Have you ever seen pro-life groups distribute roses to women as they enter an abortion clinic? If so, have you noticed the reactions elicited by those roses? A simple, beautiful flower stands out in stark contrast to the banners depicting injured, preborn babies that some protestors wave. The beauty of the rose arouses a deep joy and communicates God’s love: “I have called you by name” (Isaiah 43:1, NABRE).
When we consider a woman, or a couple, entering an abortion clinic, we must reflect on their social, emotional, and spiritual state. We might ask: What does this individual need in order to say yes to the life that has been created? We hope and pray that the woman can live in the spirit of Mary’s Angelus, where Mary expresses her fiat to the Lord, saying yes as Gabriel invites her to bear God’s child. In order to be able to say yes—to choose life—an individual needs an encounter with love. She needs to know, firsthand, the beauty of love and the joy that persists amidst suffering and pain.
The significance of aesthetics
Theology of aesthetics is something I hadn’t heard of in my Catholic upbringing. It was only when I was in my twenties that I finally came across Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Love Alone Is Credible, and I was blown away by his discussion of aesthetics. An encounter with beauty, as explained by von Balthasar, can captivate one’s heart and lead to an inner transformation, eliciting a response of love, much like Mary’s fiat.
I once stood outside an abortion clinic in Philadelphia, holding roses while others played beautiful music on the harp and violin, and I witnessed exactly what von Balthasar describes. When women saw that our primary intention was not to convince or to change their minds, but simply and clearly to love, they were transformed. Their sullen faces turned to smiles, and they looked us in the eye as if something had truly caught their attention. The simple rose given to them caused a transformation of heart.
Years later, at my wedding shower, my friends and family created beautiful bouquets of flowers. After the shower, my fiancé and I walked through the streets of Newark, New Jersey—where we had met living in a Catholic evangelical community—simply handing people bouquets as we encountered them. Their reactions were unforgettable. Not a single person refused the bouquet. Each of them had a unique and exquisite response: “No way! For me? Why? Just because?” Or, “These are beautiful! Why me?” Some individuals were even brought to tears.
These experiences confirm von Balthasar’s assertion that, when we encounter pure love, we respond with love. We want to give of our own selves, having first been loved. Pure, unconditional love is beautiful and striking. When we share beauty with others, we put aside our own intentions for the sake of love, and we witness a deep transformation of mind, heart, and body.
Beauty in the lupines
Throughout my entire life, my family has traveled to Maine for a week every June. The beauty of the pink and purple lupines and of the waves crashing along the sparkling coast, paired with the silence of the foggy harbor, taught me that there is more to life than worldly goods and anxieties. It taught me to be patient and to persevere in faith, because there is something beyond—or within—the mundane that is beautiful, good, and true.
What about those who have not experienced such beauty? Shouldn’t we aim to share beauty with others so that they will know that there is more to life than bills to pay, the discomfort of pregnancy, and the pains of childbirth?
You may, in fact, have witnessed some of the beauty of Maine if you have read a children’s storybook entitled Miss Rumphius. In the story, a woman, inspired by her grandfather’s advice to beautify the world, wanders throughout it sowing lupines. She beautifies the world by spreading wildflowers.
This story always stood out to me, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Miss Rumphius. Yet, as I grew older, I recognized that the beauty of creation could not be separated from the beauty of love. The ultimate beauty of Christ’s pure and selfless love triumphs over death. It is this beauty of love that will save the world.
Saints, artists, and scientists alike have been called to action by an encounter with beauty. Many have allowed themselves to be carried by beauty through life’s pain and suffering. The French artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, for example, suffered extremely painful arthritis. As his disease progressed and the pain intensified, Renoir chose to see and create beauty—a beauty he would share with the world—and this helped him endure his immense suffering. In the same way, we must offer beauty to women in need. A simple rose may draw the beholder’s attention to the beauty of creation, thus reducing the impact of the various sufferings in her life and empowering her to choose beauty—to choose life.
Let us bring hope
Within the pro-life movement, let us take the beauty of God’s love to the front lines. In the spirit of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis, let’s first and foremost seek to understand each woman in need, thereby communicating the beauty of God’s love: “Where there is despair, [let us bring] hope” and “where there is sadness, joy.”
Let us not forget that many saints were transformed by an encounter with beauty. We want the same for women considering an abortion. We want them to be so in awe of Christ’s wondrous love that they pause, allowing themselves to be transformed by beauty and respond with love. We pray that this simple encounter with the beauty of love will empower them to trust in God, to know that God will provide, and to understand that love is more powerful than fear or discomfort or need. We want them to know the deepest joy that can exist even in the midst of the greatest suffering.
As Catholics, we could all strive to be a bit more like Miss Rumphius. Let us make the world more beautiful by loving selflessly. Let us give out roses at abortion clinics, play beautiful music, and make ourselves present with love and mercy in our hearts. Let us trust that, through simple acts of beauty and love, we will transform hearts and inspire women to choose life, thereby truly making the world a more beautiful place.