Summary: the way of beauty is insidious, and effective
Thursday of the 25th Week in Course 2016
Joy of the Gospel
This is one of my favorite festivals, the one the Anglicans call “St. Michael and All Angels.” Not exactly right, because we have another feast in just a couple of days for our guardian angels. If you would like a focal point for meditation, God’s nature just gave us one. Myriads attend the throne of God. Think about the snout-nosed butterfly invasion we just went through. I like to imagine angels in that kind of proliferation hovering about the sanctuary at every Mass. And at the head of them all is Michael, who was kind of like an angelic staff sergeant at their creation, but who on the rebellion of the one called “light-bearer” assumed the role of general of all the angels, and who is depicted in Scripture as the one who conquers in the cosmic battle between good and evil. Actually, Jesus, the Son of God, is the conqueror, the general, and Michael is like His chief of staff.
Every vision of the elohim, which is the Hebrew word for angels, is full of awe at their majesty and their beauty. Our appreciation of and veneration of the angels is part of our heritage of truth, goodness and beauty. The pope is speaking about evangelization and moving beyond the initial kerygma: ‘Another aspect of catechesis which has developed in recent decades is mystagogic initiation. This basically has to do with two things: a progressive experience of formation involving the entire community and a renewed appreciation of the liturgical signs of Christian initiation. Many manuals and programmes have not yet taken sufficiently into account the need for a mystagogical renewal, one which would assume very different forms based on each educational community’s discernment. Catechesis is a proclamation of the word and is always centred on that word, yet it also demands a suitable environment and an attractive presentation, the use of eloquent symbols, insertion into a broader growth process and the integration of every dimension of the person within a communal journey of hearing and response.
‘Every form of catechesis would do well to attend to the “way of beauty” (via pulchritudinis). Proclaiming Christ means showing that to believe in and to follow him is not only something right and true, but also something beautiful, capable of filling life with new splendour and profound joy, even in the midst of difficulties. Every expression of true beauty can thus be acknowledged as a path leading to an encounter with the Lord Jesus. This has nothing to do with fostering an aesthetic relativism which would downplay the inseparable bond between truth, goodness and beauty, but rather a renewed esteem for beauty as a means of touching the human heart and enabling the truth and goodness of the Risen Christ to radiate within it. If, as Saint Augustine says, we love only that which is beautiful, the incarnate Son, as the revelation of infinite beauty, is supremely lovable and draws us to himself with bonds of love. So a formation in the via pulchritudinis ought to be part of our effort to pass on the faith. Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new “language of parables”. We must be bold enough to discover new signs and new symbols, new flesh to embody and communicate the word, and different forms of beauty which are valued in different cultural settings, including those unconventional modes of beauty which may mean little to the evangelizers, yet prove particularly attractive for others.’
The way of truth does not appeal to modern humans who, like Pilate, ask “what is truth,” because the truth hurts their self-absorbed attitude. The way of goodness sounds phony to them because the media has convinced them that every religious person, no matter what the religion, is either a child-abuser, misogynist or potential terrorist. But the way of beauty is insidious. Beauty grabs the mind and spirit on an almost instinctive level. In June I helped sing a Mass in St. Louis Cathedral, a solemn pontifical Mass in the ordinary form, that literally made me feel like I was in paradise. Everything but the homily was sung. We used the Pope Marcellus Mass of Palestrina on the Solemnity of John the Baptist. Let’s face it, much of our Sunday Masses are just ugly, or at least so pedestrian that they could not ever be called “beautiful.” But on those occasions when the Mass is truly beautiful, the Church is attractive to the unchurched and churched alike. That is something we must pay attention to over the next years if the new evangelization is to bear fruit.