A new chapel was opened in the Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Perth Australia. It was built with taste. Everything about it speaks of beauty. Many people went to visit and pray in the chapel over these last few months.
One visitor was a nine year old girl who came with her uncle. She is not baptized. When she saw the chapel, she ran to her uncle and said: “Come and see the most beautiful room I have ever seen in my life! I wonder who lives in it.”
This little child spontaneously connected beauty with a person. But who is this person? This person, as the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky unequivocally points out is Jesus Christ. “The world will be saved by beauty,” he wrote rather enigmatically in his book The Idiot, and then he added, “…and the beauty is Christ.”
Jesus Christ is beautiful. The Church applies to Him the words of the psalmist, “You are the fairest of the children of men and grace is poured upon your lips.”
And yet the Church does not hesitate to apply also to Jesus Christ the words of the prophet Isaiah 53:2: “He had neither beauty, no majesty, nothing to attract our eyes, no grace to make us delight in him.”
“How can we reconcile this?” asks the then Cardinal Ratzinger in a message entitled ‘The contemplation of Beauty’ that he wrote in 2002. This is paradoxical but all of us should know that a paradox is a contrast and not a contradiction.
Beauty cannot be separated from truth and goodness. The beauty that is Christ, is not the superficial cosmetic prettiness that forgets conveniently pain and suffering. It is neither skin beauty – an ephemeral craze that gradually fades away with age. As Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart”.
Beauty is the gift of God. It expresses a new life that sprouts from the person of the risen Christ in whom death has been overcome. It embraces offence, pain, and even the dark mystery of death and somehow rises above them.
The Rabbis says that when the people of God arrived at the foot of Mount Sinai, they were filled with diseases, ugliness, and defects caused by sin and slavery. However there happened an event. God married a people, a marriage that caused a regeneration. The people recuperated the original beauty of Adam and Eve. “The blind regained their sight, the lame could walk, the lepers were healed, the deaf could hear once more…”
It was fashionable at one stage to state that after Auschwitz, we cannot write any more poetry, we cannot possibly speak of a God who is good. Recently, people wondered: Where was God when the tsunami hit so many people?
We know the answer. God is in the suffering, transforming it. “The One who is the Beauty itself let himself be slapped in the face, spat upon, crowned with thorns; the Shroud of Turin can help us imagine this in a realistic way”, commented the Pope in this message of 2002.
The truth of the matter is that “in his Face that is so disfigured, there appears the genuine, extreme beauty: the beauty of love that goes “to the very end”; for this reason it is revealed as greater than falsehood and violence.”
Yes, Jesus Christ is beautiful. And anyone who rubs with Him becomes as beautiful. I know. I have seen it in teenagers who living a life of familiarity with Jesus Christ, are just gorgeous! I have seen beauty in hospital beds when people embrace the will of God even if this means horrific pain. I have seen it in married couples who, when confronted with a serious cross in their lives, did not react negatively. I have seen it in the eyes of religious nuns who live their consecrated lives with simplicity and joy.
“If we know him, not only in words, but if we are struck by the arrow of his paradoxical beauty, then we will truly know him, and know him not only because we have heard others speak about him. Then we will have found the beauty of Truth, of the Truth that redeems…”
Today this becomes even more apparent in a Christian community. The beauty of the life of a Christian community where people live in unity and love one another with a forgiveness that is bigger than death makes the risen Christ present today. So whoever sees the Christian community, where the love to the enemy appears, sees the true icon of Christ.
In the course of history, the Church has always perceived this bond between beauty and evangelization. The Church along the centuries has been the greatest producer of beauty… liturgy, icons, music, churches, paintings, Gregorian chant, hospitals, schools, virtue, lives of saints… Many fail to recognize this but facts are facts.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson recommended, “Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is God’s handwriting — a wayside sacrament. Welcome it in every fair face, in every fair sky, in every flower, and thank God for it as a cup of blessing.” Welcome it also in the Church. May the beauty we love become what we do.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.