When a person has an experience that fills them with joy, quite often they become somewhat radiant. Joy gives life to the heart to the degree that it cannot be hidden in the eyes or on the face. This is said of pregnant women whose faces become brighter. It is probably due to the wonder of having a baby and that both mother and child are rich with the gift of new life. The radiance of love also becomes evident in those who are holy; this is why artists add a nimbus (halo) around their head. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the best example of this radiance. Being full of grace, she already had the luster of holiness, but after she said ‘Yes’ and her womb was filled with the Son of God, she would have outshone the angel Gabriel who came to her: within her was the extraordinary beauty of Love who is God. But even greater than that is the Extraordinary Beauty that broke through in the Risen Christ who shattered the darkness of sin and death. Jesus, who once was dead, now lives. And though the world is still subject to the attacks of darkness that try to snuff out the light, we know that the light of Christ is always victorious. The glory of God was manifested at the empty tomb and is unequaled in beauty: it is the very fire of love that burns within Jesus, the Risen Lord Himself.
The radiance of Easter morning is reminiscent of these prophetic words: “Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you… over you appears his glory…. Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow….” (Isaiah 60:1-5) Even though this passage is associated more with the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord, I cannot think of an epiphany greater than the Resurrection of Jesus. On the morning of the third day after He died, Jesus appeared suddenly and unexpectedly, (which is what an epiphany is), illumining the women who came to purify His body. The three women were startled by witnessing radiant angels within the empty tomb where the dead body of Jesus had been. At least one of them, Mary Magdalene, ran to where the apostles were in hiding and brought them the first declaration of the Good News: “Jesus lives!” Just as to Mary Magdalene, the glorified, Risen Jesus brought lucidity (light)* to those who witnessed Him when He stood before them. And although it brought lucidity to their minds, it also brought it to their hearts and souls: some of what Jesus had said and done became clearer to the disciples after the Resurrection, but now, their hearts were afire, too.
While all of the people who encountered the Risen Jesus became filled with joy, the one encounter that was not written about in the gospels had to be the most exquisite, and that is the meeting between Jesus and His mother, Mary. Indeed, it was too intimate for the evangelists to recount, though perhaps they all knew of it. Whatever the reason, we can rightly assume that Jesus appeared to Mary first and that her radiance must have eclipsed, (or at the very least equaled), the radiance with which she was filled at the Annunciation. At the Annunciation two extraordinary beauties intersected: the immaculate one, Mary, and the glory of God, the Holy Spirit who filled her with the love that was beyond all telling. Therefore, when the Risen Jesus appeared to His mother, her radiance, having been dimmed by grief, must have grown in beauty again. Interestingly, it is said that when Mary appeared to humble ones throughout the centuries, such as to St. Juan Diego or St. Bernadette Soubirous, she was so radiant that they could hardly describe her beauty. And for example, when a statue of Mary was being made for the new basilica at Lourdes, the artists tried numerous times to recreate what Bernadette described, but none of them could capture what she had seen of Mary’s extraordinary beauty.
The source of extraordinary beauty is our Risen Lord Jesus. Just as the beauty of the Resurrection intersected with the apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary, so too does this same Beauty yearn to intersect with us. If we hope to grow into faithful, holy disciples, we must seek Jesus always, inviting Him to enter into our hearts to illuminate us in the same way as He did with His first followers. And if we are overwhelmed or burdened by what we experience of the world, we need to turn to the extraordinary beauty of Jesus as well as that of Mary who always leads us to Him. Their beauty is the fire of their love for us; that is, we are their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, and beloved friends. When we turn to them, and allow them to enter into our lives in a renewed way, that extraordinary beauty, indescribable mercy and love, flows within us so we might in turn become more beautiful, that is, holier. It empowers us to live the gospel and to reach out to our neighbors. Let us become like the saints and holy ones who inspire and teach us, imitating Jesus by sharing in the gifts and the love we have been given. In so doing, we glorify God by sharing the joy of the Resurrection; and then we too shall become radiant.
May we stand in joy, wonder and awe, glorifying the Risen Jesus! May the radiance of Jesus’ love fill us! May we be like the Blessed Virgin Mary, our mother, directing others toward her Risen Son Jesus! May our Easter joy propel us outward toward our brothers and sisters in service and love! And may we give thanks and praise for the extraordinary beauty of God poured out upon us! Let us meet in the heart of the Savior! Alleluia! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The origin of the word lucid is the Latin, lucidus, “equivalent to luc, stem of lux.” (Dictionary.com) That is, the root of lucid, lux, means ‘light;’ so when I say the presence of the Risen Jesus brought the apostles lucidity, I intend a reference to the light of Christ, the fire of love. This love illuminates.
1. Fresco painting, Resurrection of Christ and Women at the Tomb, by Bl. Fra Angelico. This is painted on the wall in one of the cells (monks rooms) at San Marco, in Florence, Italy.
2. Painting, Resurrection, by Matthias Grünewald. (1512–1516) This is part of the Isenheim Altarpiece. It is on display at the Unterlinden Museum at Colmar, Alsace, in France.
3. Icon, The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find this at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-risen-christ-appears-to-his-mother-217-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. Painting, Jesus I Trust in You; this was painted to depict how St. Faustina saw Jesus in a vision. He told her to have this image painted. I chose it because of the 'pale light and the red light' which emanated from His heart.
5. My photo, Gulf of Mexico at Gulf Shores, Alabama. There had been a storm which dissipated just in time for sunset to illuminate the sky and bathe everything in gold. I used it here to be symbolic of the extraordinary beauty of the Risen Christ.
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Heart Speaks to Heart