Okay, let’s start with God. God is Love, and the source of all that is good. Among the many attributes of God–Truth, Goodness, Wisdom, and so forth–is Beauty. God is Beauty and all things lovely come from Him; it has pleased Our Lord to share with women a particularly wonderful share in that beauty. This feminine beauty is praised in Sacred Scripture, as in the Song of Songs and Psalm 45, as well as in great poetry, like Shakespeare, Dante, and Saint Hildegard of Bingen; she is one of my favorites and has this to say about woman, “Why is woman so radiant? God’s hand made her. He gave her an awesome beauty. Woman, what a marvelous creature you are! By grounding yourself in the Sun, you conquer the world.” We can say that we glorify God when we shine with His radiance.
You might pause at this statement, dear reader, and protest that many of the saints deliberately turned attention away from their physical appearance, like Saint Rose of Lima, who intentionally disfigured her face. Their actions seem to me to harbor suspicion for the body, which is definitely not part of solid Catholic theology, but I know that they are saints and trust the wisdom of the Church in that matter. I can understand what Saint Rose of Lima was thinking, insofar as there is danger for us, as women, danger that we will use our beauty to glorify ourselves, and it is difficult in our culture to not subscribe to the “my body is bait to lure men” mentality. We have to navigate between the philosophy of objectification, which would turn out bodies into pretty pieces of meat, just as we have to guard against a philosophy of dualism, which sees the body as bad and the spirit as good.
The secret, of course, is to live just like Saint Hildegard encourages us, by grounding our radiance in God the Father’s love. If we turn the focus from ourselves and fear of our bodies onto giving glory to God, then we are free to be lovely, truly and deeply beautiful, and not be attached to it. By lovely, I don’t mean that you have flawless features; no one has those, even movie stars. They just employ very skilled makeup artists. By lovely, rather, I refer to your appearance, to the general package you present to the world. If that is how we define feminine beauty, then each of us can manage it. We can’t do much about our crooked noses or uneven chins, but we can certainly present a cheerful portrait to the world, with a cute skirt, curled hair, lip gloss, and a smile. Wait, you ask, is Katie telling me that I need to be pretty to be a good Catholic? No, I am not saying that. Rather, I suggest that, because we are devout Catholics who are deeply grounded in the salvific mercy of Christ, we have a duty to proclaim through our appearance that God is good and real and beautiful.
Next, let’s talk about our culture, the culture of death. It is a dark place, a society where people are isolated and desperate and very afraid. Our fellow Americans are starving for God and hoping that maybe, perhaps, our Christian claims might just be true; they mock our faith and claim to disdain us, but, deep down, they are waiting for us to prove them wrong.
We have our marching orders, don’t we, ladies?
This culture aches for evangelization, and the Holy Father has called upon us to be missionaries. Each of us, by virtue of our baptism, are sent forth to evangelize the world with the good news of Jesus Christ, and in answer that mandate, as well as to Pope Benedict XVI’s call in this Year of Faith, It’s Fun To Be A Girl has launched the Catholic Fashion Blogging movement.
Now, you ask, how does beauty and fashion correspond with the Year of Faith and our culture’s desperate need for evangelization? Here is how. Because, our neighbors think that they know what is Christianity, and they think it’s boring and small-minded, even dangerous. Our neighbors think that Christians are out of touch with reality and don’t understand the daily struggles and sorrows that they face. This is where we employ the missionary tool of fashion, namely, through dressing with an eye to style and following the latest trends in a reasonable manner, we communicate to those who see us that we speak their language. A prairie dress or long plaid jumper sends the following message, “I reject this culture, and I don’t speak your existential language”, whereas a woman who looks fashionable enough (we are shooting for temperance here, ladies) shows that she is interested in the culture and those who live in it.
Now, let’s see if we can make sense of the two messages I offer above. What I am not saying is that every woman is called to be a missionary fashionista. What I am not saying is that one has to wear mascara in order to please God. What I am saying, however, echoes the words of Blessed Pope John Paul in this theology of the body, where he asserts, “The body expresses the person.” Your body expresses you, my dears, and you are each a precious daughter of God the Father, so your physical appearance should reflect that glory. I am giving to each of you permission to bedeck yourselves in prettiness as a way to shine for Jesus and bring light to your neighbors. Bring light to your families and your offices and your favorite coffee shops through your glorious femininity.
We radiate with the Light that comes from our Heavenly Father and put our natural feminine beauty to good use, tailoring our appearance to communicate a message of hope and goodness to all who see us. Come Holy Spirit and teach us how to be beautiful for the glory of God!