A Veiled Beauty — The Assumption

Consider this reflection by the servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen:

“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself?

Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?”

Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?”

Fulton Sheen thought that Mary was, in every respect, the most beautiful woman who had ever lived. However, if we had been travelers walking through the small town of Nazareth during the reign of Emperor Tiberius, I’m not sure that we would have recognized God’s greatest creature as we passed by her. I imagine that her face may have looked quite ordinary, apart from her beautifully, loving smile. Her Son, was the all-beautiful God become man, yet it seems that Jesus was not the most handsome man alive. As the prophet Isaiah says of Him, “There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.” (Is 53) Perhaps Jesus and Mary had ordinary physical features on earth because having extraordinary appearances would have impeded their missions.

Yet now, invested with heavenly glory, Jesus and Mary possess a beauty greater than anyone in history. The perfection of love, goodness, purity and virtue within them shines through their exterior in a way that captivates those who behold them. Jesus told St. Faustina to commission a painting of how He appeared to her. When Faustina saw the artist’s quality work she dissappointedly lamented, “[Jesus,] Who will paint You as beautiful as You are?” The young visionaries at Fatima and Lourdes we struck by how very beautiful the mysterious lady was. And when St. Bernadette visited the grotto for the last time she remarked, “I have never seen her so beautiful before.” There is more to a beauty of this kind than natural appearance.

Why does the Church celebrate Mary’s Assumption? Because this solemnity not only celebrates her, but points to Church’s future. Virgin Mary is the icon, the image, of our Church. Jesus Christ’s Church is Marian. What she did, we are called to do; and where she has gone, we are called to follow. What Christ has done for Mary, He shall do for His Church on the last day. My previous reflections on the ordinary, appearances of Jesus and Mary probably had on earth only goes to show that external appearances can veil the true reality of things. 

Men judge by appearances, and they often misjudge. Many will drive past this building this hour without realizing the wondrous beauty of what is happening here inside. Many fail to see the beauty of Christ’s one, Catholic Church, for which this world was made and through which this world is saved. Many people see the beauty of exterior flesh, but not the beauty of the soul. Yet after the Last Judgment, everyone will see the most homely saint become radiant with beauty, and the most attractive sinner become repellant.

Mary is the first and greatest member of Jesus Christ’s Church. At the end of her unassuming life on earth Jesus lifted up her up body and soul into Heaven and gave her a beauty unmatched in history. He will do the same thing for His Church someday, and He desires to do the same for each of us. You and I are called to follow Mary in following Christ; to imitate their love, goodness, purity and virtue. Despite any appearances to the contrary, in this veiling and deceptive world, we are called to share in a beauty and glory like theirs.

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