I just returned home from an amazing week at summer camp. You know the feeling. There’s a longing in the depths of your core that gives rise to both an abundance of love and a terrible ache for the eternal. You have seen the Holy Spirit work miracles in the lives of young people. Hearts have been transformed from the inside out while yours has been conformed to the Sacred Heart of our Lord Jesus Christ. You love these youthful souls with a youthful zeal and yet suffer so deeply when you see them fall short of their potential as sons and daughters of the Father. Ultimately, you have tasted the goodness of the Lord and participated in that universal priesthood of the faithful that so desires unity within, harmony with all of creation, and communion with God in Heaven. In a word, you have entered into glory, and God has given you His Heart.
For much of the last several years, I have had a growing intuition that beauty will save the the world, not the love of beauty but the beauty of Love. We’re living in a society that is no longer willing to have rational conversations about serious issues, especially anything dealing with the meaning of life or love. Truth has been usurped by emotion as the intellect bows low to the passions. The army of desires within most human hearts becomes tortuous with time, for the general of that army is a tyrant.
What, then, is the pinnacle of human desire? Why do we delight at the sight of faithful, married love and grieve at infidelity? Why can we not resist the allurement of true beauty and authentic love and yet identify, despise, and fall so easily for the counterfeits? Man was made for glory, and that glory is nothing less than divine life with God Himself. In fact, we are made in the image of that divine glory, that perfect communion of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the end, it makes sense that nothing else satisfies the human heart. When we experience a reflection of that glory at Covecrest, Steubenville, or in our daily apostolate with youth, we’re given a glimpse of the eschatón, of that divine life that awaits all of us in Heaven.
What’s Wrong with the World?
While Truth, Beauty, and Goodness are our noblest desires, we daily fall victim to the deceptions of the world. The current statistics on abortion, pornography, abuse, and poverty alone reveal the gravity of the problem, a problem that can be best understood as the epidemic of concupiscence. While naturally drawn to virtue in the state of grace, the soul in the state of sin is inclined to give way in the face of temptation. And when we sin, the Holy Spirit grieves for we have demanded He leave the sanctuary of our souls. We have cast a shadow over the brightness of God’s glory within us, and we have deprived the world of yet another walking tabernacle.
To put it another way, G.K. Chesterton (along with several other famous journalists of his time) was once asked to write a column based on the following question: “What’s wrong with the world?” His answer was by far the briefest: “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G.K. Chesterton.” And I believe ‘ole Gilbert Keith got it right. There is light and darkness in each of us, both the desire for good and for evil within our own hearts. Where, then, is our hope? Amidst these noble desires and weak inclinations, where do we turn? Pope Benedict puts it very simply in his first Jesus of Nazareth that came out in the spring of 2007: We hope in a God with a human face.
Jesus Christ, in His Sacred Humanity, has redeemed everything in the created order – everything that we can and cannot see. Because of the Incarnation, there is a mysterious sense in which all of creation has been divinized, lifted up and made into a veil behind which we can see the very glory of God. Because of the Passion, there is no human pain that cannot be redeemed and made beautiful. And there is no human joy that cannot find its root in the Resurrection.
Joy Follows Suffering
When the world asks us about the radiant joy that flows out of our being, many of us would not hesitate to declare the love of Jesus Christ and our own divine filiation as its cause. How, then, do we stir up this joy in our lives? How can we be strengthened in faith, hope, and love in a world that is so dark and despairing?
After the sudden passing of my older brother this past winter, I realized quickly that nothing can stir up hope and make us more human than suffering. I don’t have a natural explanation for that reality, but I know that Jesus Christ, whose great love can best be understood through His blood on the cross, reveals the fullness of humanity. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, Christ “reveals man to himself and makes his supreme calling clear” (Gaudium et Spes 22). Quite simply, He shows us what it means to be human and invites us into the glory of beloved sonship. And His humanity cannot be separated from the singular event of His Passion, where He dropped every last bit of His blood for love of us.
“We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love” (Pope Benedict XVI in his second encyclical, Spe Salvi).
Indeed, the beauty of love will save the world; in fact, it already has through the epitomic and sacrificial love of Christ on the Cross.
O Lord, how wondrously you created us. How even more wondrously You redeemed us in Jesus Christ! Stir up our holy desires for Truth, Beuaty, and Goodness, and give us hope through suffering and prayer in the face of temptation. May we never lose hope that You have, are, and will redeem us through the blood of the Cross. Yes, we believe that there is no greater work than our redemption wrought in Jesus Christ. May our lives spill forth into this dark world with radiant joy. Never cease showing us what it means to be human!