“Do you think it’s wrong to have a facelift?” a girlfriend asked as we sat on the beach house sofa in our pajamas, sipping coffee and looking out of the window at the boats in the harbor. We were on retreat with a wonderful band of women, and as it frequently happens with women, the subject turned to beauty.
“I had the same conversation with my sister just last week,” I replied. “I’ll tell you what I told her. I don’t think it’s ‘wrong’ to have a facelift, but my desire is to be so full of God’s love that it shines through my face so I don’t NEED a facelift,” I continued.
Our culture’s preoccupation with physical beauty is but one sign that we’re living from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. But as Christians, we’re meant to live from the inside out, letting the love of Christ inhabit us so fully that it radiates within us and shows up on our faces as “glory.”
Think about Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She was not “beautiful” by the world’s standards. But she was one of the most beautiful women who ever lived. Why? She was overflowing with the love of God and it showed on her face. Such beauty is not exclusive to women.
I often think of Moses, who enjoyed such personal intimacy with God that he spoke with God “face to face” (Ex. 33:11). Moses’ face became so radiant when he conversed with the Lord that he had to veil his face to come into the presence of the Israelites. That manifestation of glory foreshadowed the glory of Christ, who is the very “imprint” of God’s being, and who reveals to us in flesh and blood the holy face of God (Hebrews 1:3-4). If we want to see God, we are to look at Christ. And if we want to look like God, we are to become like Christ. How? St. Augustine, whose feast day we just celebrated, gave us the secret: we become what we contemplate.
We contemplate Christ by spending time with Him in prayer, meditating on His Word and on His presence. We contemplate Christ by making Him our best friend and top priority in life, and by learning all we can about who He is. We contemplate Christ by serving others, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta demonstrated so wonderfully through her life’s work, wherein she saw the face of Christ in the “poorest of the poor.”
When we contemplate Christ, we become Christ-like, and we take on His beautiful countenance. Nowhere have I seen this truth manifested more evidently than on the faces of the recovering drug addicts of Communita Cenacolo, a lay Catholic Community that ministers to those in bondage to addiction. The residents of the Community usually arrive there looking beat up, strung out, and exhausted. And indeed they are. Their faces bear witness to the hell they’ve lived in the grip of drugs, which has been their main obsession.
I have pictures of my own son the day he arrived at Cenacolo, wearing black circles under his eyes and an almost palpable shadow of darkness on his face. His face looked markedly different when I saw him months later, not because he was being “rehabbed,” but because he was being “restored.” He had returned to the truth that he is a beloved child of God—a child in whom God delights—in large part by spending hours a day before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. He was becoming what he meditated upon, and his face told the tale. Over the years, I’ve heard many parents echo the same amazement when they see their children’s faces for the first time after they enter Community, because the change in their faces is nothing short of remarkable.
Do you want to be beautiful? Unveil your face and gaze upon the face of the Lord, that He may transform you from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:13). His love is a beauty treatment that’s not only free—it has lasting benefits.
Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy, and your faces may not blush with shame. Psalm 34:6
To Ponder: How preoccupied am I with my own physical beauty? Do I have a sense that God’s beauty and glory is evident on my face?