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Published in The Pittsburgh-Catholic  February 1995

Following Beauty—to Happiness That’s Out of this World

By Rosemary Hugo Fielding

           Christ is often found in suffering for He shows its meaning in the glory of redemption.
          But I have found that Our Lord also gives meaning to beauty.
          Beauty has always exhilarated me.  But what to do with that joy?  Before my "re-version" to Jesus Christ, the beauty of nature or of human heroism led to only a deeper yearning, or perhaps the drive to consume.  But now, in Christ, I find that beauty leads like a sunbeam to hope, the dawn of our souls.
          Beauty and hope--I reflected on the connection one weekend this fall when beauty entered my life in many ways.
          That bright October morning, I was riding in the back seat of my friends' car, a married couple who were accompanying me to a wedding in Virginia of a former student whom we had taught seven years ago in Venezuela.  We had not seen her since.
          I was engrossed in a book, The Song of Bernadette, by Franz Werfel, in which I read, for the second time, the story of Bernadette Soubirous and Our Lady of Lourdes.
          On February 11, 1858 (I read), high in the Pyranees Mountains, Bernadette Soubirous fell to her knees on the sharp rocks of a river bank before an evil-looking cave littered with bones and refuse.  The day was cold and gray. 
          Before that moment, little beauty had penetrated Bernadette's life.  Her indigent family, living in an airless, dim and damp basement room of a former prison, was on the brink of starvation.  But inside the cave stood the most beautiful lady that the girl had ever seen.  Upon seeing her, Bernadette was bathed in consolation. "Her whole being is jubilant over the beauty of the lady," writes Werfel.  "But the beauty of this lady seems less of the body than any other beauty. It is that very spiritual radiance alone which we call beauty."
           This beautiful lady the Church has acknowledged as the Virgin Mary.
            Within weeks thousands of poor mountain peasants flocked to Lourdes to see heaven reflected in Bernadette's face as she gazed upon the beautiful lady. "Morning after morning," Werfel writes, "the lady appeared, to prove that the universe held more than this mortal misery."
          ­ As we rode through the Alleghenies, my own burdens of "mortal misery" were lifted by Werfel's beautiful book and by the October splendors outside.  The golden, scarlet, purple and orange hills shown in the sun like a golden sea.  Bernadette saw supernatural beauty embodied, but all true beauty is a like a visit from heaven, I thought.  Beauty, the oft-forgotten element of holiness, both creates a yearning for God and gives us a taste of His divine nature.  
          Everything that weekend conspired to dazzle me.  In the tiny rustic church, as the couple vowed their love to each other, the sun's dying rays through the window blinded me to all but pure light for the span of two minutes.  Afterwards, I was seized with quiet wonder at seeing my students, once seven awkward teens, now grown to seven lovely women; seeing my love and concern for those teens bearing fruit in adult friendship; seeing the irrepressible, radiant joy of the newlyweds.
          The ride home was touched with more beauty, as I read the last chapter of the book, of Bernadette's enrollment in the calendar of saints.  "I cannot promise to make you happy in this world," the lady had spoken to her, "only in the next..."   Hope was fulfilled in sainthood.
          The weekend closed with evening mass at St. Paul's Cathedral.  I exalted to the strains of Brahms "Herzliebster Jesu"  (Dearest Jesus), and in all the "samples" of God's grandeur with which this world is charged.  Kneeling in front of the flickering votive candles, thinking of all the hope symbolized in their flames, earthly petitions raised to heaven, I praised God for uniting heaven and earth in His Son and His Church.
          What to do with beauty?  I will not seek to consume it, possess it, worship it.  I will follow it to Bethlehem where the Divine Beauty was Incarnated and to Calvary where the dreadful beauty of the crucifixion made us children of God.  I will follow it to the supernatural world from which the beautiful lady traveled and from which the Blessed Trinity's love flows out to us.
          All beauty, natural and supernatural, leads to Christ.

Copyright © Rosemary Fielding, 2011

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