Lily “Loving Beauty Early (Part I)” here.
Bearing in mind the great heritage of beauty in Scripture and Tradition, Pope Francis turned his attention to the evangelical power of beauty in his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. In it he wrote: “Any form of catechesis would do well to deal with the ‘way of beauty’ or the ‘via pulchritudinis.'”
Saint John Paul II also called for greater attention to beauty when he said that “beauty is a call to transcendence. . . . The beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. This awakens this hidden longing for God” (Letter to artists, 1999). In the same letter, he urges to be attentive to the “new epiphanies of beauty”.
So, what are the new epiphanies of beauty that we need to see and point out to our children so that they can love beauty sooner rather than later? In our evangelistic efforts, how can we lead more effectively with beauty, which is one of the 8 Principles of Word on Fire? Here I share some thoughts on how we can all contemplate beauty, love it, and how it can lead us to the beauty of Christ and the beauty of God.
new eyes to see
Some time ago I bought a new camera with a powerful lens. Suddenly I started noticing possible images everywhere. I had new eyes to see what I was blind to before. We pray for new eyes to see – for the Lord to heal our blindness to see all there is to see and not just what we want to see. That we might see with new awe and wonder – to revel in the beauty of the natural world, the magnificence of a cloudless night sky, a breathtaking rainbow, or an awe-inspiring sunrise. These daily miracles are worth watching. Nothing we can find on a screen can ever reproduce these epiphanies of beauty.
The beauty of people
Have you ever sat waiting for a plane at the airport and spent time “people watching”? It definitely takes you out of yourself watching the comings and goings of people all over the world. The truth appears to us that each human life is unique and uniquely beautiful. Just as the beauty of Christ was hidden beneath wounds and bruises, so everyone has beauty beneath our fallen nature. Yet the beauty of others is so easy to miss and ignore, as it was by the rich man with Lazarus.
The beauty of charity
Kindness and charity are beautiful when seen. Selfishness and greed are ugly. Seek the beauty of charity, wherever it comes from. Be a person of charity, love and justice in order to make the world more beautiful. In the light of beauty, morality can be approached by a new way and a new understanding. Doing what is good and right is beautiful and healthy. Immorality and injustice are horrible, dark and divisive.
The beauty of truth
The poem “Ode on a Greek urnby John Keats ends with the line “Beauty is truth, truth beauty is all you know on earth, and all you need to know.” Like beauty, truth conforms us to itself. Having a passion for truth takes us on an adventure of discovery outside of ourselves. Whether the truth we discover is scientific truth, religious truth or moral truth, all truth imposes demands on us and we calls for change. As the truth is beautiful, lies and deceit are ugly.
the beauty of art and architecture
A phrase we often hear is that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. I’ve always had a hard time accepting that. For example, if you see a painting by Caravaggio and decide you don’t like it, the problem is with you, not Caravaggio! Or if we walk into Chartres Cathedral in France and remain indifferent to the beauty therein, then the problem lies with us and not with the people who designed this magnificent building. The heritage of the Church includes an impressive array of works of art and beautiful buildings that serve to draw people into an experience of beauty and transcendence. Art and architecture serve to lift our hearts, minds and souls to the divine.
the beauty of music
Again, the same goes for beautiful music as it does for art. If I don’t like Allegri’s Miserere mei or a Mozart symphony, then the problem is on my side. I am deaf to hear the beauty that is there.
For Saint Augustine, beautiful music helped break his deafness to hear and feel the beauty of God: “How I wept during your hymns and songs! I have been deeply touched by the music of the sweet songs of your Church. The sounds streamed into my ears and the truth was distilled into my heart. This caused the feelings of devotion to overflow. The tears flowed and it was good for me to have this experience” (confession, 96). The Church has a wonderful musical heritage, but there are also other forms of music, not strictly sacred or liturgical, which can lead us to a beautiful spiritual experience.
The beauty of Mary and the saints
The liturgy is our encounter with heavenly realities. It is the place where the divine meets our humanity in a way that renews the image and likeness of God within us. Therefore, the liturgy both helps us to re-examine the beauty of God and makes us radiant with this same beauty. In the saints we see the grace of God triumphing in human lives, with the beauty of God shining through them. In a special way, the feast days of the Blessed Mother show us how the grace of God embellishes a human life. Her Immaculate Conception and her Assumption reveal Mary as someone beautiful in body and soul, radiant with the grace of God and without the sin that obscures that light. This is why the Church honors Mary as the tota pulchrathe “all beautiful”.
The beauty of Christ
The beauty of people, charity, art, music and saints all converge on the Beautiful One, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is beautiful in his mercy, his truth, his compassion, his goodness, his kingdom, his healings, his forgiveness, his wounds and his love. His beauty shines with his Transfiguration, his Cross, his Resurrection and his Ascension. Through Christ, God continually offers his beauty to the world to redeem and save it. When the beauty of his light shines on us, it changes us to become radiant with that light in a way that changes us. Here is the beauty of Christ that he shares with us. Here is the beauty of holiness, the beauty that actually saves the world.
What the Church needs today are people who have discovered a beauty in the history of Christianity and who desire to lead others to that beauty. In this story is contained the beauty that conforms us to itself and makes us reflect it. Let’s not delay loving beauty like Saint Augustine, but let’s discover it today in our faith. May the whole Church bear witness to the beauty of God and the God of beauty. For when we do, we become the Church that Christ intended – the lumen gentium, showing the light of God’s beauty to the nations. May people see this light and be struck, and come to believe in the God of beauty.