Beauty Incarnate: Flower of Jesse

O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you. Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

You are made for beauty.

You are created to experience that thrill when you see the first pink buds peeping out of snowclad Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You are intended to be moved by the radiance of a bride on her wedding day. It is good when you gape at the stars or weep over a symphony or smile at the scent of herbs. It’s not necessary – I’m just a melancholic who has no category for anything other than intense emotion. But there is nothing wrong with letting beauty move you.

In a way, today’s antiphon is a short, but powerful exposition of beauty. Beauty is “raised up as a sign” of the happiness and harmony for which we were created. The most beautiful images or moments leave the beholder “stand[ing] silent in [their] presence.” In the myth of Psyche and Cupid, the ancients who worshipped Psyche for her beauty weren’t entirely misled. Beauty is intended to lead us to worship. If our intellects shrug it off as sentimentality, our souls know that “Beauty will save the world.”1 So we turn to beauty and beg that nothing keeps it from coming to our aid.

Of course, the beauty of a flower or song cannot save us with its own power. But the source of all beauty hears us. The true beauty is “the true light, which…[is] coming into the world.”2

The reason that we love flowers is that we loved the Flower of Jesse first. We are created in the image and likeness of God, for the purpose of knowing, loving, and serving Him. And since God is Beauty, we are made in the image of perfect beauty, for the purpose of pursuing beauty with every fiber of our being.

Through the mystery of the Incarnation, beauty makes a way for us to be united with Him. The beauty for which we long has a name, a face, a voice. St. John Paul the Great writes, “[Jesus] is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise.”

Today’s antiphon assures us that the hope we have been clinging to throughout winter is not in vain. We are created for everlasting delight, “to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”3

Not only are we created to delight in beauty, but we are created for beauty’s delight. Zephaniah proclaims, “On that day, it shall be said…The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior, Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.”4 As we pray for an increase in hope as we await Christ, let’s pray for the awareness that the Flower of Jesse comes because He loves us.

1 – Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

2 – John 1:9

3 – C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

4 – Zephaniah 3:16-18

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