One of the earliest lessons I learned from Alice von Hildebrand came from a talk she gave in Steubenville in my undergrad days.
"You are not responsible for the face you were born with. You are responsible for the face you die with."
Often in the years since I have heard her speak of "holy cosmetics": the beauty the human face acquires over time, by living in right accord with "the hierarchy of values."
It's the opposite trajectory to the horrible one depicted so vividly in Oscar Wilde's insightful novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. A life of evil and indulgence over time renders a person ugly, even if he was originally endowed with great physical beauty. The body displays the debauched soul. The face becomes sour, nasty, contorted.
Likewise, even a plain face can be transfigured by the moral radiance of a beautiful expression. An expression of sweetness, tenderness, pity, kindness, purity, humility, noble sorrow (the kind that only a virtuous person can have) gives a human face an attractive power that far outglories the beauty of fine physical features and proportions.
I thought of this again yesterday watching this 20/20 interview with Dolores Hart, the Hollywood actress who abandoned stardom to enter a Benedictine convent at age 24. A documentary about her life has been nominated for an Oscar, bringing her back into the public spotlight.
I was particularly touched by two things: the striking beauty of her face now, in contrast to the heavily made-up, plastic-surgery distorted faces of her Hollywood peers who stayed in the world, and the admirable fidelity of her former fiancé, in contrast with the broken marriages littering "the entertainment world".
She was engaged to be married when she was impelled by God to enter the convent. Her fiancé was devasted, but accepting. Not only did he never marry, but he has traveled to her convent to visit her every Easter and Christmas since. He considers his life as much bound up with hers as if they had married. What love! What beautiful devotion! How many Hollywood actresses have anything to compare with it?