Summary: As the disciple is obedient to the word of Christ, so we can witness our obedience to the Father in the world by respecting the need for beauty in worship.

May 11, 2009

Sacramentum Caritatis

When we read the words of the Last Discourse in John, which we will hear each day between now and the Ascension, we can be struck with an apparent disjoin in the conversation. The apostles often ask a question, and Jesus appears to give a good answer to an entirely different question. Here Judas–and can you imaging going through life being called “Judas–not the Iscariot”?–asks why Jesus is showing himself to be Messiah, but just to his disciples, and not to the world. Jesus then goes on to talk about obeying his word–which is the Father’s word–and about the function of the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in the way of Jesus. It seems as if Jesus isn’t listening.

But the answer is exactly right. Jesus didn’t declare himself to be Messiah until the very last moment of his public ministry, when he was dragged before Caiaphas. The Trinity comes to us and dwells with us, and manifests in our lives by signs of power and wisdom. But the Trinity can only come to obedient souls. If we are not willing to do the will of the Father, we will not recognize His presence. Even less can the world recognize Him, because the world–it seems more and more each day–is unwilling to be obedient to His plan.

This is another reason why we need to listen to the Holy Father when he speaks to us about the profound connection between beauty and the liturgy. If we don’t, if we insist on making liturgy about our tastes–our likes and dislikes–then we are injuring our witness of obedience to a disobedient world. Iconic art and architecture, even the furnishings, must be beautiful and coherent. The Pope insists that seminarians and priests study art history, particularly the history of sacred art, and that everything related to the Eucharist should be marked by beauty. He tells us that “by their harmonious and orderly arrangement they will foster awe for the mystery of God, manifest the unity of the faith and strengthen devotion.”

Most important of all, however, is that “in the ars celebrandi, liturgical song has a pre-eminent place. Quoting Augustine, he tells us that singing is an expression of joy and. . .an expression of love. In my next homily, I will treat of beauty in sacred song in more detail, for it is here that we have the greatest opportunity for community growth and evangelization of our world.

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