Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Meditations on Beauty and the Gospel

Father John J. Lombardi

Everyone agrees Mary’s Grotto is beautiful and we are all attracted to beauty. The ancients used to say something like this: "In seeing the beautiful we become beautiful." The iridescent image of something beautiful impresses itself within us and this intermingling may cause conversion, change, even God-likeness. In Eastern Catholicism and Orthodoxy there is a famous collection of books called "The Philokalia," which means "Love of Beauty". Let us embrace that pursuit!

Beauty is an attribute of God, meaning that God is the essence of beauty­He doesn’t gain or become it; it is Him. And yet: He radiates this beauty to His created world­to Our Grotto, to America the Beautiful, and also to us His disciples.

Some of the most heard comments here by pilgrims include: "This place is beautiful," and "I feel peace as soon as I come here." We are grateful for a beautiful, peaceful Grotto! Yet, beauty-as-holiness radiates from Jesus’ disciples, too. Sometimes, though, people turn away from this beauty and impropriety is embraced and promoted instead. A huge and invasive instance of this is pornography. Recent newsworthy items occurred regarding this:

  1. The Supreme Court ruled that child pornography is illegal.
  2. Actress Kate Blanchette protested overseas about a child pornography case.( Thanks to her, we need more of this.)
  3. And pictures of notorious Mormon sect leader, Warren Jeffs with young girls were released to the cries of many.

So now, a question: When does pornography suddenly become a first amendment right? (Or "free speech," as it is so touted and protected today?) We often have a knee-jerk reaction to abuse of minors, but why are so many numbed today when it comes to adult pornography?

Answers allegedly may include:

  1. It’s ideological. Some believe it is a "right" to turn people into objects, and display-thru-manipulation innocents which produces well known collateral damage. The argument against this is: no one has the "right" of freedom of speech to yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater because it would cause harm and death. However, pornography has caused harm and death, not only in other countries but also here in the U.S.
  2. Pornography makes lots of money and some want to protect that savage money-making "right" through legal, sophisticated and other means. Don’t give in or pay back.
  3. It’s a so-called "victimless crime." Once again, while child pornography is a crime, why is it not a crime with adults? People, especially women are being objectified, i.e., no longer seen as persons with feelings and rights. They are being manipulated to make money­a kind of savage capitalism. The pornography industry airbrushes the surrounding "darkness’s," denigrates the victims, sterilizes the many abuses and forms a multi-sensual-enslavement of audiences(thru literature, internet, video etc.).

And there are no victims here? The three-cited cases above show the clarity of harm by pornography and the public’s reaction. Point: We, as Catholics and Christians, need to capitalize on this teachable moment. If we agree on the harms proven in these children’s instances, certainly then we should be able to do so in other situations. We should ask various persons, (movie stars included), to join the liberating cause of freedom, beauty and human dignity.

How Can You Respond?

Watch what you watch: what you let into your soul affects you. Guard yourself and others in love…Meditate on beauty. Place beautiful icons (icon means "image")of Jesus, Mary and the saints around your home, office, your computer to inspire you. Why is Catholicism attractive? Well, not only because the Lord Jesus founded our Church (Mt. 16:18), but also for what we can term the "ABC’s of beauty" -and following is a simple sample: A is for Architecture­think of beautiful churches like Notre Dame in Paris and stunning and overwhelming St Peters in Rome-- and our own Glass Chapel Church at the Grotto. Thru their proper symmetry and harmony they provide a proper dwelling place for the Lord and, amidst the inspiration help lift our spirit to the Lord! We worship in beautiful places to help us think of the Beautiful Lord. B is for Beliefs: we have faith in paradise, the mystical communion of saints and Christ’s Mercy: all these and other beautiful teachings help us to worship and serve also. C is for Chant: the New York Times recently published story (June 26), about some monks who have recorded an album and are now facing acclaim. The CD, entitled –"Chant: Music for Paradise"­is alluring people to the Lord and also the monks beautiful way of life, all from a fifteen hundred year old tradition. A monk said: "Were not pop stars. Money is not a source of fulfillment" A layman said of the monastery: "A place like that can recalibrate your moral compass. These people do nothing but think about how to love and serve God." When you combine the good and the beautiful people are allured and we see the Lord God’s revelation in our world. When people separate good and beauty, ugliness ensues. So: keep seeking beauty and goodness in your life and like the Virgin Mary become a beautiful temple for the Lord Jesus to dwell!...

In the Gospel (Mt. 11:25ff) Jesus is shown as the Revelation of the Eternal Father. Jesus claims knowledge of the Father and He passes that knowledge and ability to teach to our Holy Catholic Church. Now, all creatures are looking for help and enlightenment­hopefully from the Creator. We can learn from doctors, lawyers and philosophers as teachers­but it is not necessarily eternal knowledge. What makes the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church any different from other teachers and institutions­is that they are from Heaven (God), dependable (unlike the passing fancies of popular teachers or other humans); and these teachings are universal (applicable to all). I recently asked a pilgrim-What is the biggest problem of belief today? He answered, immediately: "intellectualism" Sometimes our lust to know- without surrender, can be a barrier. Jesus calls for child-likeness. We Catholics don’t negate our intellects, we just don’t overuse them, rely on them wrongly. We believe in both reason and faith­that they complement one another and help us to believe and abandon to what we cannot know. Jesus

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi