Encanto – Beauty

Got a little mixed up with my timing folks, it’s been a week! Here’s what ought to have posted Sunday. More Encanto, on time, this coming Sunday. Thanks for your grace and patience.

Last week, I almost got ahead of myself and into today’s topic, Beauty. What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? We are sticking with Isabela again as we contemplate these questions.

As mentioned, Isabela appears to hold the gold standard on beauty in the Encanto-verse. She has lovely looks, perfect clothes, a sparkling smile, and what’s more, her gift seems to have something to do with beauty. Isabela can make flowers shower from nothing, beautifying the town with the mere thought of a rose. I’ll admit, the first time I watched Encanto I wondered about the superfluous gift Isabela had. What’s the point of being able to toss flowers around except to spread pollen dust and dried petals?

I had to dig deeper, which we will get to. But first, let’s look at Isabela’s relationship with her gift. At the start, Isabela only made what others had told her was perfect, just like her. Her understanding of beauty was limited by the perceptions of others. It’s only after her moment of self knowledge that she begins to be creative with her gift. She experiments with color, plant variety and size. We can tell she is embracing this new and broadened understanding of her powers in her clothing at the of the movie. Instead of returning to her old lavender dress, she has a darker indigo one with a few of the colorful paint splotches still on it. She also has incorporated some of the color into her hair.

To the audience, Isabela was beautiful before her transformation. She is beautiful after. So, what’s up with this whole Beauty thing. If we look into Isabela’s head, I think we would find she finds herself much more beautiful at the end of the movie. This is because it is beauty she has chosen, not beauty that has been composed for her.

Bishop Barron, who I talk about fairly frequently, loves to bring up the importance of Beauty, capital “B.” Beauty is one of the three transcendentals, the other two being Goodness and Truth. In a society that continues to be highly polarized, beginning conversations about religion, or frankly, many topics, with what is ultimately Good or True can be non-starters. We are divided on what is Good for all people, what is True for all people. What is Good to me might not be from where you sit. Same with Truth. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but being sorry doesn’t mean we give up hope. There’s one transcendental left. Beauty. (If you want to read more, here’s the first part of a multi-article conversation about Beauty)

Beauty has many shapes and sizes. It could be something as grand as the Sistine Chapel or something as simple as the first tulips bursting forth to claim spring’s arrival. It is something that draws you in, the causes you to pause and say, “Wow.” It could be a hard thing, like watching an older couple struggle up the street but still holding hands. It could be a challenging thing, like a poem that calls out social injustice or stigma. It could be simple, complicated, made by a master or a child. Beauty surrounds is, just like Isabela’s flowers surrounded her and her town.

Here is the difference between Isabela’s initial beauty and what is becomes. At first, her beauty was skin deep. We see that in how she treats Mirabel and how she values her own happiness. Her beauty didn’t lead anyone anywhere. But at the end, she is discovering that authentic Beauty causes someone to pause, to ponder and perhaps even to change. Her expression of true Beauty at the end of her song forced Abuela to stop. While Abuela’s first reaction was anger, she quickly comes to realize that each member of her family is Good, just as they are. Again, movie magic quickly, Abuela then recognizes that each person is a gift unto themselves. The gift bestowed by the miracle can never and should never outshine the person.

What is Beautiful around you today? What is making you pause and say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” As Christians, we believe that God can be found within each of those beautiful things, moments or ideas. How is He speaking to you through them? What Goodness is He drawing you toward? What Truth could you learn?

When Words Fail

I have been debating back and forth to write this post. Truthfully, I’m not sure what I can say, what I should say, or what I ought to say. These past 2 weeks have been full of tremendous pain, anger, sorrow and shame for our Church.

As a Catholic, I am so ashamed, even though I have no knowledge or contact with anyone who has suffered abuse or perpetrated it. As a mother, I am fearful and on edge, what if it happened or someday happens to one of my children? As a member of society, I am outraged that something this heinous could happen among people claiming to love and follow Christ.

Naming our feelings is just one of many steps in what will be a long, slow process of healing. We are still not recovered from the scandals of the early 200s. Wounds have been torn back open and new ones made in the wake of Pennsylvania.

In times such as these, it is perhaps understandable to want to circle the wagons, keep everyone and everything close at hand. We can read the Bible at home. We can teach our kids right from wrong at the park under our watchful eye instead of at Religious Education classes. There isn’t time for the parish potluck, and besides we don’t know who will be there.

Tempting though this attitude may be, it is not one that will bring healing and wholeness back to our Church. The temptation to isolate ourselves from our faith would be the height of achievement for the devil’s plans in this twisted mess. Bishop Barron, in his article about this situation, reminds us that “The devil works through temptation, suggestion, and insinuation—and he accomplishes nothing without our cooperation.”

As a mother, it is my job to work with my husband to raise our children in the ways of society and the truths of our faith. We would be abandoning both charges if we turned our backs on the Church in this moment. We show our children every single day what it means to be a member of society through our interactions with others. We model our faith in the exact same way. If we were to stop going to Mass or participating in parish events, we would effectively be training our children that 1. This faith stuff really isn’t the be all end all if it is so easily cast aside and 2. When there is a big problem, something bigger than just ourselves, our actions mean little and aren’t worth the effort to try and fix whatever is going wrong. Pope Francis  said, “today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.” We must come together, not be driven apart.

Like I said at the start, I’m still not sure what to say or how to say it. What has happened, what has been allowed to happen, are crimes against so much of Jesus taught us. He exposes the injustice of society. He reaches out to those in need and to those being trod underfoot and raises them up. He loves without measure and forgives without tiring. We as a Church are in great need of His mercy now, for we have greatly sinned.

Regardless of how closely related to this situation you are, your prayers and your presence are needed. I would encourage everyone to pray in a special way through Mary, Our Lady Undoer of Knots. This is a deep, dark problem. One that we most certainly cannot unravel on our own. It will take time, patience, diligence and justice. For the victims it will take enormous amounts of mercy, compassion, healing and hope.

Some other ideas for the way forward:

Read Pope Francis’ letter to the People of God and join him in prayer for the victims of these crimes as well as their families and communities.

Write a letter to your local bishop, archbishop or cardinal.

Pray with #sackclothandashes a growing movement that wishes to participate in acts of sacrifice, sorrow and reparation to God for the terrible sins committed against God’s people. This is a call for fasting and prayer for 40 days. Though it started on Aug 22, the Queenship of Mary, your prayers, sacrifices and support are never wasted.

Holy Mary, full of God’s presence during the day of your life, you accepted with
full humility the Father’s will, and the devil was never capable of tying you up with
his confusion.
Once with your Son you interceded for our difficulties, and full of kindness and
patience, you gave us example of how to untie the knots in our life. By remaining
forever Our Mother, you put in order and make more clear the ties that link us to
the Lord.
Holy Mother, Mother of God and our Mother, to you who untie with a motherly
heart the knots of our life, we pray to you to receive in your hands (the name of
the person), and to free him/her of the knots and confusion with which our
enemy attacks.
Through your grace, your intercession and your example deliver us from all evil,
Our Lady, and untie the knots that prevent us from being united with God, so that
we, free from sin and error, may find Him in all things, may have our hearts
placed in Him, and may serve Him always in our brothers and sisters.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com