|"Every experience of beauty points to infinity" - Hans Urs von Balthasar|
Yesterday I experienced more beauty than I have on any other day in my memory. I wasn’t planning on even attempting to recount the day in words, but after further reflection, I felt an obligation to communicate at least something of my experience. Yesterday morning we had an outdoor Mass about 100 meters from the shore of the Sea of Galilee, outside of the Church of the Primacy of Peter in a miniature amphitheater. During Mass, the background was the same place where Jesus walked on water, where he appeared to the apostles after his Resurrection, and where he gave Peter the special responsibility of being the shepherd of his flock on earth. It was so surreal, powerful, mystical, amazing – I don’t know what other words to say! Even Deacon Adam, who proclaimed the Gospel and preached, admitted that he was at a loss for words to give a substantial homily, which was probably for the best, because the overwhelming beauty and power of the moment would have drowned out any analytic or practical interpretation. When faced with such beauty, truth and goodness seem to be directly infused into the human soul, in a way that makes ordinary language and deliberate, logical thinking more of an obstacle than a help. In other words, the beauty of the place and the moment was a homily in itself. After Deacon Adam concluded his short homily and sat down, there was about thirty seconds of perfect silence. I say “perfect” silence and not “complete” silence because I think there is a significant difference between the two.
This silence was not artificial, such as the silence achieved by jamming ear plugs into one’s ears, or like the lifeless and haunting vacuum that I imagine outer space must provide. This silence was full, beautiful, and complete. I can clearly remember sitting there thinking, “I could sit here like this forever.” There were distant chirps of small birds and quiet rustlings in the trees from the wildlife. The breeze kissed my face in such a perfect way – it was as if each individual air molecule was a separate and intentional consolation given by God. The smell of the Sea of Galilee was noticeable, but it was a fresh and inviting smell, not like the smell of the murky rivers and lakes in Illinois that I’m used to. The surface of the Sea provided a shimmering backdrop for the liturgy taking place in front of us. What touched me the most was that, in spite of all of this unfamiliar and jaw-dropping beauty around us, the moment when the beauty seemed to reach its climax was still during the elevation of the Host. When Father Bob lifted it, the light reflecting off the water shined through the leaves of the tree behind him and illumined the Host completely. It was as though everything was in its proper place: God’s Creation proclaiming his glory, God’s people worshipping Him, and God nourishing His people in the most intimate and powerful way possible. The natural beauty around me was not a distraction from the Divine Beauty in front of me, but was like a lovely picture frame. When you see the frame by itself, you think, “Wow, that frame looks gorgeous!” but when you’re viewing a masterpiece painting housed inside the same frame, your focus is entirely on the painting. Natural beauty, having the Divine Artist as its source, does not reduce our appreciation for Divine Beauty, but enhances it, just as the words of a love poem enhance our appreciation for, not only language and poetry, but for the lover who wrote it.
One of my favorite elements of our Catholic Faith is that it is simply beautiful. Truth, goodness, and beauty are the three transcendentals that all of us human beings desire, and desire infinitely. Everything that I’m experiencing on this pilgrimage is revitalizing my appreciation of beauty, both natural and man-made. Whether it’s mathematical, scientific, moral, or religious truth, we can recognize it most easily by its beauty and simplicity. Thanks be to God for giving all of us here the opportunity to deepen our faith by immersing ourselves in the beauty of the holy places where His Son Jesus Christ once walked. May we continue to experience the beauty, truth, and goodness of our Faith in the remaining days of this blessed adventure.
† Under the Mercy,