Several weeks ago I asked Dr. Johan Van Parys about this post-Easter trip to Europe. He told me about his visit to see his family in Belgium—long overdue, given the challenges of Covid. He also described his amazing trip to Rome in conjunction with his work with PAVM – Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. He conveyed that one of the highlights of his time in Rome was the opportunity to give a talk to hundreds of people in the Sistine Chapel. I found the title of his talk illuminating – “Beauty that Saves.” I am thankful indeed that a man of Johan’s talent, faith, and passion for the sacred liturgy and the arts continues to serve our community at the Basilica.
In the Catholic philosophic tradition we refer to truth, goodness, and beauty as the transcendentals because we believe that our creator God is the source of every good gift including the sublime gifts of truth, goodness, and beauty. Through our contemplation of these realities we are able to transcend our finite nature and both glimpse and touch the infinite nature of God. Jesus Christ – true God and true man – is the embodiment of the transcendentals, as we see refracted through his life, the goodness of God, the truth of God, and the beauty of God. Certainty, in our modern day we see little focus on the transcendentals because we have eclipsed the divine horizon of God and thus, attendantly, those attributes most closely associated with God.
The transcendentals can literally save us because they can wrench us away from the fixation and lure of this world – fixation on the immanent – and pull is into a realm where we are able to see things as they truly are – life, love, and beauty, from God’s perspective. Truth, goodness, and beauty move us one step closer to the Lord of life and the God who saves us. Like St. Augustine and the great mystics of the Catholic tradition, how could we not desire to move closer to a God who is the source of all life – all that is noble, holy, and lovely?
But how does this happen – how can truth, goodness, and beauty offer salvation from God? It is the truth of God’s saving love and mercy that has transformed sinners and made saints. Pope Francis calls this the first proclamation of the Gospel – the saving love and mercy of God. I have experienced this in my own life – where God’s personal and transformative love can then move me to share this message of love with others. Secondly, I remember fondly attending the beatification of Mother Theresa of Calcutta when I was a young priest. The crowds poured out over St. Peter’s square on a cloudless October day. We were there because we were inspired by and wanted to pay tribute to the goodness of God that was so powerfully manifest through this diminutive nun. And beauty saves because beautiful art – wether paintings, music, architecture, or literature opens us up to the mystery of the human longing for something that can only be satisfied by a transcendent and loving God who made us to be complete in his divine embrace.
Lastly, I warmly welcome those who are with us in Minneapolis and here at the Basilica from around the world who are part of PAVM – the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, including the Vatican delegation. You are all very welcome here at the Basilica.
As your new pastor at the Basilica, I am proud to join a community who has embraced the truth of God’s inclusive love, the beauty of creation and the arts, and the goodness of God, to which we are called to live in our wounded and waiting world.