I work in investments and I need to let you know, you shouldn’t buy stock in “beauty”. It doesn’t provide any utility to the consumer. In fact, often as soon as you try to use it, it looses any value it had. It seems like an odd thing to desire. It only has value in as much as we let it be. You can’t own or even rent it. You can just look at it and let it be.
American culture, and most other first world cultures, is driven by utility. We want the thing that offers us the most return for our money, time or effort. We want to buy the car that will make us he happiest, the job that impresses people most, and the house that is the biggest on the block. The last thing we want to buy is “beauty”. A piece of art that just hangs on the wall, an expensive church building that takes money away from other things, or an overly expensive piano that isn’t as fun as an Xbox. Art has no value. It doesn’t give me anything.
The last thing we want to do is dedicate our life to “beauty”. We want to own it and subject it to our wishes. We definitely don’t want to give anything up for it.
However, “Beauty” is the manifest form of God’s Glory. To perceive beauty is to perceive goodness and truth as well, since they are her sisters. To be beautiful is to be good, and to be good is to be true, or well ordered. God isn’t just the most beautiful thing around either. He is “beauty” itself, the source of all things “beautiful”. The ocean, a Monet masterpiece, St Peter’s Basilica, that famous actress or actor all draw their beauty from God, Himself.
This is why “beauty” scares us so much! It is literally an encounter with God, Himself. This is what scared Peter in the Transfiguration scene. This is what scares us when we meet that really beautiful person, or why some people get cold feet when they approach marriage. Beauty demands a virtuous response on our part. We cannot just encounter it and not be moved to action. This is the power of contemplation. In it we encounter the living God, and in this encounter we hear His voice calling us to go out of ourselves in service of others.
This is also why Lust is such a great sin. Lust is the sin of trying to own and manipulate beauty. When we subject it to our own desires, it looses its value. We fail to respond to it with a virtuous action. We allow Lust to rob ourselves of our humanness. We become less than the call God has for each of us. Lust is the self-centered rejection of the good of the other. It prevents us from being able to offer ourselves as a gift in response to the gift of beauty being offered to us. Lust is the ruin of all true vocations. That is why St John Paul II says “Only the chaste man and the chaste woman are capable of true love.”
We need to return to a contemplative appreciation of beauty in all it’s forms if we are going to be able to truly give ourselves in any authentic vocation. Love is the measure of sanctity. And Love is the virtuous response to the beauty of the gift of the other.
“Beauty doesn’t do anything… besides the most precious thing in life: it invites and elevates the soul beyond itself, beyond calculation, beyond utility and thus reminds us what it means to be human” Archbishop Chaput
St John Paul the Great, Pray for us.