Posts Tagged ‘Beauty’

The Church I See

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

We have all seen the horror stories over the past few months about sexual abuse in the Church. We have all been disgusted and enraged by them. For some, it has been too much. They have decided to leave the Church because of all the ugliness they see.

I understand that. I see the same ugliness, more close up and personal than most people do. I have been working in the child protection program of the Archdiocese since 2005. I have read the public reports and I’ve read through the files of priests who have been abusers. I’ve read academic studies of child molestation and the testimony of victims. Part of my job is to help investigate allegations, so I’ve talked personally and at length to many victims of abuse. I see the raw ugliness of the sins that were committed against these innocent people. At times it’s overwhelming, and it is always depressing. I’ve also seen the poor responses, the indifference, sometimes the hostility of Church authorities who have tried to ignore, deny, deflect, or conceal what was going on. So yes, there is much ugliness.

But that’s not all I see when I look at the Church I love. Even with everything that’s been going on, and all the sin and evil in the Church, I still see so much beauty. I see things like:

  • The Holy Hour of Prayer for the victims of sexual abuse that we held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What could be more beautiful than adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the devotion of those who were there —  mostly young adults.
  • The deep reverence of priests towards the Eucharist during exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and even during daily Mass.
  • The profession of final vows by the Sisters of Life. A spectacular liturgy, sublime music, and the powerful witness of women who were dedicating their entire lives to the Lord and his least ones.
  • The consecration to Mary that my wife and I made on the feast of Our Lady of Knock. Mary has been a source of so much grace and consolation to us that it was wonderful for us to offer ourselves back to her.
  • The Divine Mercy Shrine in Stockbridge, which we visited recently. Such a powerful devotion, and a wonderful, peaceful location for prayer and reparation.
  • The ardent curiosity and commitment of the young adults who come to our monthly Discussion and Discipleship group. We talk about Church teaching on tough topics like contraception, life issues, and sex abuse. You can sense the yearning and hunger for truth in the hearts of these wonderful people.
  • The sublime beauty of the Traditional Latin Mass and the noble simplicity of the ordinary Mass.
  • The sight of members of the Legion of Mary, praying the Rosary at the Grand Central subway station. Such a wonderful public witness of the power of prayer.
  • The dedication of so many loyal Catholics whose hearts burn with love for Christ and his Church, and who are desperately looking for something to do to correct the abuses.

There certainly has been much ugliness in the Church, and we need to be ruthless in eliminating it. But I refuse to dismiss the whole because of the rot in some of its members. Without the Church, I would know nothing of God, I would never have encountered Christ, and I would still remain in my sins without hope. I totally relate to what St. Peter said when Jesus asked if the apostles would leave him because of his hard teachings, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

St. Paul wrote that “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5:25-27)

We wicked foolish humans have done our worst to deface and desecrate the Bride of Christ. We now have to do our best to cleanse her so that she can truly be without blemish and we can present her back to the Bridegroom as he desires. We certainly have a lot of work to do, but the Church I see is worth fighting for.

That’s because the Church I see isn’t the one tarnished by ugliness, but the one whose beauty remains eternal.

The Way of Beauty

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017

The recent Convocation of Catholic Leaders on The Joy of the Gospel in America was a potential turning point for our Church. The challenge presented was to move outside the methods and modes of typical Church activities in order to become vibrant missionary disciples who are energized to bring the Gospel to all, especially those on the peripheries of society.

One of the great aspects of the Convocation, and one of the under-used tools of evangelization, is what Pope Francis calls in The Gospel of Life the “Via Pulchritudinis”, the “way of beauty”.

This insight is not unique to Pope Francis, of course. Pope Benedict (who is a musician) also spoke often of the power of beauty in spreading the Gospel, and Pope Saint John Paul (who was an actor, playwright and poet) was also deeply immersed in the aesthetic perspective. The great evangelistic work of Bishop Robert Barron also relies heavily on the historic beauty of the art and music created by Christian civilization.

At the Convocation the power of the way of beauty was made manifest. Thanks to the Magnificat Foundation, there was exquisite religious artwork projected on the screens during all the liturgical services — stained glass windows from Europe, and artwork from many nations. The Marian art was particularly powerful to me.

The liturgical music was truly spectacular. Coordinated by my friend Chris Mueller and Rev. Łukasz Miśko, O.P., the music provided a wonderful blend of traditional and modern compositions. Simple but lovely modes of chant were used during the Liturgy of the Hours, so that even novices like me could fully participate. There were many unfamiliar hymns at Mass, but they were easily learned and sung. The Schola, which sang under Chris’ direction, was positively angelic and they helped us to offer beautiful praise to God. I know virtually nothing about music, so if you’re interested in the details, check this story by Chris Mueller.

I have to add a particular plug for Chris. He is an extraordinarily talented musician, and he has taken for his mission the renewal of liturgical music through recapturing traditional forms and making them accessible to modern ears and voices. He specializes in polyphony, and his wife and children sing as an ensemble. Chris was invited to spearhead music at World Youth Day in Poland last year, and as soon as I heard that he was involved in the music at the Convocation I know we were in for a treasure. Anyone who is interested in the role of music in the New Evangelization should familiarize themselves with Chris and his work.

Humanity is inherently attuned to aesthetics. Music and videos are obviously at the center of modern entertainment, and they form a critical part of the vocabulary of emotions and experience, especially for young people. The Convocation demonstrated that in the evening of praise and devotion led Matt Maher and Audrey Assad, two of the best contemporary Catholic musicians. Everyone present — not just the young guys — felt the power of the Spirit in their music.

I have never been accused of having a heightened aesthetic sensibility. But the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite and the majesty of Eastern Christian icons appeal to me on a deep level. So I can understand very well that the way to God is through the three great universal values — the good, the true and the beautiful.

The Convocation captured this idea and we witnessed the power of the beautiful in our mission of proclaiming the truth and goodness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.