Lead With Beauty

When we turn off the noise of the media we consume, God can begin to work in us

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Here is this week’s column from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska.

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Beauty points us to the transcendence of God—it gives us an opportunity to be moved to wonder, and to worship the majesty of our creator.

The Lord gave eyes to see and ears to hear, in order that we might see and experience the glory of God all around us.  We are given, each of one us, a capacity to encounter God only in glimpses in music, and art, and poetry, and in the beauty of liturgical prayer, the sacred ritual of the Church’s worship.

Liturgy and art, literature and music can be signs of God’s love for us. This medium can point to reality—can point to the unchanging realities of God himself.  Our senses—and the sensible things of this world—can draw us ever deeper into relationship, into friendship with Jesus Christ. 

We are entering into Holy Week, the Sacred Triduum, and Easter.  The liturgies of this week—on Palm Sunday, at the Chrism Mass and the Mass of the Last Supper, and especially on Good Friday, and at Easter Vigil—are rich with symbols of the great mystery of Christ’s passion.  The Church calls us to contemplate these symbols—the waving palms, the washed feet, the Easter fire—and their meaning as signs pointing to a more profound reality.

The liturgy of this week can transmit to us the whole of the Paschal mystery—that God was made man, came into this world to save us, suffered, died for our sins, and overcame death, for all time, through his resurrection.

We are given our senses—and our ability to appreciate beauty—so that we can appreciate the profundity of this mystery.

But if we want to contemplate the most profound mystery of human existence, we need to do so in quiet contemplation, removed, as much as we can, from the distraction of the busy world swirling all around us.

Our senses—given us to know God intimately—can also pull us away from God.  Especially when the media we consume—the television we watch, the music we listen to, the things we read—don’t point to anything rooted in the real.  When we consume things that are only noise, filling our heads, moving our emotions, but never really transforming us into disciples of Jesus Christ, we are never truly renewed.

Over 1,500 years ago, Saint Augustine in The Confessions, pointed out the danger of surrounding ourselves with the kind of “noise,” that draws us away from God.  “How innumerable,” he says, “are the things made by every kind of art… that men have added for the delight of their eyes, going abroad from themselves after the things they themselves have made, interiorly abandoning Him by whom they were made and destroying what he made in them.”

The spiritual writer Fr. Henri Nouwen said that if we want to truly be transformed by the meaning of Christ’s suffering, we must begin by turning off the “noise” that keeps us from knowing real grace.  “When we enter silence all outward noise is gone. No motors, no TV’s, no conversations. All is quiet. But that is when we start hearing the inner noise, the voices of jealousy, anger, resentment, lust, greed, feelings of rejection, loss, abuse. Their noise can become deafening. We may try to run from them, to find some entertainment to distract us. This is where the interior life begins. It is where we begin to confront our evil thoughts, to replace them with the softer gentler voices of goodness, peace, kindness, gentleness, joy, hope, forgiveness, love.”

When we turn off the noise of the media we consume, God can begin to work in us.   When we turn off the noise of the media we consume, we can begin to appreciate the true beauty of the world—the great symbols which point to the reality of God’s enduring love.

This Holy Week, consider turning off the television in your home.  Consider turning off the radio, and the social media you consume.  Consider focusing on the symbol, and beauty, which points to the reality of sacred worship, and of God’s love for us.  Consider the beauty of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, and, free from the noise which draws us away, be transformed by the beauty, and the meaning, of Jesus Christ and his resurrection.

Reprinted from the Southern Nebraska Register.

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