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Marist Bulletin - Number 225

 

You are totally beautiful, O Mary
8.12.2005

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Immaculate Conception

In saying that Mary is the Immaculate one, we are saying two things about her, one negative and one positive: on the negative side that she was conceived without the stain of original sin, on the positive side, that she came to the world already filled with grace. This word explains all that Mary is. The feast days gospel reading emphasises this by reminding us of the words of the angel: Rejoice, you who are full of grace, the Lord is with you.
The word grace has two meanings. It can mean a favour, a pardon, an amnesty as when we say that a person condemned to death has been graced. But it can also mean beauty, charm, amiability. The world today knows the second meaning of grace well, perhaps the only meaning that it knows well.
The Bible also retains the two meanings of the word grace which indicates above all else the divine, gratuitous and undeserved favour, which, in the presence of sin, is translated by pardon and mercy, but also indicates the beauty that derives from this divine favour, what we call the state of grace.
We find in Mary these two meanings of grace. She is full of grace especially because she is the object of the favour of a unique choice; she is also graced because she is saved gratuitously by the grace of Christ. (She was preserved from original sin, in prevision of the merits of Christ!). But she is full of grace in the sense also that the choice of God made her resplendent, without stain, totally beautiful, totally pure as the Church chants on this feast.
If the Immaculate Conception is the feast of grace and of beauty, there is a very important message for today. Beauty touches us all; it is one of the most important values of the human being. Love brings us all together. We can differ as to the beauty of a thing, but we are all attracted by beauty. The world will be saved by beauty, said Dosto´evski. But we must add immediately, the world can also be lost by beauty.
Why does beauty transform itself so many times into a mortal trap, and is the cause of offences or of bitter tears? Why are so many personifications of beauty, starting with Helen of Homer, the cause of so many struggles and human tragedies and why do so many modern myths of beauty (like that of Marilyn Monroe) have such a sad end?
Pascal said that three orders of grandeur or categories of values exist in the world: the order of the body and material things, the order of intelligence and genius, and the order of goodness and of holiness. Strength and material riches belong to the first order; genius, science and art belong to the second; goodness, holiness and grace belong to the third.
Between each one of these levels and the following one, there is a leap of nearly infinite quality. The fact of being poor or rich, beautiful or ugly has nothing to do with genius; its grandeur is situated on a different and superior plan. Likewise, the fact of being strong or weak, rich or poor, a genius or an illiterate adds nothing to the saint; his grandeur is situated also in another infinitely superior plan. The musician Gounod said that a drop of holiness is worth more than an ocean of genius.
All that Paschal said of grandeur in general applies also to beauty. Three types exist: physical beauty or that of the body, intellectual and aesthetic beauty, and moral and spiritual beauty. Between each of these levels, there is also an abyss.
The beauty of Mary Immaculate is found in the third level, that of holiness and of grace and she constitutes the summit, after Christ. It is an interior beauty, made of light, of harmony, of perfect correspondence between reality and the image that God had of the woman when he created her. It is Eve in all her splendour and perfection, the new Eve.

Would it be that Christians depreciate and are afraid of beauty, in the ordinary sense of the word? The Song of Songs celebrates this beauty of the spouses with an unsurpassable enthusiasm and with out being complex. It is also the creation of God, better still, the same flower of material creation. We say however that it must always be a human beauty, and thus reflected in a soul and in a spirit. It cannot be decreased to the level of purely animal beauty, reduced to the sole appetite of the senses, an instrument of seduction, to sexual attraction. This would be to dehumanise it.
We can all do something to transmit to future generations a world that is a little more beautiful, if we choose well what we welcome into our house and into our heart, through the windows of our eyes. What was for Mary the point of departure of her life is for each believer his point of arrival. In fact, the Church is also called to become one day without speck or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and faultless. (Eph. 5, 27)

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFMCap
Preacher of the Pontifical Household

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