Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Most Beautiful Thing in the World

To how many does Christianity really seem ‘something big, something growing, to which we can give ourselves up completely with joy and enthusiasm’? Do… unbelievers… observe on our brows the radiance of that gladness which, twenty centuries ago, captivated the fine flower of the pagan world..? In a word, while we are fully alive to the blasphemy in Nietzsche’s terrible phrase [that God is dead] in its whole context are we not also forced to see in ourselves something of what drove him to that blasphemy?
Henri de Lubac, The Drama of Atheist Humanism
Reflection -  This is a quote from my thesis research, not by Joseph Ratzinger. The book cited is one of the truly great books of the twentieth century, and great in not being toooo long and technical, either.
I always cherish, if that's the right word, the saying attributed to Nietzsche that he would be persuaded of the truth of Christianity a bit more readily if only Christians looked more redeemed. There is truth to that. Do we look happy that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead and has brought us the sure and certain promise of eternal life and bliss is we should only believe in Him and follow Him in the obedience of faith?
Does our faith, in fact, make us happy? This sentence I just wrote above - what effect does it have on you? Just empty words on a computer screen? Or the very center and substance of life, a transforming fact that all your days center around and that is the constant refrain of your mind and heart.
God loves us. Love has been poured out in Jesus Christ. This love is saving, transforming. It pulls us out of the death trap of the world, of our broken and battered humanity, and lifts us up to the very heart of God, to the very heart of life and love and splendor of glory.
Do we believe this? Then... why is there so little joy in our lives, in our countenances, in our voices, in our homes? I'm not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone - God knows I only have to look in the mirror if I want to see a lousy Christian! But we have to be clear that the world, so badly in need of conversion, is mostly not going to be converted by logical arguments, certainly not by angry harangues, and not even by really good social justice programs or other forms of political advocacy, good and proper as those might be.
The world is converted by beauty, and beauty starts, not with painting a magnificent icon, composing a gorgeous chorale, or carving a sculpture from ivory or marble. Most of that kind of beauty is beyond most of us most of the time.
The most beautiful thing in the world is a human face, radiant with joy. It is the joy shining from a face of one who actually believes that Jesus is who Jesus says He is, and really did what we say He did, and really is present in, with, around us continually. This is the most beautiful thing in the world, and it is a beauty within all our grasp. It is this beauty, and the love, the friendship, the genuine charity that accompanies such a beauty, that will re-Christianize our world.
God is not dead... but we can act at times as if He is. We can keep God pretty firmly hid away in our heads, our hearts, the 'place of the skull' where the dead Christ lay.
Well, He cannot be confined there. He bursts forth from there, every time. Even in Lent, Christ is risen from the dead (a***lu**). And it seems to me that a great prayer of Lent, and of life, is that we truly do believe in all this stuff we say we believe, and that we have the grace and courage to show it forth in how we live, how we carry ourselves, what we show forth to the world.
Really, do we have any idea of our own greatness? Of the thunderous, splendiferous, magnificent reality of what it is to be a baptized Christian. Do we not know that we are God's temple? It is so very amazing to be what we in fact are, and the world really does need to know about it. Let's think about how our face can be one of those ten thousand faces that show the Father's love to the world.


  1. For a long time I pondered why, if receiving the Eucharist is receiving Christ we are no different in our actions than our Christian brothers and sisters who sip a cup of wine and eat bread as a rememberance. Over the years a common homiletic exhortation has been the idea that if we believe more we will do better. From my own experience which I freely admit is an off and onagain experience I recognize for myself that while action is built upon belief the esssential ingredient is an open hearted effort to live in the ambience of God's presence seeking oneness with him. Jesus models this in the first chapters of Lukes Gospel. He spent his life "in the Spirit". Belief will not do it. Anytime we choose to enter into the ambienece of God's presence we "know" in our heart he is real and we "know" the difference between happiness and joy and our face and actions show it. In a certain sense the Eucharist is an invitation but the RSVP is the key to a joyful face.

    1. Yes - I think the key is that 'belief' is not merely an intellectual act of assenting to propositions, but ushers us into a way of life. And this way of life is best expressed by phrases like 'total abandonment', 'surrender', 'consecration' - all the basic stances of totality, unreserved self-gift, trust in the Father. That which the Spirit desires to work in us. I think joy comes on the heels of that, and the lack of joy in the Body of Christ in general lies in our lack of trustful abandonment.


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