Summary: There can be no tension between devoting ourselves to love of God and love of neighbor.
Thursday of 25th week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
There is a very old argument in the Church that contrasts what we owe to God with what we owe to our neighbor. These days, it goes like this: we don’t need ornate churches with lots of stone and pipeorgans and marble altars and Italian crucifixes, bells and fancy stained glass windows. Better to spend that money on the poor and have a simple little chapel that reflects a kind of Franciscan poverty and concern for the marginalized. The argument pits the two parts of the great commandment against each other–kind of like love God OR love your neighbor. Let’s get back to that in a bit, after considering that the prophet Haggai was essentially saying to the people of Israel, “what are you doing trying to enrich yourselves and get fat while the temple lies in ruins?”
The Holy Father has been talking about how to attract others to the Gospel and its joy, and has told us that “Catechesis is a proclamation of the word and is always centerd 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.”
He continues: ‘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 splendor 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.
‘As for the moral component of catechesis, which promotes growth in fidelity to the Gospel way of life, it is helpful to stress again and again the attractiveness and the ideal of a life of wisdom, self-fulfilment and enrichment. In the light of that positive message, our rejection of the evils which endanger that life can be better understood. Rather than experts in dire predictions, dour judges bent on rooting out every threat and deviation, we should appear as joyful messengers of challenging proposals, guardians of the goodness and beauty which shine forth in a life of fidelity to the Gospel.’
Now to return to the prophet Haggai and the modern culture. Let’s face it: modern culture is full of moral corruption–the absence of good–widespread falsehood–the absence of truth–and junk masquerading as art. Consider most of what is on television and in the movie theaters: Murder and Mayhem XVI and Sexual Perversion and Abuse XXI. We are not going to attract people who are sick of cultural depravity by printing more tracts and advertising today’s version of Mother Theresa. Frankly, I think the only way to attract is by the way of beauty. Our churches and our worship must be unequivocally beautiful. I remember venturing into the cathedral in Montreal one day at least twenty years ago. It was full of gorgeous art, but more importantly, a choir was singing beautiful chant in an acoustically lively setting. The effect was stunning. It brought to mind the stories of atheists having the same kind of experience and receiving the grace of conversion on the spot.
Unfortunately, most of what we see and hear in our Catholic churches today is at best mediocre, and at worst, cheap and ugly. We fool ourselves that we’ll put our money into helping the poor and we end up by neither honoring God nor having enough to help the marginalized. We must love God with our WHOLE heart and treat our neighbor as ourselves. That’s not cheap.