I teach a class on Christian States of Life and something that surprises all the students is that all Christian ways of life follow the way of love and beauty. Most of the students assume that Christianity is about morality and preventing true love to flourish. When I showed Dana Carvey’s Church Lady SNL skit - which is about a homely woman with the “haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” – they all nodded their heads that this is what they think of Christians. How sad! Realizing that their idea of Christianity is close to Puritanism, I have made it my duty to immerse these uptight Northerners in the erotic, colorful, sensual and sacramental cultures of Southern Europe. This is the immersion I need to deepen my faith, and I am hoping that by immersing them in the beauty of Catholicism they will inevitably be attracted to the Christian way of life. Ultimately, faith is a gift from God so I just need to pray for them. However, planting seeds of beauty can only help.
During college, I was given the opportunity to study abroad in Madrid or Rome. I chose Madrid because that is where all my friends were going. Prior to my adventures, I was living the life of the typical college barbarian, I mean student. My idea of Catholicism was similar to my student’s perception of the faith: it was the denial of happiness and the cause of undue misery in the world. It made people grumpy and sad. While I still attended Mass, I didn’t really see Christ in all his splendor. I thought Christianity was relatively bland. But Southern Europe helped me see and taste its richness, and it is a richness that never dies. Once someone encounters the mystery of Christ in beauty of the world and its fulfillment in the sacraments, love is the only response. It is then that one desires to enter and partake in his Pashcal Mystery, i.e. live the Christian life.
To encounter that Mystery, I present my students with the beauty of the world. The universe many of these kids are living in is bland and dull. While the discoveries of modern science may excite them, that excitement dwindles once the ugliness of the universal mechanism sets in. What I try to get them to see is that at the heart of the world is love, the nuptial mystery, and the Church is the corporate person of the Bride longing for her Husband, Christ. As baptized members of Church, they partake in that eternal love. Many of them see their membership in the Church as one of servitude. But I hope they see their life in the Church as the erotic face-to-face union with God. From there I tell them that Catholic culture derives from the celebration of a great cosmological-theological Wedding Feast. Everything that belongs in a wedding feast belongs in Catholicism. Yes, there are periods of fasting and longing. But that abstinence only heightens the joy of the feast when it comes.
Many men enter the seminary because they have experienced the beautiful call of God to serve him as His Priest. It is a beauty that waxes and wanes throughout their priesthood, but like marriage it is permanent because of its roots in God. Let us take advantage of the beauty of our faith, especially the faith shown in the cultures of Southern Europe, so as to encourage everyone to follow the way of love.