Saturday, April 19, 2008

Beauty and the Pope

Pope Benedict's homily in St. Patrick's cathedral followed the time-honored and venerable Catholic custom of using art as a catechetical tool. He first noted the historical significance of St. Patrick's: "Perhaps more than any other church in the United States, this place is known and loved as "a house of prayer for all peoples" (cf. Is 56:7; Mk 11:17). Each day thousands of men, women and children enter its doors and find peace within its walls. ... Archbishop Hughes (who built St. Pat's) wanted this cathedral to remind the young Church in America of the great spiritual tradition to which it was heir, and to inspire it to bring the best of that heritage to the building up of Christ’s body in this land."
He invited the congregation to look around the cathedral.
I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.

The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers -- here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne -- have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit.

This grand tradition of the arts as teaching tools fell into disrepute during the Reformation, and took another, almost fatal blow after Vatican II. But the human need for beauty can not be suppressed or diverted. Benedict is showing us the way forward by focusing on the timeless realities of the human experience and the deepest needs of the human soul.

1 comment:

Roland said...

And let's be absolutely clear, the separation of form from function is a post-Reformation idea that we Catholics and Orthodoxy simply must oppose.