I was particularly struck by an article Archbishop Chaput wrote earlier this summer about the evidential power of beauty. In it, he mentions the power of creation in revealing the beauty of God and quotes Russian author Dostoyevsky, "Beauty is the battlefield where God and Satan contend for the hearts of men."
Indeed. And it's a battlefield for a reason.
If you read the dictionary definition of beautiful, you will find:
beau·ti·ful/ˈbyutəfəl/ Show Spel[byoo-tuh-fuhl]
1. having beauty; possessing qualities that give great pleasure or satisfaction to see, hear, think about, etc.; delighting the senses or mind: a beautiful dress; a beautiful speech.
2. excellent of its kind: a beautiful putt on the seventh hole; The chef served us a beautiful roast of beef.
3. wonderful; very pleasing or satisfying.
We all long for this satisfaction of seeing, hearing and thinking about what is delightful and pleasing. We are made for excellence and wonder. We are made for eternal goodness.
It's no coincidence that the Catholic dictionary defines glory in a similar way. Fr. John Hardon defines glory as: The recognition and praise of someone's excellence. Applied to God, the divine (internal) glory is the infinite goodness that the persons of the Trinity constantly behold and mutually praise. His external glory is first of all the share that creatures have in God's goodness.
Excellence and goodness. Sounds beautiful. Beauty attracts, inspires and humanizes. It does so because true beauty is a reflection of God Himself. His beauty is not the sanitized, compartmentalized, photoshopped images that masquerade today as the "ideal." His beauty is not the utopian dream that often stems from fear of suffering or a desire to control. His beauty is wild and it often interrupts and disarms us. As Stephen Webb wrote today, "beauty emerges out of and redeems, rather than opposes and destroys, the ugly." Well said.
We often find such glorious things in what is seemingly ugly. It is a thing of beauty when a community pulls together and helps each other in the midst of a devastating natural disaster. Its a beautiful thing when an addict, ravaged by their disease in heart and soul, cries out for mercy and help. Beauty poured from the side of Christ who was pierced for us. We so often wish to run from suffering because we were not made to suffer but within it can be found immense beauty- the beauty of perseverance, character, grace and the promise that we are never alone nor will the pain last forever.
If we peer even into ourselves, we will find a mix of qualities, sentiments and desires. Some are easily identified as beautiful. Some are hidden. Some are undesirable. As in any battle, the enemy attacks at the weakest point and we are all infected to a certain degree with the disorder of sin; the only thing that is truly ugly. When we see these areas within, perhaps we wish to close the door on them like we would a closet that is too overwhelming to clean. Or perhaps we condemn ourselves, hate ourselves or live in shame that others might find out about our mess.
Yet, somehow, as imperfect as we and this world are, beauty still pours forth. God comes in His beauty to touch, heal and reveal ours. Jesus doesn't demand that we "get our act together" before He lavishes His power, gentleness and beauty upon us. He just comes. It's mystifying but He does.
We need true beauty for it leads us on a path beyond ourselves to the Other. We need real excellence. We need to look at and be immersed in all that is good, true and beautiful. May we all be given the eyes to see the wonder and behold it for all eternity.