||This column is the bishop's communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
On Thursday of this past week we entered into a Year of Faith, which I marked with a beautiful evening of prayer, gathered together with representatives from throughout the diocese. The reflection I offered to those present was really intended for all in the diocese and so I share it with you here:
Thank you all for coming together to enjoy our time of genuine prayer together. We heard in the reading (2 Pt 1) St. Peter recalling, in beautiful words, his own experience along with James and John, on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration of our Lord. It was a moment of anticipation of the glory of the Resurrection, revealed in an unmistakably powerful way: where Jesus, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit revealed themselves as Trinity, as Light. The light of the apparition of Jesus on Mount Tabor was blinding. The supreme Truth, the most powerful light there is, the light of the Holy Trinity, the light of the Resurrection shone magnificently, so that Peter, James, and John could take it all in. They said, “It’s good for us to be here.” Just as I began this evening, “it’s wonderful for us to be here.”
The Second Vatican Council was one of those “Transfiguration moments” in the history of the Church. We celebrate, with the opening of the Year of Faith, the 50th Anniversary of the opening of that beautiful council. It was a Transfiguration experience in that the glorious light of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the glorious light and power of the Resurrection of Jesus shone through those deliberations of the Council Fathers over three years. That beautiful light was and is resplendent in the documents of the Second Vatican Council, which the Holy Spirit took such great care to inspire. Vatican II was one of those Transfiguration moments where the glory of God shone forth, showing us the way to take what the Church had always taught (and still teaches) and to make it available in a way that could be understood by the people of that time, understandable to the people of our time.
||Bishop Robert C. Morlino speaks at the close of the Solemn Vespers October 11 at St. Maria Goretti Church, Madison, for the opening of the Year of Faith. The service highlighted beauty and the anniversary of the Second Vatican Council. (Catholic Herald photo/Kat Wagner)
To view or purchase photos from this event go to: madisoncatholicherald.smugmug.com
We have to continue constantly begging the Holy Spirit to shine the light of those documents on the Church today. The Holy Spirit shines the light of truth without hindrance, without any reservation. However, we are weak and our ability to receive the light of that truth is imperfect. And so the Light shone at Vatican II, but as we tried to grasp that light over the last 50 years, we’ve had some successes and some failures, and this Year of Faith is a special time to allow ourselves to be renewed in that light of the Holy Spirit, which shone upon the council and its documents. We wish to continue to carry out a faithful implementation of the Second Vatican Council, which requires — first and foremost — evangelization, the New Evangelization, the task of the Year of Faith. And, in consultation with other people, including Pope Benedict XVI, I chose for our particular theme here in the Diocese of Madison, “Evangelization through Beauty.”
The art of living
I chose the theme of Evangelization through Beauty, because the beauty of the Trinity and of the Resurrection shone forth unmistakably on Mount Tabor at the Transfiguration, as it shone forth unmistakably at the glorious Resurrection of Jesus. And we are called to return to Mount Tabor, to return to the empty tomb, and to find rest and joy in the glow of that blinding light — just as did Peter, James, and John. The beauty that we proclaim is no less than the beauty of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, no less than the beauty of Jesus Christ risen from the dead. And how, during this Year of Faith, as we undertake, in a special way, the New Evangelization, are we going to live out that evangelization through beauty?
There are two ways, and these were given to us this very week by the Holy Father himself. “The art of living,” is one way. We’re going to reach out to all brothers and sisters — especially Catholics who are fallen away or lukewarm. The art of living is what the Holy Father calls us to use, to invite back our beloved brothers and sisters who are fallen away, who are lukewarm. That’s the special task of the New Evangelization. Now, what do we mean by the “art of living?” We mean two things, the Holy Father says: 1) we mean confession, and 2) we mean charity.
We mean confession in the sense of the Sacrament of Penance, of course, but we mean confession especially in the sense of professing the truth of Christ when we are confronted by a culture which is not friendly to that truth. Pope Benedict said that this Year of Faith is our journey through the desert. The desert is a very unfriendly place, where one experiences the absence of God. And that is our world today. That is the “sign of the times” that most powerfully surrounds us and challenges us — a culture without God, trying to rid itself of the little God that is left. It is secularism that the Second Vatican Council confronted as its enemy, and which the Synod of Bishops meeting now in Rome is confronting anew, in continuity with Vatican II.
Confession of faith
It’s only if we’re willing to confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in our heart that God raised Him from the dead, that we will be saved (Rom 10:9). Belief in the heart means we’ve got to renew our own personal relationship with Jesus. Relationship with Jesus is life changing. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I changed by my personal relationship with Jesus?” Some can say “yes,” but I’m afraid today many more would say “no.” That’s why people are fallen-away or lukewarm.
Before we can reach out to them in a way that matters, we’ve got to make sure that our own personal friendship with Jesus is strong. We’ve got to renew it and we’ve got to be confident enough about it so that we confess with the lips. We’ve got to let Jesus Christ evangelize us in a new way, before we can reach out to others. Before we can confess with our lips, we’ve got to believe in a new and life-changing way, in our hearts. That’s the task of the Year of Faith and the New Evangelization and our Evangelization through Beauty. Our lives, if we confess with our lips and believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord, that art of living makes a beautiful witness.
We think about a lot of things that we want to be, but we don’t so often think, “I want my life to be beautiful before the face of Jesus Christ. I want the blinding light of the Transfiguration channeled through my life.” To live like that is an art, and it can only be done through the power of the Holy Spirit. So to realize beauty as God’s gift, we’ve got to practice the art of living — confessing with our lips and believing in our hearts. That’s the first element of the beautiful picture that we’ve got to paint by way of the “art of living.”
The second element of that beautiful picture is charity. The world most easily recognizes our beauty in our charity. Our charity is the most convincing evangelizer. “See how they love one another!” (Apologeticus 39, Tertullian). “He who abides in love, abides in God, and God lives in him” (1 Jn 4:16). “Love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34) — not in some other way, but “as I have loved you.” Confess with your lips, believe in your heart, and your lives will be artfully lived out in charity.
That’s the journey through the desert that we enter into now. In a world that thirsts and yearns for God, we confess Him with our lips, believe in Him in our hearts, and His Light shines forth through our art of living. It is a journey that will reveal the beauty of our lives, the beauty of the Church, shining forth for the whole world to see. The beauty of the brilliant light of the Holy Trinity, the light of the brilliant beauty of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is irresistible. That’s our mission.
Practicing the art in the liturgy
Besides practicing the art of living, as I’ve described, we’ve also got to get into the art of celebrating the liturgy. The liturgy is the source and the summit of Christian life. It is the beginning and the end. So, if the liturgy is in some way or other off kilter, the art of living is thrown off kilter, the Church is thrown off kilter. If we believe what we say about the liturgy — especially the Eucharistic celebration — then we have an obligation to practice the ars celebrandi (the art of celebration) that comes to us from the Church.
And this also calls for a conversion on the part of many of us, because it has become the case in many instances that we try to mold the liturgy according to our own likes and dislikes. Many times priests, usually together with people, concoct, mix together certain elements of their own into the liturgy. Many a travelling priest has said to me, “you know, bishop, when I go to different parishes, I’m basically told how to say Mass, ‘this is how we do it here. . .,’ ‘Father, that’s not how we do it here. . .’” Those instructions are necessary, the visiting priests say, because each group has “their own” Mass that belongs to them.
The liturgy is not something that we get to make up and do differently from parish to parish — so differently that one sometimes wonders if it’s the same Catholic Church. There can be minor sorts of variety at the local level, but nothing so terribly noticeable.
The liturgy is not of our making. As the Holy Father just said last week, the liturgy is celebrated for God and not for us. Sometimes we act as if it’s celebrated for us, saying, “We don’t like this. . .,” “We want it another way. . .,” acting as though it’s supposed to be made to order to our tastes, and what we might enjoy for the time being. The liturgy is the work of the Holy Spirit, work expressed through the books for the liturgy that the Church gives us. The art of celebrating the liturgy is the art of beautifully and reverently doing what it says to do in the book, and saying what it says to say in the book. Vatican II did not teach anything different than that; Vatican II taught precisely that.
Modeling beauty to the world
We’re together tonight, by God’s grace, to model beauty in the liturgy, beauty in the ritual, beauty in music, beauty in our icon of St. Raphael, beauty in vestments, beauty in the church, the greatest beauty in the presence of Jesus in the tabernacle, beauty in the flowers, beauty in the candles, beauty in the crucifix, beauty in the incense. In terms of the rituals, the Church has given us all that we need for beauty and we are called to carry that out as best as we can. The beauty, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is right there. God forbid that we should ever think that we’re called to improve upon that by changing it. How could we ever improve on the work of the Holy Spirit? The art of celebrating the liturgy is in the book, and then we provide the best in terms of beauty, so as to follow what the book says, so that the liturgy that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit want us to have is, in fact, the liturgy that we have — not the liturgy that somebody else wants us to have. The liturgy must never be anything less than beautiful.
It’s only the liturgy that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit want us to have that joins us to the angels and the saints in heaven. It matters far less what our parish community likes, than what is appropriate for the saints and the angels. When parish liturgy commissions meet and decide to pick the songs for a Sunday, do they ever ask, “are those songs worthy of the angels and saints?” The beauty of the liturgy, revealed in the art of celebrating, is our major attraction as Church, because the liturgy is the source and the summit of Christian life. If we want to reach out with true beauty, we have to reach out in terms of what we receive from the Church, rather than what we construct. The liturgy always begins with God — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and it never begins with us. The celebration of the liturgy, as Pope Benedict said, is for God, and not for us. That is a call for a change of heart in many instances. But with the power of the Holy Spirit on our side (if we really give ourselves over to the Holy Spirit) that change of heart is a piece of cake. Why would I ever want to do what I want to do, rather than what the Holy Spirit has asked?
So, the beauty of the Church during this Year of Faith is the beauty of the art of living, the beauty of the art of celebrating so that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will make all of us beautiful in Christ — Christ transfigured in resplendent light, to the glory of the Father! Praised be Jesus Christ!