Regardless of whether in China or the United States, we are bombarded with advertisements for products that promise to improve our appearance. Malls have stores with extensive cosmetics counters, department stores have large health and beauty sections, and infomercials offer a whole range of products designed to make us “look better.”

The market is telling us that there’s something wrong with the way we look. But some ancient wisdom teaches us to think otherwise. Confucius wrote back in The Great Learning that, “what is true in one’s heart will be shown in his outward appearance” 诚于中,形于外。In other words, whatever is within us will naturally be reflected in our outer appearance and actions. The expression has grown to mean that a person should have high standards even when acting alone, regardless of whether anyone is watching. What is within and without will always be one. The hypocrite will be discovered sooner or later.

Today’s gospel shares with us the story of the Transfiguration, where Jesus appeared to Peter, John, and James, along with Moses and Elijah. The apostles would have immediately recognized the importance of this gathering, revering Moses as the great law giver and Elijah as the prophet. The passage starts, though, with Jesus. “While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29).

I took pause when reading, “While he was praying.” Prayer. Jesus’ act of prayer to the Father brought about this transformation of his appearance, making him “dazzling.” The gospel tells us that prayer will do the same for us. Prayer will transfigure us, changing our appearance so that we become “dazzling.” Prayer will help us to experience God. Prayer will help us to discern God’s will.

Confucius wrote about the importance of sincerity of heart. The gospel tells us that through prayer, we will not only become sincere, but also transfigured through a deeper experience of God and alignment with his will. There are many ways to get there. We can read the Bible, communing with God through his sacred word. We can take part in church activities, experiencing God through the sacraments. We can listen to our consciences, following that soft voice within us that discerns right and wrong. The bible, church, and conscience are three ways that prayer that can bring us to a deeper level of fellowship with God.

As we nourish our interior selves with prayer, our external appearances will improve. The light of Christ, the optimism of hope, and the warmth of love will shine forth from within. I can think of no cosmetic product that comes close.