Apocalyptic Beauty

Not to sound like the classical homeschool family we are, but my mom and I were recently griping about the lies and objectification within some modern music. Don’t get us wrong, she’s a diehard U2 fan and I rediscovered my love for Mumford and Sons over the summer; it’s not like we only listen to Matt Maher or The Hillbilly Thomists. But this is a broken world and that of course transfers over to the art our society celebrates.

I joked, “Maybe when he sings, ‘I’m in love with your body,’ he’s showing that he actually understands the Catholic belief that a person is their body and their soul. Maybe he means, ‘I’m in love with you, a human body and a human soul, gloriously revealing the grandeur of God in both the material and spiritual facets of your being.'”

But somehow I don’t get the impression that Ed Sheeran is that versed in Theology of the Body.

I’m not here to hate on the man – my sisters and I were belting “Perfect” a couple weeks ago.1 But the timing of our conversation reminded me just how vital the Feast of the Assumption is for our world in 2022.

We live in a culture where sexual promiscuity is celebrated, where the human person has no obligations towards another, and where a life of physical comfort or ease is the only life worth living. We are taught that guilt is never appropriate, and therefore the only correct attitude is one of total shamelessness and autonomy.

But we also live in a world of intense self-scrutiny and perfectionism. Social media tells you to flaunt your beauty, but to also bare your soul to the internet so as to seem authentic. Education is centered around college acceptance and career placement, as if the authentic transformation that education offers could be quantified by a standardized test or bullet point on a resume. We are constantly barraged by feeling both inadequate and like we are too much.

Obviously you could write a book on just one of these topics. But it can all be summed up by the human obsession with control. I was recently praying with an examen in Thomas Dubay’s Happy are You Poor. As I looked at all the ways I remain resistant to Christ’s universal call to Gospel poverty, there was one consistent thread that I don’t think is just a Larisa struggle: I fear poverty, because poverty prevents me from feeling like I am in control.

If I’m honest with myself, I love hunting for and investing in the perfect planner because that planner offers me a sense of control over my school year. I love making my weekly budget because it keeps me in control of my finances. I’m writing this post in a coffee shop because for a couple hours, I can control the appearances of my environment.

And these aren’t intrinsically evil things! If my sisters are reading this, I stare intensely into your souls as I declare that organization and cleanliness are good. We are supposed to be stewards of our money. Caffeine, if rightly used, is honestly a gift from God, and a beautiful difference between Catholicism and some other Christian denominations is that we recognize the goodness of the created world.

But when we control and grasp, our hands are too full to receive the gifts Christ longs to lavish on us. We grow insensitive to the beauty of nature. We stare at our phones rather than into the eyes of human beings. We grow deaf to the richness of human laughter.

And this control is merely a facade. Of course you have free will and your daily, habitual decisions dictate the rest of your life. But dear reader, you can do nothing without God’s grace! There is no authentic joy that can be sung into existence without Him. There is no tear that He allows and does not intend to one day wipe away. Despite what the world says, your life is not your own. It belongs to the God who calls us to eternal happiness, but only through our laying down with Him on the Cross.

It’s initially terrifying to realize that we are not in control of this unpredictable life and that nobody has lived past August 14th, 2022.2 You can plan to meet tomorrow with your aesthetic planner and coordinated outfit. You can read all the right books and check off all the right boxes. But no matter what we write in our handy little bullet journals, we have no idea what tomorrow brings.

I certainly can’t tell you the details of my future. And I can’t tell you yours either. But I do know our eternal destiny: Falling into the arms of Jesus Christ.

This destiny is what we celebrate in the Feast of the Assumption. A woman’s body dwells in paradise. Yes, the Catholic Church teaches that a woman’s unveiled body is in heaven at this very moment. Because newsflash: the Church believes that the body is good.

Mary is not a goddess. She is a human who fulfilled her vocation in and through her body. She bore Jesus in her immaculate womb. She nursed Him at her breasts. She held Him in her hands. Mary ran to scoop up little Jesus before He started playing in the toilet or with an electric outlet (or whatever the Nazareth equivalents were). Mary had a smile and a laugh. She had eyes which wept and a heart which was pierced.

In her earthly life, Mary did not grasp at control. Although she was a queen from the moment of conception, she received everything with empty, open hands, aware of her simultaneous poverty and richness as the handmaid of the Lord. Now in heaven, she continues to be our model of receptivity and abandonment, receiving the gift and beauty of her own body and soul for all eternity. She is naked without shame, unveiled before her Spouse, the Holy Spirit. At this very moment, Mary’s heart still beats, enclosed in the Trinity. She has a mouth with which to laugh and eyes with which to gaze on her Son, whose Precious Body also dwells in Paradise.

In this unveiling, this apokalypsis, Mary’s perfect beauty shines forth as a beacon of hope for those of us still wandering outside Eden. Mary does not only receive the gift of herself, but she also gives it away to you and I through her motherhood. In heaven, your mother’s arms eagerly wait to embrace you. Her lips will one day kiss your cheek. Yes, your cheek. Because even though you have sinned and Mary has not, your body is also intended for eternal glory. Your body is good.

Yes, your body is fallen. Yes, there is disease and pain. There are moments of physical and mental agony which make no sense, other than their existence as a reminder that present suffering will only make Heaven all the sweeter. But Christ came in a body to redeem this precious gift that you and I have been given. Through His Mother, He reveals the beauty to which He longs to bring all of us one day.

I don’t know the details of my story, and praise God, I have no way to control tomorrow. But I know that by God’s grace, my story ends with my resurrected hands joined in Christ’s own glorious hands.

Our mother has shown us the way home. Let us go rejoicing.

1 – Although we all knew Peter Jackson had sold his soul to a Balrog when he had Ed Sheeran write the credit song for The Desolation of Smaug

2 – If you think you have, we should probably talk. Mostly so I can get next week’s lottery numbers.

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