Did the title of this article capture your attention? Did it pique your interest enough to cause you to google its meaning? If you did you now know that Bellezza is the Italian word for beauty. Beauty itself does in fact do that to us doesn’t it? Beauty stops us in our tracks, causes us to pause, to take a second more intentional look. Often beauty is so mesmerizing we dare not look away for fear that we will miss something spectacular; something that can only be revealed in this way; something that may in fact have power for transformation.
Pondering the presence of beauty in my life was prompted when I, along with a group of Parish Catechetical Leaders, were fortunate enough to spend some time in prayer and contemplation at Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand. This time of quiet was fitting as we prepared to enter the Paschal mystery the following week. Our time together was spent immersing ourselves in the images found on the pages of the Saint John’s illuminated Bible, as well as discovering images of our own that spoke to the inner workings of the Spirit in our own lives.
As I sat with the beauty born of those pages, I came to the realization that the beginnings of my faith did not flow from my knowledge of scripture or sacraments; but instead, it was the experience of the simple, ordinary and natural – it was the beauty of Church in its many forms that captured my attention, imagination and my heart.
As a youngster, St. Christine Church and school were places that I spent a great deal of my time. Some kids might not have appreciated all the time spent in church, but I never really minded; in fact, I really loved my time there. I was captivated by the stained glass windows. They were expansive – measuring ceiling to floor – and became even more spectacular as the sun shone through, creating an array of color that not only lit up the walls but danced upon the floors … seeming to act out the stories found there. The grandeur of the marble, intricacies of the sculptures; all these things and more always made me pause and take a longer, more intentional look. It was not only the beauty of the physical, but also the sounds, smells, posture, reverence and ritual that drew me in and kept me attentive.
I hope that, as we grow older, we never forget the wonder and awe we experienced as children taking in all that is Church. All that was visible drew us into the invisible mystery. My prayer is that we are doing this for the next generation – inviting them to all the beauty that is Church. It is not something that can be described for another; it is something that must be experienced and felt on one’s own. When I think of this I recall the story told of Thomas Merton, who was a non-believer; but who, while on holiday in Rome touring all the churches and seeing the beauty for himself, found it impossible to remain so. The beauty found there communicated what words could not; it was his meeting place with God.
As we look back at the Triduum and our celebration of Easter, I have heard it said over and over that it was all so beautiful. What do we really mean when we say that? Where did you witness the beauty? Was it the washing of the feet? Was it the image of those holding up the cross at veneration? Was it hearing the Gloria being sung for the first time after the solemnness of Lent? Was it the vigil fire or the light entering the darkness? What did the beauty of those images hold for you? Where was your meeting place with the holy?
As an Easter people, I pray that we always will pause and take a second, more-intentional look when beauty or moments of beauty are presented to us. This very well may be God getting our attention so we may see what he has to say!