Hope in the Lord — Beauty saves the world

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

Here is my homily for the opening Mass of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ spring meeting, held on June 10 in the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis:

How grateful we bishops are to you, Archbishop Carlson and all the priests, deacons, men and women of the consecrated life, and all faithful who are gathered in this beautiful Cathedral. Thank you for your warm welcome to the Archdiocese of St. Louis and for praying for us bishops.

In January 1999, St. John Paul II celebrated vespers here and spoke in praise of what he called “… this striking Cathedral Basilica to worship God and to let our prayer rise up to him like incense.” Later in that same year he wrote a Letter to Artists in which he described beauty as the pathway for Christ to enter our world. Quoting Prince Myshkin, the hero of Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, he recalled that “beauty will save the world.” Pope John Paul went on to remind the artists, referring to the 15th century philosopher Nicolas of Cusa, that beauty is not what they create, but rather it is what they uncover, communicate, and share. God creates this beauty, and they share it. Whether it is the beauty of magnificent cathedrals like this one, works of art like Michelangelo’s Pieta, or the beauty of an inspired novel, the great artists readily admit that what is communicated comes from beyond themselves.

St. Paul explains this to the Corinthians in this evening’s reading from his 2nd letter. Taking a swipe at those self-styled apostles who brag about themselves, Paul readily admits that his confidence is in God through Christ Jesus. The real qualifications for a good apostle like Paul (or for that matter, for those who strive to be good bishops like all of you) come not from ourselves but from God. In fact, I read that the Second Council of Orange in 529 AD used this very verse about qualifications coming from God to enunciate a teaching to combat semi-Pelagianism — a teaching now familiar to us all — that even the very act of faith requires God’s grace moving our souls.

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks not of abolishing but of completing and fulfilling the Law and so, we spoke today of:

  • the beauty of human dignity (and strongly combat racism)
  • the beauty of married love (which tomorrow will be witnessed powerfully by our panel of faithful couples)
  • the beauty of human ecology and the environment, God’s garden (anticipating Pope Francis’ encyclical).

We are seeking what Jesus identifies as the characteristic of the greatest in His kingdom: Not to create truth but to “obey and to teach” the truth. The beauty is His, and we are the ones who share and communicate it with love.

This is why this Gospel is so apt, calling us who seek to serve rather than be served, to “obey and teach.” That is why this Votive Mass for Ministers in the opening oration asks God to grant that we “… be effective in action, gentle in ministry, and constant in prayer.”

Last year Pope Francis spoke of another aspect of beauty. He spoke to a group of priests about the beauty of their priestly fraternity. Like all true beauty, this is also a great gift from God that we simply uncover and share. It is that gift that marks us bishops as his followers as we seek the beauty of our fraternity in union with our Holy Father, soon to visit us.

May this beauty be seen in the coming days:

  • in our deliberations and discussions
  • in our fraternal meals and conversations
  • in our final Holy Hour of prayer and in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which we humbly receive.

“Beauty will save the world.”

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

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