While still in seminary I heard a story about Warner Sallman, the painter of the famous Jesus portrait. Fr. William, who gave the talk, said that whenever Mr. Sallman looked at the famous painting, he was always just a bit disappointed, because he later realized that he had made an error in the way the hair rested over Christ’s right ear. Having a print of that picture in my agenda, I immediately stared at it to find the mistake. I even began to convince myself that I – with my artistically trained eye - could see the error. After a pause, and with a smile, Fr. William said, ‘Guess what? I lied.’ There was no mistake. His point was that we try hard to find something wrong with just about everything.
If you were to describe the world in one word, what word would you use? Tense? Frightening? Coercive? Divided? Evil?
I would like to propose another word, beautiful.
This is not an invitation to ignore the problems in the world. There are many of an economic, political, cultural, spiritual, and moral nature. We must be aware of them to begin to address them. However, I do not believe that ignoring our problems is an issue within our culture, quite the opposite. We obsess over them, get overwhelmed, discouraged, and even despondent. We may distract ourselves with entertainment – fine to a point – but we seem to realize that that is simply an interruption from our troubles.
I am not suggesting an additional distraction. I am inviting a different take on the world, one that recognizes that goodness and beauty –which come from God – have deeper roots and are more substantial that sin and evil.
Only God can create from nothing. When we ‘create’, we merely take from what already exists and somehow rearrange it, like cutting wood into a sculpture or a chair. Therefore, everything that exists ultimately comes from God. And since God can make only good things, everything that is, is in its essence necessarily good - and beautiful. Because beauty, like the good, is one of the transcendentals, or a quality which can be attributed to all beings as beings, which come from and point to God.
In ‘The Way of Beauty’ the Pontifical Council for Culture writes, ‘To say that something is beautiful is [to recognize that]… it attracts us, or captures us with a ray capable of igniting marvel… beauty tells forth reality itself in the perfection of its form. It is its epiphany.’
Something beautiful makes us say wow! It is something not simply pleasing to the eye but also to the soul. It helps us lift our heads beyond our difficulties, beyond the ugliness we sometimes see and feel. The ‘epiphany’ of something beautiful points to God. St. Augustine writes,
‘Question the beauty of the earth, question the beauty of the sea, question the beauty of the air distending and diffusing itself, question the beauty of the sky... question all these realities. All respond: “See, we are beautiful.” Their beauty is a profession… These beauties are subject to change. Who made them if not the Beautiful One… who is not subject to change?’
Evil and suffering are deficiencies of the good – lacking something that was meant to be. It may be a physical deficiency – such as the blind man who was meant to see, or a moral one – such as the evil person who was meant to be just. For example, when God made all the angels, he made them good. The rebellion of some of those angels separated them from God making them demons. Now they are disgraced, or without grace.
Evil also disfigures what was beautiful. Ugly was not a part of God’s creation, but even in this fallen world the underlying beauty of creation can never be totally erased, or even dominated. Since evil is a deficiency, it is less than or weaker than the good. Similarly, ugliness is a deficiency of the beautiful. And God’s creation remains both good, very good - and very beautiful [cf. Genesis 1:31].
It is essential for us to continually contemplate the beauty in creation. Pope Paul VI writes, "This world in which we live needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. It is beauty, like truth, which brings joy to the heart of man and is that precious fruit which resists the wear and tear of time.’
Look for the beautiful all around you. It is there if you but have eyes to see. You find it in people, in art, in nature, and even in the mundane. Photographers, artists, and poets understand this. Contemplate the beauty in others. Go to art museums. Spend time in nature contemplating the trees, the flowers, the clouds, the sunsets. Find the beautiful things and people in your own home. Marvel at their beauty, and then thank God for the enduring beauty and goodness that is all around you.
Fr. John Bullock, LC
Image by: Cleverpix on Pixabay.com - sunset-tree-water-silhouette
 cf. ‘Trhanscendentals’ in Thomistic Philosophy: The Enduring Thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. https://aquinasonline.com/transcendentals/  ‘The Via Pulchritudinis, Way of Beauty’ by the Pontifical Council for Culture, 2006 Plenary Assembly . II.2. http://www.cultura.va/content/cultura/en/pub/documenti/ViaPulchritudinis.html  Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 32.  https://aquinasonline.com/transcendentals/  cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 391, 393.  ‘The Via Pulchritudinis, Way of Beauty’ by the Pontifical Council for Culture, 2006 Plenary Assembly . III.2. http://www.cultura.va/content/cultura/en/pub/documenti/ViaPulchritudinis.html