what should
we do? Where can we find healing? The answer lies at the foot of the Cross, where we see Jesus beaten, bleeding, tortured and dying. Although the image depicts one of the ugliest scenes in human history, it has been cherished by Christians for two thousand years. Why is that?
True love has the transforming power to makes all things beautiful, and so the crucified body of Jesus on the Cross becomes irresistibly beautiful. The ugliness of his wounds and suffering are now part of the most beautiful act of love in history. Christ teaches us that love is able to make what is ugly and deformed into something beautiful — that the truest beauty is not limited by physical appearances. Jesus makes lovely all of our unloveliness – in fact, He is drawn to our unloveliness and is not repelled by it. The consoling gift of Confession places us at the foot of His Cross where the love of Jesus heals and restores us to our original beauty – it even enhances our beauty!! The forgiveness and love that we experience in Confession has the healing power to open our eyes again, to rid us of the sins that cloud our vision and prevent us from being able to see ourselves and others as we truly are. Jesus’ total gift of self is beautiful, it communicates His deep love for each one of us, and it heals us. Union with God in prayer and the sacraments helps us to start living lives of beauty as our lives become more and more conformed to Beauty Himself.
Called to be Beautiful for the World
It is easy to associate beauty with what we can see or hear in nature, music, and art. But beauty is most profoundly present when we love, especially in difficult and trying circumstances. Think of the people in your lives who have loved heroically – the fathers who work multiple jobs to provide for their families or think perhaps of those whose elderly parents require round the clock care and attention. This is love in action and its beauty transforms the world. This love loses nothing of itself in self-donation, although it is completely emptied out for another. This love actually becomes more compelling and irresistible precisely because it is a gift of self. Loving in self-gift often involves the pain of self- sacrifice – and yet, don’t we all desire it? For example, don’t women desire children, even though it involves the pain of childbirth and many years of sacrificial love? We were created for love, to love – because we were created in love. Self-giving love is the beauty of the Saints and it was forged and fortified as they chose to love and give of themselves in demanding situations. Think of Blessed Mother Teresa, who spent her life serving the “poorest of the poor.” Think of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who laid down his life for another man in a concentration camp. Think of St. Gianna, who heroically chose to carry her baby to term, even though it meant suffering and ultimately death on her part. This is the beauty of Christ’s love, the beauty that we were created to share with the world.
Originally printed in our Fall 2010 issue of Imprint.