In human terms, friendship and love are always associated with beauty. But the problem is to determine what true beauty consists of and to apply it to the unchanging spiritual beauty. Only having answered satisfactorily these preliminary questions shall we be in a position to explain what is conjugal friendship.
Beauty for the Eyes
In general, there is a mutual attraction between spouses that is formulated by the desire of the beauty that each one admires in the other. Thinkers explain the various qualities necessary to produce beauty: clarity, integrity, and proportion. For example, here is a little girl in a sunny field. She sees one flower that she admires more than the others. The flower is beautiful because of the clarity in which it is bathed, and this light reveals its bright colors. The flower has integrity since it enjoys unity: the stem, leaves and petals compose the whole flower. If it were mowed down and cut into many pieces, its integrity would be lost and its beauty would cease. The harmony and proportion between the different parts of the flower contribute to its beauty as well. If its members were deformed or mutilated the beauty would be lost. When the child discovers the beauty of the flower, she is drawn by it. A certain transformation takes place in her behavior. You can almost see the beauty of the flower in the face of the child and in the way she laughs and skips, and in her desire to share her happiness with her mother.
Human beauty is both similar and dissimilar to that of the flower. The human body, as a creation of God, is a reflection of God’s beauty. The integrity of the body and the proportion and harmony of its members, as well as its clarity, convey its beauty. But what clarity the body enjoys, it has it really from its soul. At death, all beauty disappears: we have only a corpse! The soul is therefore the light and beauty of the body. The soul’s beauty can be perceived mostly by the way it animates the body. But a higher clarity exists in souls living in and for God. The clarity of the baptized soul is the light of God Himself dwelling in the depths of the soul, restoring His image and likeness to its original splendor. The beauty of the body is the soul and the beauty of the soul is God Himself.
What Is Spiritual Beauty?
If those preparing for marriage consider exclusively the visible beauty, they are heading for an early disappointment, because time and illness take their toll. As the body grows dull, the material beauty fades; but if considered as a person rather than an object, the spouse never ceases to grow in beauty. An old grandmother normally has a wrinkled face, calloused hands and a few extra pounds, but who would dare say she is ugly? The wrinkles were written on her face by the love it took to educate her children in difficult circumstances. Her calloused hands show the generosity of her love in doing her daily household chores. The extra pounds are a tribute to the love wherewith she cooked the thousands of meals for her children. Materially her beauty has faded; spiritually, her beauty has reached an extraordinary splendor, the splendor of God Himself Who dwells in her soul. She is beautiful because she permitted God to transform her soul with His beauty. She chose a divine Spouse before choosing a human one.
Just as the beauty of the flower admired by the little girl transforms her face, so the beauty of God, admired by the faithful soul, restores the splendor of His image and likeness in the soul of His spouse. In a sermon on the Canticle of Canticles, St. Gregory of Nyssa explains how the object we contemplate transforms our life:
“Human nature truly resembles a mirror when it thus undergoes a certain metamorphosis according to the free choices that reflect themselves in her: if she gazes upon gold, she appears to be golden and presents the splendor of this matter from the fact that it is shining upon her soul; on the contrary if she considers some hideous object, she models herself upon the ugliness of the object by introducing it into her soul and reproduces, upon the form of her own soul, the likeness of a frog or a toad or a millipede or some other hideous thing, according to the object that she chooses to gaze upon.”
The soul that habitually gazes upon the beauty of God becomes the mirror of the divinity. Its very life is transformed into His Beauty. Our soul moves by our desire and prayer in order to return to our Creator. As we approach Him, we cannot help but admire His Beauty through contemplation. We move towards Him and take our rest in Him.
The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls. He finds one beautiful pearl and sells all he has in order to buy the pearl. This merchant is God seeking your soul. He shows compassion and, despite the hideous marks of sins, He recognizes behind them His own image and likeness. And so, He goes and sells all that He has. He sold His Only Begotten Son for thirty pieces of silver to buy back the beauty which your soul had thrown away. He asked His Son to spend every drop of His blood to redeem your soul. Behold the price of one soul, more precious than anything on earth in God’s eyes. But God cannot save us without us. He is willing to buy the pearl, but the pearl must be willing to be owned by God. “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” He asks our “flesh” to lead a spiritual life in order to dwell in Him.
Archbishop Sheen once wrote that God created all things through His love, but He wished to preserve the human race in time through spousal love. In His plan the spouses are bound by mutual love and its fruit is the child. When the parents remain united the child grows and his soul develops in perfect security. He observes on a daily basis the love that his parents have for each other and he is aware that his life comes from that mutual love. His happiness as a child is to love and to be loved by his parents. The stability and joy of the mutual love of his parents is the atmosphere in which his soul finds its natural and supernatural balance.
Unfortunately, the atmosphere of today’s society is quite different from that of God’s plan. The parents are often separated or their union is seriously compromised by constant bickering and quarreling. The very threat of dissolution of their harmony has a direct effect on the fruit of their union…the child. The child in this unhappy situation spends the most formative years of his life in an atmosphere of division and war between his parents and, as a result, suffers from an inner tension. The logical consequence of this revolt from God’s will is the violent society in which we live, where the absurdity of meth addicts, drive-by shootings, and abortion becomes a commonplace reality.
The best remedy to any sickness is preventive medicine. Before a marriage can be lived according to God’s plan, the soul eligible for marriage must first of all espouse God. The espousal between God and the soul is frequently referred to in Holy Scripture (see Canticle of Canticles). In his Epistle to the Ephesians (5:22), St. Paul speaks of the union of man and wife as an image of the union of Christ with His Church. By this analogy we can analyze human espousals in order to build up a certain understanding of our union with God.
Only a profound spiritual life can restore the image and likeness of God in our souls and foster the supernatural bond of charity amongst all the members of the family. This alone can restore the “soul” of the Catholic family to God’s image and likeness. When He dwells in each family member, He makes His mansion in that home. The example of a Catholic family living an intense union with God can become a reference point to today’s pagan world.
When someone desires to leave his dissipated lifestyle, he can, like our Lord’s first disciples, ask the question “Master, where do you dwell?” And Our Lord will respond by showing him the peace, charity, and beauty of the Catholic family, and say: “Come and see.” “Come” is an invitation to love God by changing our lives, which is truly movement towards Him. “See” is an invitation to take our rest in contemplating God’s Beauty, and to let Him transform our lives by being the light of our souls, of our families, and ultimately of society. This twin moment of motion and rest between God and His creature seals the friendship. It is upon this friendship that the Catholic family and all society must be built.