header icons

She is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World, as Are the Poor, the Immigrants

An old, old, fairy tale from Russia tells the story of a young boy (or sometimes told from the point of view of a young girl) who was lost. He couldn’t find his mother.

Villagers who wanted to help asked the child, “What does your mother look like?” Tell us, so that we can help you find her.” The little boy answered, “My mother is the most beautiful woman in the world.”

The villagers were very happy with his reply. They now knew that the mother would be easy to find.

So they went far and wide with the little boy, searching for her. Each time they found a very beautiful woman, they were disappointed. It was not his mother.

Finally, they came across a wrinkled, weather-beaten woman with a scarf on her head. The little boy ran to her with great joy. Beaming, he turned to those who had been helping for so long and said, “See, I told you she was the most beautiful woman in the world!”

We at Casa Juan Diego identify with this story because so often the person who comes to us appears dirty from a journey or bent and lined with age by suffering and worry and work that is too hard for them. When we ask the age of a new guest, we are often very surprised to find that they are 20 years younger than they appear to be.

When our guests have had a chance to shower and put on clean clothes and know that they have a place to stay for a time, their appearance changes. They are more beautiful or handsome. But, as in the story of the little boy and his mother, the beauty is so often on the inside. Sometimes it takes a little while for them to speak and share their stories, and sometimes it takes time to get to see the beauty.

We are so busy with so many suffering people that sometimes we can’t or don’t take the time to see the beauty in each one. But when we do, even with people who do not fit into middle-class values, even with people who do very irritating things, even with people whose self-esteem has been very damaged by life experiences, the beauty shines through, even if it is the humiliated and disfigured face of the suffering Christ.
Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXVII, No. 6, November-December 2007.