Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Can Beauty Distract Us From God?


I recently came across an article by the Most Reverend James Conley, STL, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, titled "Ever Ancient, Ever New: The Role of Beauty in the Restoration of Catholic Culture". It's a beautiful analysis of how beauty leads us to God's glory.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard people wonder, sometimes very loudly, why Catholic churches are so beautifully decorated. After all, their reasoning goes, the money spent on this could be better spent on other, less "frivolous" endeavors. There is a sense that we should be somber and subdued, like somehow a dark, dank, monotone church will make us holier. Why?

God made beauty. He made humans in His image and likeness, and naturally we appreciate beauty. Have you ever seen a beautiful sunrise or sunset, all aglow in purples, blues and reds? Did you stop what you were doing, even if for a few seconds, to appreciate its beauty? The subtle change from a deep purple to a glowing violet, on to varying shades of blue and finally the orange and red that light up the sky?

Sunrise Over the Ocean

From Bishop Conley's article:

"The experience of beauty is transformative. It awakens a sense within us, that life is meaningful on the most profound level. Beauty can move us to humility, giving us a sense of wonder before the mystery of life. The encounter with beauty speaks to us about the true, awe-inspiring nature of existence."

Honestly, I have always appreciated the beauty in our faith. For me, entering a beautiful, "old" church fills my soul with awe. It makes me feel so much closer to God. The beauty leads me to its Creator.

Case in point - the Milk Grotto Church in Bethlehem, Palestine. It's a very simple facade, with very little ornamentation. However, when compared to the stone walls around it, it stands out. It draws your focus to the arched entrance, then up to the picture of the Virgin and Child, rising again to the pointed arch and finally, to the stone cross atop the arch. This little bit of beauty intuitively tells us that this place is special.

The Milk Grotto Church in Bethlehem

"When we begin with beauty, this can then lead to a desire to want to know the truth of the thing that is drawing us, a desire to participate in it. And then the truth can inspire us to do the good, to strive after virtue."

We certainly live in a time where beauty has lost its subtle, sublime dimension. The media often tells us that beauty has to be explicit and revealing. Virtue is no longer considered beautiful, but frumpy and old-fashioned. If you google "Catholic woman" images, you will see some very interesting pictures; even pictures that contradict each other.

"The language of beauty is especially important in our time, because we live in a period of grave intellectual and moral confusion."

The "grave intellectual and moral confusion" of our time is strikingly evident in that Google search. But two items are certain to appear on this search: a rosary and a veil. These two are the symbols our culture still associates with "Catholic" and "woman".  Again, why? It goes back to beauty.

While a rosary has a function, it can also be beautiful. From the beads, to the center, to the crucifix - the beauty in our faith doesn't stop at the church door. And what better way to live our faith than to use the beauty that God has given us for His greater glory?

Oxblood Cezch glass and Snowflake Obsidian Stone Rosary

I often hear women (and sometimes men) ask if wearing a mantilla is too distracting. Does it take away from the Mass?  Can a veil be "too beautiful"? Do we, as veil-wearing Catholic women, at some point fall into a trap, giving more importance to the beauty of the veil itself rather than to what it represents? Possibly.

Lace veils are certainly beautiful, and the veil makers have put their God-given talents to good use. And it's very encouraging to see veiling return, especially in this day and age, where people are searching for truth and beauty among the confusion.

French "Rose Basket" Calais Lace Veil

When you enter a Catholic church you can't help but notice the beauty, that sublime beauty that leads you to God. We can choose to criticize and allow this beauty to distract us - or we can allow it to fill us and point us toward God. And when you enter a Catholic church and see a woman (or several women) wearing a veil, that adds to the beauty. It's a reflection of the Virgin Mary and of Christ's church, present and ready to adore our Savior. I certainly hope it makes you think holy thoughts!

"So we must develop our own appreciation of beauty, wherever it exists. Then we can help others to see beauty for what it is: an earthly reflection of God’s glory—a glory that leads to truth and goodness."

This last quote in particular strikes me as I think of a veiled woman, "an earthly reflection of God's glory - a glory that leads to truth and goodness".

"Catholic Woman Praying"
For more on why Catholic women wear a veil at Mass: Thinking About Veiling at Mass? You're Not Alone!

Pax Christi.

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