As a student of philosophy at the seminary, I remember beginning with Ontology, the study and science of being. The course was in Latin and one of the first truths I learned stated: Omne ens est unum, verum, bonum et pulchrum – every being is one, true, good and beautiful. That truth has stood me in good stead over the years for I have discovered to my amazement and astonishment that in every being there is unity, truth, goodness and beauty. The course in Ontology went on to state that only God is Being; all creatures only have being and that all creatures have being in the measure they share in and reflect the Being of God.
The magnificent magnolia, which buds and blooms with unfailing regularity every year heralding spring, that I behold across the road a few metres these days from my study window, in all its beauty and splendour, is not only a delight to the eye but even more a visual confirmation of what I learned many years ago. It is an attractive and appealing gentle pink not too harsh or hard as to cause a glare but subtly soft and supple to create a glow. Charmed by its beauty, I went across the road to admire and appreciate it from close quarters. I was lost in wonder. Every bough was laden with pink buds and flowers. The buds seemed too coy to open and yet open they will in due time. The whole tree was a splash of pink with not a single leaf in green.
I stood speechless in contemplation. I pondered and prayed. A host of thoughts hustled into my mind. This magnificent magnolia was beautiful. But its beauty was not for itself but for others. It made the environment beautiful. The focus of its beauty was outside itself. In today’s world, beauty, particularly in the cosmetics commercials, the focus seems to centre on making a person beautiful. We are told what to spray on our bodies so that we smell better; what lotions and lather would make our skin softer; what dyes would make us have that enticing and exciting “come hither look”. We seem to have lost the focus of real beauty. This magnificent magnolia teaches me a lesson that is so very different; that is in a way counter current and counter commercial. Real beauty is not a preoccupation with self but a proclivity towards others. Real beauty comes from within; it cannot be splashed on from without! It emerges; it cannot be applied!
The glory of this magnificent magnolia I have observed does not last long. Within weeks the petals will drop - and if it rains, they would drop even prematurely – and the bare branches would soon then be covered with green leaves. There seems to be a relay in colours. Pink yields to green. Nature never gives us its gifts in simultaneity but in succession – never too much too soon or all at once – but with graded generosity and goodness. This magnificent magnolia is intensely pink in the short span of life that it has. Does it not teach me that what really matters for my life is the intensity with which I live it, rather than its duration? It is not necessarily how long we live but how we live that counts!
And as I stood in its shade wrapped in wonder and besotted by its beauty, I pondered again. Creation is God’s handiwork. This magnificent magnolia had beauty. God is beauty. From the creature I was led to the Creator; from the seen to the Unseen; from what I behold, to Him whom I believe; from what I enjoy, to Him whom I must experience. Beauty is God’s handwriting and God is a creative Calligrapher. He never repeats Himself. Come end winter next year and this magnificent magnolia will bud, blossom and bloom again but never exactly in the same way! And as I returned to the presbytery in my heart I prayerfully sang to the Lord: How beautiful Thou art! How beautiful Thou art!