Dear Friends in Christ,
Some years ago, when I was a pastor in a different parish, the organist at the parish – on his own initiative – introduced something to our parish’s musical customs. As the distribution of communion was coming to its end and the priest was approaching the tabernacle to reserve the Blessed Sacrament, the organist would begin playing the “Adoro te devote,” (a beautiful Eucharistic hymn). No matter what he had been playing before that, he would transition into quietly playing that little tune. Since I have always loved that hymn, I thought that I was probably the only person who even noticed that he played it. It would last for no more than a minute. It was barely perceptible.
One day a woman from the parish came to see me because she was moving from the parish and wanted to talk about a few things. I have always been struck by one of the things she said. She said, “Father, do you know what I am going to miss most about coming to Mass here? Every week, right as you are putting the Blessed Sacrament back into the tabernacle, the organist would play that little tune. I don’t even know what it is, but I look forward to it every week. I have a very difficult life, but hearing that tune every week really comforted me and kind of told me that everything was going to be okay.”
Beauty has an extraordinary power about it. It can transform us and can lift us up. Beauty slows us down, makes us pause, and makes us desire to live in a deeper and truer way. Beauty is different from entertainment. Entertainment seems to give us a momentary pleasure, but beauty leaves something impressed upon our soul. In some ways, beauty is more difficult for us to bear than entertainment. Entertainment is flashy, loud, and it seems to fill up the silence in our life. Beauty is more sublime and it draws us into silence. If entertainment is designed to make us temporarily forget our troubles, beauty, in some mysterious way, heals our troubles.
I think we are often afraid of beauty because we know that it takes work. A well-prepared meal with a set table is beautiful, but a take-out pizza is easy. Going to a museum exposes us to beauty, but it’s easier to watch TV. Reading a classic novel exposes us to beauty, but scrolling social media is easier. Dressing up brings beauty to others, but wearing shorts and a t-shirt is easier. Silence opens us up to beauty, but noise is easier.
None of this is to say that entertainment, social media, pizzas, or casualness is bad. I like all of those things. But, when we use it to replace beauty in our life, something great, it seems to me, is lost.
I think we are all starving for beauty. The world is starving for beauty. The great writer, Fyodor Dostoevsky, famously wrote, “Beauty will save the world.” For that woman that I mentioned earlier, a subtle tune entered into her life and somehow saved her. It shows the sublime power of beauty. If you are feeling frazzled, burdened, weighed down, anxious, and are seeking to escape from those things, perhaps resist that temptation. Instead, encounter beauty. Do something beautiful. Go somewhere beautiful. Listen to something beautiful. Have a beautiful meal. Not to be entertained, but to be saved. Beauty leads us always to the One who is Beauty itself, Jesus Christ.
Your Brother in Christ,
Fr. David Barnes