Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful?
I recently bought my daughters to a Cinderella ball. To teach them what a ball is, we watched Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella which has the song proclaiming the Prince is Giving a Ball. While I started the movie for that song, Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful? was the song that grabbed my attention.
It's an interesting question posed by the song: "Do I love you because you're beautiful, or are you beautiful because I love you?" At first blush it may seem this is a shallow question. After all, Prince Charming considered the question after Cinderella's beautiful dress sparked an instant infatuation in him. At this point in the story he did not even know her name! However, if we set aside the context in which the question was posed, I do think it is a question worth pondering more deeply.
To answer the question, we must reflect on the meaning of beauty. We might be inclined to define beauty as a physical attractiveness in you that triggers a hormonal response in me that causes me to desire physical intimacy with you. Of course, the feeling aroused by beauty understood in this way is not love but lust. Are you attractive because I lust for you or do I lust for you because you're attractive? This is a shallow question. Though we could probably experiment and come to a biological answer, the question amounts to little more than scientific curiosity. For me to lust for you in this way is for me to objectify you. This objectification leads me to evaluate your worth based on how it can bring me pleasure or make me happy. A human being should never be made an object which I use for my own self-gratification. This is not true beauty or true love.
Beauty does bring me pleasure, but this is not the true measure of beauty. True beauty does not lead me into myself but rather out of myself. When he described the speech by Diotima in Plato's Symposium, Bishop Barron succinctly described true beauty: "The particular beautiful leads us, if we allow it, to the source and horizon of the Beautiful itself which we recognize as God." Pope Francis described this aspect of beauty saying, "Beauty brings us to God. ... All that is good, all that is true and all that is beautiful brings us to God. Because God is good, God is beauty, God is truth." You are beautiful to the extent that seeing you draws my attention to the God who made you. Beauty does not prompt me to desire my own good; it prompts me to desire the good of the one who is beautiful. Your beauty leads me to give myself to you and this gift of myself is the heart of true love. The more I empty myself and give myself to you, the more I see past my own self-interest and recognize your inherent beauty as a human child of God. Physical beauty understood in this way may lead to intimacy, but this is an intimacy driven by a desire to bring you joy rather than a desire to use you as an object to bring myself pleasure. I experience joy in intimacy with you because I am receiving the gift of yourself which you are freely giving to me.
The answer to Cinderella and Prince Charming's question begins to emerge. The more beautiful you are, the more you draw my attention out of myself and toward the God who is Beauty, the more I selflessly give myself to you as a gift in love. The more I love you, the more I give of myself as the God who is Love gives of himself, the more I let go of my own self-interest and recognize how truly beautiful you are. Do I love because you're beautiful or are you beautiful because I love you? I love you because you're beautiful and you're beautiful because I love you!
We may not be princes and princesses living in a fairy tale castle, but in our domestic churches I may recognize a beauty in you greater than any princess's and I may learn to give and receive true love. Finding the God who is Beauty and who is Love in your beauty, in your love for me, and in my love for you is greater than any prince's ball and the magic doesn't wear off after midnight. If I spend a lifetime discovering your beauty and loving you more deeply, I will still not have probed the depths of Beauty and Love, but if I spend my whole life going ever deeper into these mysteries then I will live happily ever after.
 Francis, “Prayer Vigil for the Festival of Families,” Vatican Website (Philadelphia, September 26, 2015), last modified September 26, 2015, accessed June 23, 2016, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150926_usa-festa-famiglie.pdf.