One day near the early beginnings of fall, I marveled upon arriving at school at the color some of the leaves on the campus were turning – a deep purplish red. Being from the South, where most of the trees’ leaves do not change color, and having noticed since moving up north to enter the convent mostly yellow shades of leaves, the leaves that morning fascinated me and moved me in awe and contemplation of the God who made them so beautifully and so perfectly. I picked one leaf off the ground, admiring the intricacies of its veins, and decided to bring it inside and share the wonder in God’s creation with my students later that morning.
But when I showed my students the leaf and expressed my awe at its beauty, I was a little disappointed. Most of my students seemed indifferent or at least slightly confused as to what I seemed to think the big deal was. The leaf, the sight of which had instantly raised my mind and heart to God, seemed to be just a leaf to many of them. In what ways may we have similarly allowed ourselves to become jaded when faced with the beauty of God’s creation?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The beauty of creation reflects the infinite beauty of the Creator” (CCC 341). The beautiful color of the leaf I found reflected the source of its beauty – the beauty of God Himself. Yet even when we recognize and are in awe of the beauty of fall colors or of a spring morning or of a sunset, how often do we acknowledge the most beautiful and greatest part of God’s visible creation?
The pinnacle of God’s creation, after which He “saw that it was very good” (Gen. 1:31, emphasis added), was mankind. Each person we see, created in the image and likeness of God, is a profound reflection of the beauty of the Creator. How often do we acknowledge and allow ourselves to be in awe of this image of God in the person next to us? We tend to be much more easily inclined to see negative in other people – and even in ourselves – rather than to recognize the presence of God.
Of course, we are all sinners and in need of conversion, but the majority of people are probably not being malicious when they get on our nerves. Rather than assuming that others are wrong or guilty of something, what difference might it make if we gave them the benefit of the doubt and were willing to believe that they may actually desire what is right and good as much as we do? What if we really did live as though they were each created in the image of God, as we profess to believe? Think of the change that kind of outlook could make within your parish or family!
I know it can be easy to think, “She wouldn’t say that if she knew so-and-so and knew what I have to put up with!” The reality of our human condition since the fall is that we will never see perfectly eye-to-eye with each other. I have had several situations during my time as a teacher when I have not at all been “on the same page” as those with whom I am working – colleagues, parents of my students, even my students themselves. But it has only ever caused me pain when I have looked at the situation from the lens of, “Someone must be wrong in this, and I have to prove I’m not the one.” What if instead I chose to think, “We are both seeking what’s good and right for this student or in this situation”?
This kind of outlook on life can only be ours if we put on “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Our faith gives us the ability to see the world as God Himself sees it. Let us look at each other not through the lens of cynicism but through the lenses of compassion and love, seeking the image of our Creator therein. Only when we do so will we allow the joy of the Gospel to triumph in our lives.
Sr. Mary Martha Becnel is a member of the Ann Arbor-based Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist.