Editorial by Rev. Peter John Cameron, O.P.
May is the month of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and this year it is also the month in which we celebrate the solemnity of Pentecost. What links these two tremendous mysteries? One answer: beauty.
The way of beauty
Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation The Joy of the Gospel, has called for a “way of beauty”—via pulchritudinis. The Holy Father explains: “Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendor and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus” (#167).
Who fulfills this better than the Blessed Virgin Mary? As J. R. R. Tolkien put it, “All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady.”
Why a way of beauty? I once heard a remarkable talk by the poet Dana Gioia in which he said that the absence of beauty in the world has left a hole in our thinking. People instinctively seek beauty, not logic. Those who manage to change the world do so by embodying their ideas—turning them into something beautiful. He contended that if the Church fails to offer a beautiful vision to the world, then people will stay away. And I think he is right.
The allure of beauty
But beauty can be perilous. Saint Bonaventure points to the pivotal role beauty played in the fall of the angels: “When the sight of Lucifer’s own beauty and eminence made him fall in love with himself and his private good, he presumed upon the lofty state already his to aspire to an excellence that he had not yet attained. The fallen angel perverted everything to feed his pride, expecting people to revere and adore him as if he were God.”
In our fallenness, we are prone to the same trap. To save us, God gives us a glorious way of beauty in the Holy Spirit and in the Mother of God. Caught up in this via pulchritudinis, when we glimpse our own beauty the sight moves us to surrender ourselves more fully to God in faith, aspiring humbly to an excellence that is ours only as a gift from him.
The concretization of beauty
The Holy Spirit “concretizes beauty in the Church” (T. Dubay). By giving birth to the Word of God made flesh, we can say the same of Mary, who is called the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us that “art is on the part of the Holy Spirit who is the principal mover, not human beings.”
How does this “concretization of beauty” take place? The Catechism teaches us this: The Spirit prepares men and goes out to them with his grace, in order to draw them to Christ. The Spirit manifests the risen Lord to them, recalls his word to them and opens their minds to the understanding of his Death and Resurrection. He makes present the mystery of Christ, supremely in the Eucharist, in order to reconcile them, to bring them into communion with God (737).
But if you look back to a few paragraphs just before this—722-725—we read how the Holy Spirit acted in the life of Mary. For some reason, there is no cross reference in the margins of the Catechism linking these paragraphs with 737, but the parallel is uncanny…mystical even (right down to the italicization)!
The Catechism states that “the Holy Spirit prepared Mary by his grace” (722). “In Mary, the Holy Spirit fulfills the plan of the Father’s loving goodness” (723). “In Mary, the Holy Spirit manifests the Son of the Father” (724). And, “through Mary, the Holy Spirit begins to bring men…into communion with Christ” (725).
How very much we need to be more and more prepared for the life of faith…we need to experience personally the Father’s plan of loving goodness…we need the mystery of Christ to be a Presence in our life…and we need to be brought into a communion with God that defeats all loneliness and misery. The wondrous truth is that all of this is ours through the incomparable way of beauty that comes to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and through the never-ending maternal mediation of the illustrious and ever-blessed Virgin Mary