10 April 2017
What Makes Him Beautiful
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
When it comes to beauty, we so often translate beauty into taste. “Oh, that’s beautiful!” tends to mean, “I like that!” “That’s ugly!” often means, “I don’t like that!” “Beauty,” so we hear, “is in the eye of the beholder.”
But not for Catholics. As Catholics, we believe that there is an objective standard for beauty, even though it is diverse in its expressions. For us as Catholics, beauty is rooted in God who is, we can say, the truly Beautiful One. And since God who is Beauty also identifies Himself as God who is Truth, we know that there is a relationship between beauty and truth. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas states that a beautiful thing is that which shows the truth of that thing. Beauty, we can say, is the shining forth, the splendor, or refulgence, of the truth. A beautiful duck is a duck that has two legs, two wings, and quacks. The only ugly duckling is one that lacks in some way from what it means to be a duck.
Today Isaiah prophesies about the Suffering Servant of the Lord. And while that servant “shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted,” still that same servant shall be “marred…beyond human semblance.” The Suffering Servant will startle many nations as one who has “no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” He will bear our infirmities and endure our sufferings. He will be pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, chastised, and beaten. That doesn’t sound like someone who is beautiful. It does not sound like one of the beautiful people. If you have ever seen a Spanish crucifix, you see the great lengths the Spanish would go to in order to show how much Jesus suffered. Their crucifixes are covered in the red of Jesus’ blood, with dark bruises over Jesus’ body. The way Jesus was portrayed in “The Passion” by Mel Gibson gives in movie form what Spanish crucifixes tend to look like in statue form.
So, given all these injuries, all this blood, the bruising, the agony in visual form, do we say that Jesus, on the cross, was ugly? Do we say that Jesus lacks some truth as He hangs on the cross? Was the marring beyond human semblance such that it made Jesus an ugly Person?
Of course not. In fact, Jesus, even in His human nature, remains the Beautiful One, united as He is in substance, with God the Father. Even in the one pierced for our offenses, Jesus is truly beautiful. In one of the many paradoxes of our faith, there is no greater example of beauty than the Jesus who became disfigured for our sake. And we can say that, because in His crucifixion, into which we enter today in this liturgy, Jesus most perfectly demonstrated the truth about God, and the truth about man.
The truth is that God will go to the farthest lengths to save us, and we see that in Jesus. God will sacrifice Himself if it means there is a chance that we will respond to His love. Jesus, on the cross, most perfectly demonstrates that God is pure gift, and will pour Himself out for His creatures, even though He has no need of them. Jesus, on the cross, shows us the great truth that God loves us, even when it means His own death. The crucifixion of Jesus is the most beautiful example of love that ever has existed, exists now, or will ever exist in the future. In terms of the truth about God, the crucifix is the highest form of beauty.
The truth is that man is most himself when obedient to the will of the Father. The crucifixion is the utmost example of obedience to God. Obedience to God is easy when it means doing something we enjoy, doing something where we see the fruits of our labors, doing something where we see the difference we make. In the crucifixion, we see obedience in the face of pain, only trusting that it will make a difference without seeing any immediate results. Jesus entrusts Himself to the Father, and so shows what a beautiful human looks like: one who does the will of God the Father for the good of others.
What makes us beautiful is being like Jesus: sacrificing our good for the good of the other in obedience to the will of the Father. The crucifix may not be to our taste, or something that we like, but it is the most beautiful thing we can look upon and think of in this world, because the crucifixion of Jesus shows forth most fully and dramatically the truth about God and the truth about us.