On Beauty - A Spiritual Reflection

I recently had the honor to preside at a “Mass of Christian Burial” for the grandmother/mother of one of our parishioners. In talking to the family, “beauty” seemed to be a prevalent theme throughout her life. The woman was quite remarkable and very talented and brought beauty into the world through her art work, through her needlework and her music.

Both Pope John Paul II (playwright and actor) as well Pope Benedict XVI (musician, piano) were quite accomplished in their respective artistic fields. As Pope, both emphasized the important role that that art and beauty play in the human heart, soul and life. To emphasize this, Blessed Pope John Paul II in 1999 wrote a letter to artists entitled, The Artist, Image of God the Creator. Later, on Saturday, 21 November 2009, Pope Benedict met and gave an address to 250 artists in the Sistine Chapel.

Deacon Keith Fournier is “Editor in Chief” at Catholic Online and a Catholic Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He wrote about Pope Benedict and the Holy Father’s love of music, art and beauty in a blog post entitled, Pope Benedict XVI Affirms Beauty, Revealed in Art and Music, is a Path to God.

During the Christmas Season, we celebrated the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. The incarnation was not only the redemption but also the transformation of the entirety of all human experiences, from the mundane and secular to the transcendent and the beautiful. Thus, quoting Pope Benedict, Deacon Fournier writes that beauty (is) “reflected in a sculpture, a painting, a poem or a beautiful piece of music. It points to ‘something bigger, something that speaks, capable of touching the heart, of communicating a message, of elevating the soul…. These artistic expressions can be occasions to remind us of God, to help our prayer or the conversion of our heart.’”

Benedict continues by saying that a work of art is the fruit of human creativity. (It) is an open door to a beauty and a truth that goes beyond the ordinary, beyond the visible reality. A door to the infinite (which) opens the eyes of the mind, of the heart to look and to discover a deeper meaning and to communicate that meaning through the language of shapes, colors, sounds.

In many ways the “Pope Emeritus” was building on the foundation of his predecessor Blessed John Paul II who contrasted beauty with the crassness that he saw masking itself as “artistic expression.” He wrote, “in the modern era, alongside Christian humanism which has continued to produce important works of culture and art, another kind of humanism, has gradually asserted itself, marked by the absence of God and often by opposition to God. Such an atmosphere has sometimes led to a separation of the world of art and the world of faith.”

But, that kind of separation between the arts and a living faith has no place in a mature Christian worldview. It proceeds from a poor anthropology, a misunderstanding of the nature of man/woman. It represents an inadequate understanding of the scope and implications of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Finally, it promotes a theology of the Church and her mission that views “the world” as a hostile environment from which the Christian and the Church must recoil rather than a palate worthy of loving transformation by those who carry on the redemptive mission of Christ the Divine Artist.

Thus Blessed John Paul II offered a challenge to us, that we need to get engaged in the realm of art, music and expression. An example would be Dr. Denton and Michelle Weiss who founded the Bella Vitae Foundation. Through their “educational, philanthropic, charitable, artistic and cultural mission, they promote, create, defend, foster and serve beauty - and to encourage a lifestyle that gives it expression.”

The Bella Vitae Foundation places itself at the service of beauty - and in a particular way, at the service of the integrated human person, who is, body, mind and soul, the manifestation of God’s beauty in the world as well as a “creator” and promoter of such beauty.

Just one way that members of the church are living the Canticle of Isaiah 45:15-25: “For thus says the Lord, the creator of the heavens, who is God, the designer and maker of the earth who established it, not creating it to be a waste, but designing it to be lived in.”

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