The Way of BeautyDaily conversion of heart

Beauty is the face of love, and love is the soul of beauty. Faith remains incomplete without these attributes.  Beauty as love makes demands on our patience, time, and energy.  The way of beauty is an easy road to travel when all is going well. But what of those days when we feel trapped within our own circumstances, when we are overcome by financial, psychological, physical, or otherwise. As we try to work through our problems, casting all one’s cares onto the Lord is essential.  The more frequently the spirit casts one’s cares onto Providence, the more beautiful one’s faith.  Didn’t St. Paul confess:  “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10)? The hours of each day may seem ordinary, but in fact they become extraordinary if we live them in the assurance of this wisdom.  Every hour is the raw material for an active and lively faith.
 
Faith is challenged not so much in believing tenets, which we already hold, or in the good that we already do.  Every hour calls us to leave our self-centeredness and “fly” toward Christ, the object of beauty and love. Together with truth and goodness, this flight away from self has always been, and continues to be, an essential part of Catholic faith—beauty as love. 
 
Mary of Nazareth clearly understood her dilemma when confronted by God’s messenger.  With an enlightened intellect, with an alert intuition that sized up the facts, she freely gave herself over to the master planner without knowing the details of this self-offering. After all, she could have refused God’s proposal.
 
The way of beauty may include feelings of skepticism. It was logical for Peter, who loved his Lord, to protest that he had just let down the nets and had caught nothing; but Jesus told him to do it again.  The catch was almost too heavy to haul in (Lk 5:1-10).  When Jesus commands Peter to come and walk on the water without fear, Peter steps out to do so.  But when, with the onslaught of the strong wind, he takes his eye off the Lord, he begins to sink. His cry, “Lord save me,” is his act of faith that is certain (Mt 14:22-33).  

When the Mother of God tells Bernadette to dig for water in a dry and desolate bed of dirt, the miracle of Lourdes comes into being. Peter, Bernadette, and countless others have witnessed that the act of faith “enables the believer to think rationally, will, and love freely.  Here the believer always knows more and loves more than he can contain in logical formulas and proofs” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, “The Glory of the Lord,” I: 175). Prospective converts have been on the verge of becoming Catholics but could not take that final step.  Former Catholics do not always return to the faith, and practicing Catholics may hold to a formalistic faith without the unction of beauty.  It is not ours to know their reasons, as Jesus cautions against judging the motives of others.  The inner workings of the human spirit are not ours to probe.  We are all vision-impaired, and even with the eyes of faith, we see though a glass darkly (1 Cor 13:12). This movement toward the Lord has deterred many from solid conversions.
 
Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J., who spent 25 years as a prisoner in Communist Russia and five of them in solitary confinement, understands the last moment before the flight into the arms of God, if from a different set of circumstances:  

It meant losing the last hidden doubt, the ultimate fear that God will not be there to bear you up.  It was something like that awful eternity between anxiety and belief when a child first leans back and lets go of all support whatever–only to find that the water truly hold him up and he can float motionless and totally relaxed. . . .  I was freed from anxiety and worry, from every tension, and could float serenely upon the tide of God’s sustaining providence in perfect peace of soul” (“He Leadeth Me,” 77, 79-80). 

A child cannot prove, before jumping into her father’s arms, that he will catch her.  She knows he will do so. Jesus praises this childlike faith that casts one’s entire confidence into the hands of Providence. The dynamic flight from oneself to Christ is today viewed with skepticism, if not with ridicule, but this faith, practiced always and everywhere, demands nothing less than heroism.

Deep Satisfaction and Transforming Union

Personal and liturgical prayer deepens faith.  Prayer is the ideal place to be caught up in Christ, and with the Whole Christ, to the Trinity. The spiritual senses participate in this transforming union because prayer sensitizes our seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, and especially touching the Word of Life.  Christians participate in the circular movement that goes out from God to us and returns to God.  In the process, the Christian is transformed into a beautiful creation. It gives indescribable joy. Von Balthasar cites the profound failure of empirical and historical-critical theologies “for their deeply anguished, joyless, and cheerless tone; torn between knowing and believing, they are no longer able to see anything, nor can they, therefore, be convincing in any visible way” (“The Glory of the Lord,” 174).
 
We close this reflection with a musical image. The Christian lives attuned to Christ.  In the viol section of the symphony orchestra, the strings willingly receive the touch of the maestro who presses back and forth, first to give the precise pitch and then to produce a vibrato. The strings allow the maestro to press on them, disposed to receive the impress.  Only then do the strings sing beautifully. From the figurative and supernatural view, Christ impresses his finger on the soul who is at-oned with him.  This pressure can be a painful experience.  But if the individual is supple, actively receptive to the Artist’s touch, an otherwise spiritless person, like the string, is transformed into God’s work of art.  Then the instrument sings with a beautiful faith!

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