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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Prayer and Beauty, Love and Work

John Paul II greatly admired a poet named Cyprian Norwid. His poetry connected work, beauty and love with the task of being human, of living life to the full. Through this poet, Saint John Paul came to appreciate how men and women are meant to build bridges, to connect to one another and to God. These insights permeate many of his social teachings. Lifting our hearts to see what is beautiful, to allowing beauty to move us into love, this is also a good way to begin to pray.

Saint John Paul and the Poet Norwid were convinced that what makes something beautiful is the love it discloses. This love disclosed in the truly beautiful evokes the response of love, and not to love, when we see what is truly beautiful, is to fall short of the noble calling of our humanity. Here, in the face of beauty, the holiness of marriage, the sacredness of society and the necessity of prayer converge. We find them leading to and flowing from the work of love that beauty inspires deep in the heart.

The work of love and our need for God coincide before the dynamism of beauty. When a word of hope is most needed, God answers in heart piercing ways. The face of a neighbor, whether stranger or friend, is an icon through which heaven gazes on us. Whether hidden in poverty or distress, if we seek God's glory that He has given us through His Son, we find the splendor of his beauty shine out once again. A single glimpse of this beauty makes the work of marriage, family, and society not only possible, but worthwhile for a life time. Prayer knocks at the door of love, and through its humble petition finds this threshold open to all that is truly great, noble and wonderful about human existence.

People who search for and find what is truly beautiful in prayer become committed to the work of connecting with God and with one another because they believe in what they see. They burn with love to share the love they know. They feel the need to give themselves. In the beautiful horizons of God's particular love, they behold their neighbor as a gift and a task, and they would not want it any other way. This burning adoration causes them to be invested in people and in God. In this contemplation, what is beautiful has captured their gaze and expanded their spirit: no sacrifice is too great or too small.

This happens because love is that for which our hearts are made, that by which we exist at all. Whenever we see this ultimate purpose in the here and now, in this particular moment limited by these concrete circumstances, in the gift and task with which God entrusts us now, we are invited to cross a threshold, to pass through a doorway, to make an connection, to build a bridge. Our hearts; cannot be indifferent because the One who reveals the Beauty of the invisible God, the one who discloses the Father to us, He is the One who is present in such moments. If the bridge seems impossible, it is only because God is building it in a hidden way, and He needs our trust and our effort to make space for this beautiful work to be realized.

The bridge we feel ourselves compelled to build is like the one that God has fashioned to span the distance between our hearts and His. It is deeply established in the ground, rooted in the nitty gritty, and in this sense, radical in our basic human experience, our needs, drives, instincts, passions and desires. It reaches into heights, appealing to all that is noble and true, evoking a generous and great response. It extends out from our every effort to protect and makes space for what is more dear to us. Its expanse reaches across our fears and indifference, even our malice itself. One finds this pathway starting before our own past and racing ahead to a future that this life is too small to contain. This bridge from heaven to earth makes possible even on earth the things of heaven, even in the heart of men, the heart of God.

Those who glimpse this bridge, who gain a sense of the vast horizons love has opened before us, cannot settle for alienation or allow others to suffer loneliness, not without a word of hope. They must also build bridges to connect others with the beauty they have seen. To reach beyond their own humanity, they have seen, is what makes us human—for what is humanity but a radiance of the beauty of God?

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