||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.
Last summer, I was honored to be part of a Conference of the Napa Institute with regard to Catholic leadership. There I addressed the relationship between freedom, beauty, and feelings, in the context of the truth that democracy requires authentic freedom on the part of those who are blessed to live out that form of government. I’ve touched briefly on some of those themes here before, but would like to examine them anew.
In my talk, I made the point that democracy requires true freedom, and true freedom happens only when the feelings are formed by beauty so that the feelings are enabled to integrate the whole person, body and soul, in performing an action that is truly representative of who the person is. So, in order to have the freedom, which is that personal integrity, we need feelings that are formed by beauty.
In the same talk, I observed that, by and large, authentic beauty and the search for it no longer have a place in our lives. In addition to other things, technology has replaced beauty as that which now has control over so many parts of our lives. Certainly technology provides advantages and good for society, but technology always seeks control and efficiency above all else.
Beauty is something quite different. Beauty raises our minds to what is above, for, without controlling, beauty raises our minds to absolute beauty. Beauty raises our minds to God and adds the dimension of mystery to the living out of our human lives, so that there is a joy that comes from living out the integrity which is freedom.
Abandonment of control
One who lives a life so open to being raised to something far beyond himself must, to an extent, experience abandonment of control and of total efficiency. A life which is oriented more and more towards control and efficiency cannot be open to the transformational power of beauty.
In that same context, I observed that in a democracy where people’s feelings are not formed according to authentic beauty, and where people are driven by feelings formed otherwise, there might well be a lack of wisdom in an electorate, as they make their electoral choices. I still hold to that.
A number of years ago a survey revealed that most Americans, including most Christians, don’t believe that there is life after death in any serious way. They don’t think much about Heaven or Hell; they don’t believe in a judgment. And so, the standards of this world govern the behavior even of those who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ and Catholic. As I reflect now upon the election which has just passed, one thing seems very clear to me, and that is that people (including Catholics) voted very much in accordance with standards that are limited to this world. The election is finished, we have our elected officials, and we move forward. That is not the point.
The point is: do we really love Heaven? Do we think about judgment? We enter this season of Advent now, and we hear the challenge of the Scriptures to be ready for the day of judgment, to be ready for what comes after this life — to prepare ourselves for Heaven, and, as the closing prayer of the First Sunday of Advent said so beautifully, “to love the things of Heaven.”
We must really search whether or not love of the things of Heaven is at the forefront of our lives and whether we are doing what we can to prepare ourselves for Heaven. Do we realize that so-called freedom which is dominated by poorly-formed feelings and technology, rather than educated by beauty, can lead to everlasting punishment in hell? Are we Catholics focused on the end of history, on the great coming of the Lord Jesus Christ? Because the Gospel assures us that we will be caught up in that coming. “That day,” the Gospel of this past Sunday says, “will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (Lk 21:35).
The coming day of judgment
No one can escape the assault of the day of judgment. This is one of the most basic truths of our faith, one of the most basic mysteries that we must believe in order to be saved. We must love Heaven more than anything in this world; to see everything in this world as passing, as not the end of the matter; to see our final destiny in Heaven (or in Hell, if we so choose) as the end of the matter.
Some may react with shock at these thoughts, for many have forgotten or been soothed into thinking that these mysteries are not real or do not matter. Perhaps some will be upset at the Church for allowing such startling parts of the Gospel to be read when all they want to do is think “happy-thoughts” of Christmas. But these are indeed joyful thoughts, if we treat them as we ought, for Advent is the season of Christ’s coming and not only at Christmas. Advent is a season for remembering what we are really waiting for — Christ’s Second Coming in majesty, as judge.
Let us not dare to forget about judgment. Let us not dare to forget about Heaven or Hell. Let us prepare ourselves, through continuing education of our freedom, through beauty, so that we might survive the great tribulation and stand secure before the Son of Man.
Praised be Jesus Christ!