The Beauty of Holiness

John Henry Newman: Mosaic at Westminister CathedralIt’s a phrase of Blessed John Henry Newman’s: “the beauty of holiness.”

Cardinal Newman was a scholar, and he was very familiar with the Fathers of the Church. He knew full well that, for the Latin and especially for the Greek Fathers, our being taken up into Christ had visible or noticeable effects in the world. Our relationship with Jesus is not only an interior thing. Of course, it is an interior thing; if it is not interior, it is nothing. But what Cardinal Newman insisted on was that our new life in Christ is not only an interior reality. It moves outwards as it moves more inwards. It radiates goodness. It becomes visible, or quasi-visible. There is a beauty. The lines of the face, the focus of the eyes, the gentleness of the gestures: there comes a beauty.

This visibility of the invisible often, and especially on this blog, goes by the name of “transfiguration of the body.”

On this memorial of Blessed Cardinal Newman, itself a remembrance of the day he was received into the Catholic Church (not a remembrance of his day of death), let us remember the beauty of grace and the grace of transfiguration.

Receiving, Not Only Giving

Prof_Titus_BrandsmaBlessed Titus Brandsma was a Carmelite and a university professor. It was said of him that his door was always open, and he always listened to and helped whoever came to him. He was a good ear. He had kindness in his eyes and in the lines of his face. He set aside time for anyone’s problems, be they academic, private, or spiritual.

In other words, Father Titus was always giving. This was normal for him.

When he was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp, it was said of him that the professor who was always giving now became someone receiving just as much as he gave. He could not support himself. He could not go it alone. He received help from his fellow prisoners graciously and kindly. He continued to give, but he also received a lot. It was often necessary. The consoler was himself consoled. Maybe late in life, he learned to love his fellow human beings, not only as the one far removed and always able to assist, but also as the one in need and receiving the graces of friendship, justice, and generosity.

Brother Charles of JesusAs I’ve mentioned a few times, something similar happened with Blessed Charles de Foucauld. (See this post, this post, and this poem.) He went to other people to give them Jesus. He expressed a wish to travel to the end of the world for one soul, and he made his home with non-Christian people. Of course, that’s a good thing to do. But it can never be the whole story, for in those people is Jesus. And since we must receive good things from Jesus, we must receive from our neighbours, too. It happened to Brother Charles in this way. There was a drought in the desert. The people among whom he was living were starving; the goats were dry of milk; everything was horrible. Charles himself ran out of supplies and became gravely ill. His non-Christian neighbours nursed him back to health and, at cost to themselves in a time of great need, saved his life. Charles’ life was changed. He was no longer the one going always to others, strong and empowered, to help them and give to them. He, too, was helped. He, too, was empowered by others. He, too, learned to receive from his neighbours. And that, too, was an act of love.

These stories are dear to me, because they remind me of myself. I have tendencies like those of Blessed Titus and Blessed Charles. I need to learn the same lessons as they learned, and I hope they can help me with these difficult turns in life. We sometimes have to learn to receive with as much love as we learned to give.

Peace in this Valley of Tears

St Francis at Santa Cruz Church in Thonburi, Thailand

Yes, my God, I live in peace in this valley of tears, for such is Your holy will… “The good that I hope for,” says Saint Francis of Assisi, “is so great that every suffering becomes for me a joy.” Indeed, the highest degree of love that a soul can attain is an ardent desire for Heaven, to be there united to God and to possess Him forever.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori