God made us for beauty, truth and goodness. Beauty delights the soul. Some philosophers will go so far as to say that being in and of itself is beautiful. All things – coming from the hand of God – share in the essential beauty of the Creator Himself. Great saints recognized that beauty not only in the Creator but also in all His creatures. The story goes that St Francis of Assisi looked at the carcass of a dead dog and admired the beauty of its perfect teeth. Dante exclaimed, “Nature is the art of God.
Mystics are drawn to the beauty of God and often lose themselves in God’s magnificent beauty. After his conversion, St Augustine bemoaned his failure to fall in love with the Lord sooner. In his spiritual autobiography, The Confessions, writes:
Late have I loved You, O beauty ever ancient, ever new!
Late have I loved You.
And behold, You were within, and I without,
and without I sought you.
And deformed I ran after these forms of beauty You have made.
You became fragrant; and I inhaled and sighed for You.
I tasted and now hunger and thirst for You.
You touched me, and I burned for Your embrace.
Since God is intrinsically beautiful, places of worship down the centuries and all over the world have attempted to be magnificent, glorious and beautiful. Whether it is a Hindu temple, a Buddhist pagoda, a mosque or a church, all of them try to do justice to the ineffable beauty of the Supreme One. Using materials available in the created world, humans attempt to prepare a sacred space that can transport us into the realm of the divine. The Bible lays out in great detail the enormous work carried out by King Solomon as he erected the great Temple in Jerusalem. That temple was the pride and joy of Jews for 410 years until it was destroyed.
I will never forget the first time I saw St Peter’s Basilica. It was in January 1985 and I was on my way to graduate school at Marquette. As I stood at the edge of the piazza, the basilica did not seem imposing. But as I walked closer, the enormousness of the structure completely overwhelmed me. When I entered the basilica, it took my breath away. I become breathless every time I visit that beautiful church. The project of building St Peter’s involved at least four architects including Michelangelo, several popes, and many artists and sculptors. The construction and decoration of that central symbol of our faith spanned 179 years.
We cannot capture God with our philosophical or even theological categories. That is why St Thomas claims that it is easier to say what God is not rather than what God is. However, there are two things that can help us to enter the transcendent sphere. They are art and music. Even those who had near-death experiences recount how they heard heart-warming, soul-stirring music and saw gloriously beautiful landscape as they were drawn into the Orb of Light. That is why great art adorns the grand cathedrals and basilicas of the world.
This conviction that art and beauty can draw us closer to God drives our capital campaign projects. We want to enhance the beauty of our already-beautiful church. We want to create a beautiful space in the Holy Family Chapel. It is our hope that the beauty of the space will inspire our children and adults to become more reverent. I keep insisting that the tenor of the chapel will never change. As always, it will be welcoming to our children and young families. We will continue to have great tolerance for chaos. We, priests, will involve the children in the liturgy, and the informal atmosphere of the downstairs Masses will stay. At the same time, we want our children to learn that church is a sacred place.
From the positive response we have received thus far I can honestly say that the parish is embracing the campaign. The committee and I are hopeful that we will exceed our enhanced goal and that we will be able to carry out the projects as planned. In the meantime we keep praying for this weekend when we conduct our in-pew pledges.
St Thomas Aquinas visualized heaven as “beatific vision.” What did he mean by that? He meant that we will experience bliss as we contemplate the inner beauty of our God for all eternity. As St Paul writes: “No eye has seen, no ear heard, no one knows the beautiful things that God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Born in India to deeply-committed Catholic parents, Fr Britto is one of seven children. He joined the Salesians of Don Bosco as a young man and was ordained a priest in 1981.
After he completed his priestly formation and his early education in India, he came to the US for his graduate degree in Journalism at...Read more...