Beauty quickens our love. It stirs the heart to give itself happily. And it sweetens the sacrifice once thought unbearable. Just ask the parent of a toddler. One smile lightens the weariness of the midnight shift.
But when beauty fails, what will stir us to love? Whether we are enduring an illness, accepting our failures, sitting in loneliness, or seeing a loved one suffer, the dark hour demands our greatest love. Yet such darkness steals the very beauty that propels us. In ugly times, is love possible?
The world’s ugliness reached its fever pitch at Calvary. There Jesus took upon himself all our sins and all our darkness. The evil of men eclipsed the glory of Christ. To mortal eye, Christ’s beauty vanished. “He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is 53:2). And twenty centuries have not helped our view of Christ Crucified. For most, a crucifix is either commonplace or gross. We respond with disregard or guilt.
But love did not fail at Calvary, and neither did beauty. As He redeemed the world, Jesus also offered us an unexpected gift. At that dark hour, Jesus gave us something beautiful. He gave us someone beautiful. He entrusted us to Mary: “Behold, thy mother.” Amid her inner agony, Our Lady of Sorrows became our mother. In the shadow of the Cross, she was radiant. And even today, her beauty stirs the sinner’s heart.
Our great artists have tried to portray this beauty. In his masterpiece the Pietá, Michelangelo sculpted a captivating image of Our Lady of Sorrows. Her face is warm, tender, and youthful. She carries an expression of sorrow buoyed by hope.
In his The Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Fra Angelico painted Our Lady contemplating the face of her Son. Her loving gaze radiates her undying love and adoration.
Mary’s beauty manifests her love, a love that only grew on Calvary. Her love points us sinners to the infinite and saving love of Jesus, just as the moon declares that the hidden sun still shines. The worldly see Christ Crucified as a cause for disregard or guilt, but Mary teaches us to see deeper, to see His beauty. She beckons us: “Come here, my child. See Him who loved you to the end. My Son forgives and heals you. He calls you His friend. See His beauty and adore Him. He will be with you, even in the darkest hour. Fear not to follow Him.”
Unlike earthly beauty, the beauty of Jesus and Mary never fails us. When our path leads to Calvary, their beauty quickens our love. Carrying the cross, we will sing with the psalmist:
As they go through the Bitter Valley
they make it a place of springs.
The autumn rain covers it with blessings.
They walk with ever growing strength,
they will see the God of gods in Zion. (Ps 84:7-8)
Image: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P., Our Lady of Sorrows (Used with permission)