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Bishop Strickland . . . For The New Evangelization . . . We Need Epiphanies Of Beauty

July 6, 2020 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By MOST REV. JOSEPH STRICKLAND

Part 1

Pope St. John Paul II On Beauty

On Easter Sunday in 1999, Pope St. John Paul II issued a reflective letter addressed specifically to artists. He referred to artists as “Images of the Creator.” He wrote that “to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art. Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.”
The late Pope explained to the artists he addressed in the same letter, “Beauty is a key to the mystery and a call to transcendence. It is an invitation to savor life and to dream of the future. That is why the beauty of created things can never fully satisfy. It stirs that hidden nostalgia for God, which a lover of beauty like St. Augustine could express in incomparable terms: ‘Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you!’”
In this Letter to Artists he called for the creation of “epiphanies of beauty” and encouraged the flourishing of all the arts in a great renewal of humanity for our age. The letter begins with these words from the Book of Genesis: “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). It still is good, and we who bear the name Christian need to share that Good News with a world increasingly enslaved by a growing and hungry ugliness caused by a rejection of God.
We have often heard the quote from Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, “Beauty will save the world.” Pope St. John Paul II quoted the line in his Letter to Artists, under the heading “The Saving Power of Beauty”:
“On the threshold of the Third Millennium, my hope for all of you who are artists is that you will have an especially intense experience of creative inspiration. May the beauty which you pass on to generations still to come be such that it will stir them to wonder! Faced with the sacredness of life and of the human person, and before the marvels of the universe, wonder is the only appropriate attitude. . . .
“People of today and tomorrow need this enthusiasm [of wonder] if they are to meet and master the crucial challenges which stand before us. Thanks to this enthusiasm, humanity, every time it loses its way, will be able to lift itself up and set out again on the right path. In this sense it has been said with profound insight that ‘beauty will save the world’” (n. 16).

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI On Beauty

This emphasis on beauty is also a core teaching of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The reason that both Popes emphasize beauty is that it is a profoundly important part of the Catholic vision. The Pope Emeritus constantly reminds us that beauty is a path to the God who is both its source and summit. Let me share some examples of his comments over the years.
On November 21, 2009 Pope Benedict XVI met with 250 artists in the Sistine Chapel. (See p. 4B of this week’s issue for the full text of Pope Benedict’s address to the artists.) He told them they were “custodians of beauty,” and asked them to be “heralds and witnesses of hope for humanity.” In so doing, he continued the trajectory of his Predecessor, St. John Paul II, reawakening within the Church a love for the Arts and a rediscovery of Beauty as a path to God. He also quoted some other of Dostoevsky’s words:
“Dostoevsky’s words that I am about to quote are bold and paradoxical, but they invite reflection. He says this: ‘Man can live without science, he can live without bread, but without beauty he could no longer live, because there would no longer be anything to do to the world. The whole secret is here, the whole of history is here’” (quoting from the novel, Demons).
In a general audience held on Wednesday, August 31, 2011 in Castel Gandolfo, Benedict reminded 5,000 pilgrims of the universal human response to beauty as reflected in a sculpture, a painting, a poem or a beautiful piece of music. The Pope said it is “something bigger, something that speaks, capable touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul. How many times, then, can artistic expressions be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or the conversion of the heart.”
He noted that works of art “open the door to the infinite, to a beauty and a truth that goes beyond the ordinary. A work of art can open the eyes of the mind and heart. Perhaps sometimes, before a sculpture, a painting, a few verses of a poem or a song, you have experienced deep within an intimate emotion, a sense of joy, that is to have clearly perceived that in front of you there was not only matter, a piece of marble or bronze, a painted canvas, a series of letters or a combination of sounds, but something bigger, something that speaks, capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message; elevating the soul.
“The work of art is the fruit of human creativity, which questions the visible reality, trying to discover its deep meaning and to communicate it through the language of shapes, colors, sounds. (It) is an open door on the infinite (which) opens the eyes of the mind, of the heart. One example of this is when we visit a Gothic cathedral; we are enraptured by the vertical lines that shoot up towards the sky and draw our eyes and our spirits upwards, while at the same time, we feel small, and yet eager for fullness.
“Or when we enter a Romanesque church: We are spontaneously invited to recollection and prayer. We feel as if the faith of generations were enclosed in these splendid buildings. Or, when we hear a piece of sacred music that vibrates the strings of our heart, our soul expands and helped to turn to God.
“A concert of music by Johann Sebastian Bach, in Munich, directed by Leonard Bernstein, again comes to my mind. After the last piece of music, one of the Cantate, I felt, not by reasoning, but in my heart, that what I heard had conveyed something of the faith of the great composer to me and pressed me to praise and thank the Lord.”
He asked: “How many times have paintings or frescoes, the fruit of the faith of the artist, in their forms, their colors, in their light, encouraged us to direct our thoughts to God and nourish in us the desire to draw from the source of all beauty. What a great artist, Marc Chagall, wrote remains true, that for centuries painters have dipped their paintbrush in that colored alphabet that is the Bible.
“How many times then can artistic expressions be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or for the conversion of the heart! Paul Claudel, a poet, playwright, and French diplomat, in the Basilica of Notre Dame in Paris, in 1886, while he was listening to the singing of the Magnificat at Christmas Mass, felt God’s presence. He had not entered the church for reasons of faith, but in search of arguments against Christians, and instead the grace of God worked in his heart.”
He challenged the pilgrims listening “to rediscover the importance of this path for prayer, for our living relationship with God. The cities and towns all over the world preserve works of art that express the faith and remind us of our relationship with God.
“Visiting places of art, it is not only an occasion for cultural enrichment, but above all it can be a moment of grace, an encouragement to strengthen our relationship and our dialogue with the Lord, to stop and contemplate, in the transition from simple external reality to a deeper reality, the ray of beauty that strikes us, that almost wounds us in our inner selves and invites us to rise towards God.”
On Wednesday, November 21, 2012, the Pontifical Academies held their seventeenth public session on the theme “The Artist, like the Church, is a witness to the beauty of faith.” At that session, Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, SDB, read a message from Pope Benedict XVI.
The Pope Emeritus expressed “the desire of the Church to rediscover the joy of common reflection and concerted action, with the aim of restoring the theme of beauty as the focus of attention within ecclesial communities, civil society and the world of culture.”
We certainly need this restoration in this urgent hour.

Our Contemporary Challenge

The Church needs to re-present beauty as the path to true liberation, happiness, and human flourishing. We are living in an age which has been seduced by the “angel of light,” the Devil (2 Cor. 11:14). Sadly, our contemporary culture has succumbed to the ugliness that accompanies the denial of objective truth.
Unrepentant sin and the wholesale embrace of the lies of the Devil have led multitudes astray. They have rejected the Source of all true beauty and now wander like Cain in the land of Nod, East of Eden. There is a sort of social schizophrenia which has resulted.
For example, consider the beauty of the child in the womb. This beauty can be clearly seen in 3D and 4D ultrasounds which reveal the unborn child. These images are used in announcement cards and as “Baby’s first picture” memorabilia. Yet, the same technology is used to kill children in the womb in every procured abortion.
Notice, however, the ugliness of the act is hidden from the view of the mother when used to guide the abortionist. In fact, daring to show the severing of children’s limbs by the brutality of the abortionist, the crushing of the skull, or even the burning of the child by saline, is censored by the keepers of the new social media imperium, led by anti-life tyrants.
I am not advocating such an approach in our work of defending life. Rather, I am just pointing out what is obvious. Modern men and women have been lied to — and they have bought the lie. They have been persuaded by propagandists. What they know is beautiful, the life of a child in the womb, becomes disposable, when that beautiful child is not wanted.
Of course, we need to be empathetic and find a way to assist mothers in difficult circumstances, but taking the life of that beautiful child is never the right choice. It is always ugly.
Indeed, it is hideous.

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