“You Are Beauty”
Franciscan Formation – Inspirations (Part 10)
“The spirit of brotherhood extends to embrace all of creation, which St. Francis saw as a reflection of the beauty and goodness of God: ‘Praised be You, my Lord, with all Your creatures’”.
During our studies in the seminary, we paid particular attention to the beauty of the liturgy. We devoted a lot of time and money to decorating our church, and rehearsing and preparing for various holidays and celebrations. I was deeply impressed by the confession of a man who showed up at our beautiful basilica in Cracow one Holy Thursday. After the liturgy, he went to the sacristy to talk about his experience. He said he had come to town to visit his family but he only attended our liturgy because the rest of his family was going to the Mass that evening and he did not want to be left alone at home. He added that he had lost his faith many years earlier, which he blamed on a difficult confession experience in which the confessor had treated him badly. He stopped going to church, and even stopped praying in private. On this particular evening, however, he had been captivated by the charm of the basilica, the beauty of the liturgy, and especially by the hymn, “The Lord Has Given Us Heavenly Bread for Eternal Life.” He wanted to receive Communion. After the liturgy, he asked to go to confession for the first time in twenty years.
Beauty can help us get closer to the One who is not only the Creator of beauty, but Beauty itself. St. Francis of Assisi admired God; God was beautiful to him. God attracted and fascinated him and drew his gaze during prayer. By contemplating the face of God, he experienced who the Lord was. At La Verna, he described Him by exclaiming, “You are beauty”. The mystical experience of the presence of God, which gives meaning to all that is beautiful, filled the Poverello with peace and gave him comfort and rest. His answer was a prayer of praise. Being in intimate relationship with Beauty, he himself became inwardly beautiful.
Francis’ view of the world was imbued with admiration for all creation, which naturally aroused the praise of its Creator. Looking at the world, the follower of St. Francis reads God’s book of love. He wants to multiply this beauty, he wants to share it; he wants to bring it to others, not as something theoretical, but as something that he can give naturally, because it is contained within him. He wants to bring this beauty to others because it will inspire them to seek its Creator.
What is this beauty? In the classical sense, it is a quality of something that causes one to admire it. Usually it is associated with properties such as harmony, proportion, appropriateness, moderation or utility. In Franciscan spirituality, beauty leads man to adore the Creator, in some natural and direct way. One way man is able to admire the Lord is when he contemplates the beauty of nature, that is, when he reads God’s book of love. Following this path, like St. Francis, he begins to become inwardly beautiful as he contemplates the object of his admiration he does not dwell on ugliness; he is more inclined to adore and bless than to complain and lament. Beauty is useful because it is a way to God; it inspires man to seek the One who is Beauty and makes the very path that that leads to Him beautiful (the Order is beautiful, the ministry is beautiful, etc.). What we do, and how we live, become beautiful when they are permeated by the presence of God, when we entrust our lives and actions to him.
It is worth noting that we naturally make the assumption that “beauty equals goodness.” In fact, some marketing strategies use this aspect. Perhaps we have also learned that this does not always work in real life. We may see a beautiful woman or man, but it does not necessarily follow that they are good people. Even in the spiritual struggle, we can succumb to various illusions about things we find beautiful that do not come from the Lord. Sometimes, therefore, we begin to distrust what we subjectively perceive as beautiful. We all have different tastes, too; something which one person admires may be completely disliked by another. We probably all recognize the feeling we get when we see something beautiful—we naturally want to share that experience with others. Shared contemplation of beauty and shared admiration unite people. At the same time, we feel disappointment when others do not share our passion. We see that the different ways we perceive beauty may be based on our education, culture or gender (for example, women have a different sensitivity about beauty than men). We quite often see people who find beauty in ugliness (as frequently exhibited in modern art). However, let’s assume that the norm is beauty founded on aesthetic principles imbued with harmony. When I am talking about these principles, I am also talking about being able to perceive them. This requires training, because we need to acquire a certain standard within us, one that is neither insensitive nor hypersensitive. Thus, if we recognize that beauty can be a way to its Creator, we should probably think about how we can cooperate with Him in this regard. Perhaps it is worth taking some small steps to create beauty around us. The spirit of fraternity inspires us to motivate ourselves, to multiply the beauty around us and to share it with the whole world. In our experience of the world, minority, humility and simplicity imbue such actions with a special characteristic: they help us create what is beautiful while avoiding splendor. Splendor is in some ways the result of pride; it obscures what is essential with its excess. Aesthetic principles, cleanliness and order (in our rooms, friaries, chapels, churches and their surroundings) are basic elements of beauty. They do not interfere with poverty and simplicity and they are worth maintaining. Their absence, on the other hand, instead of attracting people, can discourage them. We should remember, however, that the beauty and order of our churches, chapels, friaries, rooms, or our lives, will be of no use if they aren’t shared with others.
Friar Piotr STANISŁAWCZYK
General Delegate for Formation
 Friars Minor Conventual, Constitutions, Roma 2019 (Chapter III, Spiritual Introduction, j).
 Cf. T. Matura, Św. Franciszek z Asyżu na nowo odczytany, Cracow 1999, p. 201.
 Cf. A. Zając, Oblicze Boże w doświadczeniu św. Franciszka z Asyżu, in: Oblicze Boże: teologia, ikonografia, duchowość, edited by A. Zając, Cracow 2021, p. 135.
 Cf. A. Zając, Schronienie w Bogu, który jest piękny!, http://poslaniecantoniego.pl/pl/artykuly/schronienie-w-bogu-ktory-jest-piekny, November 3, 2022.
 Cf. 1 B 9, 6-9 (Św. Bonawentura, Życiorys większy św. Franciszka).
 Cf. Wikipedia, Piękno, https://pl.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piękno, November 3, 2022.
 Cf. A. Kruszyńska, Piękno, in: Leksykon duchowości franciszkańskiej, edited by E. Kumka, Cracow-Warsaw 2016, pp. 1274-1279.
 Cf. A. Arno, “Czym jednak jest piękno, tego nie wiem”, https://www.miesiecznik.znak.com.pl/czym-jednak-jest-piekno-tego-nie-wiem/, November 3, 2022.