I’ve been thinking lately about what drew us to the Catholic Church. Long before I believed that the Church was true, I had fallen in love with it’s beauty. The art, the music, the architecture, the prayers, the liturgy, the traditions. It is all so rich, so beautiful.
It’s beauty drew me, it’s truth convinced me, and it’s goodness began flowing into our lives. The True, the Good, and the Beautiful. These are the things human beings are wired for. The things we are created to love.
And yet, it’s a fallen world. A world of lies, evil, and ugliness ranging from the banal to the horrifying. Our culture has completely moved on from any desire to adhere to an objective truth. Goodness is now relative. Perhaps beauty is also following truth and goodness into oblivion, but for now, the human heart still longs for beauty. No matter how warped our palates for beauty have become, our desire for it is still there.
Years before I even entertained the idea that the Catholic Church could be right about anything, I found myself wanting to pray the Rosary. Because it’s beautiful. Even as a Protestant, attending a Mass was such a powerful experience. Because it’s beautiful. Not because it was familiar or made me feel comfortable. (It was unfamiliar and I felt decidedly uncomfortable!) But because the Church offered something vast and rich and completely unlike anything I had ever known or experienced.
This is partly why I believe so strongly that all the aesthetics matter. The beauty of the liturgy, the quality of the art and music of the tradition, all of it matters IMMENSELY. We cannot brush it off as insignificant, it is anything but.
Dosteovsky said, “Beauty will save the world.” I believe this. I believe the Church offers this salvation, this beauty that shines through the Church in a million ways. Beauty that goes deeper than the superficial. The beauty of St. Teresa of Calcutta’s feet–misshapen from serving for decades while wearing shoes no one else wanted. The beauty of the kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) sung by the cantor. The beauty of a crucifix–the image of the grotesque and scandalous love of God for humanity. The beauty of an icon of Our Lady with eyes that carry sorrow and mercy and a womb that carried God himself. The beauty of an ancient hymn that makes you shiver like “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” The beauty of Michelangelo’s Pietà.
We have so much to offer that must not be swept away in a misguided effort for relevance when what is being longed for is transcendence. The human heart desires something beyond the familiar. We may feel comfortable in a coffee shop, but that doesn’t mean our worship should be modeled after one. Perhaps we need to be uncomfortable in our worship, drawn out of ourselves, woken up by the beauty of our faith and our tradition.
So let’s make our churches beautiful with architecture and art that draw our eyes not to ourselves but to heaven. Let’s leave comfort at the door. Because as Pope Benedict XVI said, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” Beauty will cry out to an ugly, hurting world. The beauty of our art, music, liturgy, and lives matter.