Today the Church celebrates an extraordinary event that took place in the year 1531. The setting for this event was Mexico and the nature of the event was that God permitted the Blessed Virgin Mary to present herself to a man by the name of Juan Diego. As a result of the encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and Juan Diego one of the greatest evangelical events in the history of the Church- millions came to know the Lord Jesus and accept a new way of life in his Church.
God has permitted the Blessed Virgin Mary to present herself as his messenger many times, but what makes this particular encounter so mysterious is the evidence for her presence that the Mother of God left behind- an extraordinary work of art, a work of art, not created out of earthly ingenuity or by human hands, but a artistic creation from God himself.
The heavenly artistic creation is a representation of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, depicted in the garments Aztec royalty and bearing the appearance of woman who looks like one of the indigenous peoples of Mexico.
Hundreds of gallons of ink have been spilled in telling, retelling, interpreting and reinterpreting this event.
My insight for you today is not about the specifics of the apparition, its significance for Mexico, but about the curious nature of God acting to make his life and presence known in what amounts to be a work of art.
Think about it- God created a work of art, indeed a beautiful and compelling work of art to indicate his life and presence. He didn’t send his Mother with speeches or arguments. He didn’t write down words and have his Mother hand those words in text to Juan Diego. What God did was have his Mother give Juan Diego a beautiful picture and embedded forever the account of the delivery of that picture in a beautiful story.
This should impress us and teach us. It was that image, that divine work of art, that had a peculiar power to convince people that the Gospel was true, the Church was good and that not only was the Lord Jesus the one, true God, but that it was worth giving one’s life over to him and become his friend.
The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe still manifests its convincing power, drawing millions into an encounter with Christ’s Mother, who always, always leads those who meet her into an encounter with his Divine Son.
The faith of the Church will express itself in accord with three great transcendentals (or ways) that manifest in this world the reality of God. These three transcendentals (or ways) are the good, the true and the beautiful.
The good, the true and the beautiful are routes of access to the truth about God and a means that God employs in our experience that leads us to him.
Thus, communicating the faith of the Church will articulate what it means to be good, by teaching us how to be virtuous, to live in accord with the commandments of God, and those practices that are essential to what we have to do to become saints.
And, thus, communicating the faith of the Church will also present the truth, meaning the great truths of revelation, who the Lord Jesus is and what he expects of us, what it means to be human, and the content of the teachings of the Apostles.
But if the presentation of the faith of the Church is limited to an emphasis on the good or the true, such presentations can become hectoring, moralizing or distant and abstract.
Thus, presentations of the faith must be complemented by the beautiful, through images, rituals, gestures, by encounters, in particular, works of art.
There is for me, few examples of how the beautiful is employed to present the truth and goodness of the Church’s faith than the divinely created work of art that is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The necessity of the experience of the beautiful as a route of access to God and means by which to present the faith is of special concern at this moment of the Church’s life. (Pope Francis identifies this in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel”).
The lack of beauty in our places of worship, in our rituals, of gestures, our encounters; the lack of any real integration of the arts into the concerns that Church has about catechesis and evangelization; the manner in which artistic beauty is treated as a mere luxury that the Church cannot afford- all this is crippling the Church’s mission and enervating and dehumanizing the Church’s own culture.
The Church should be a place where beauty has a home because the beautiful has its home in God and God has made the Church his home.
If we do not permit the beautiful to have a place in the Church, then we are saying something about what we think the place of God in the Church should be- absent and empty, rather than a living, divine presence who abides and dwells among us.
Further, God has vested human creatures with the power to create beauty in ways that mirror and signify his own power to create. This is his gift to us, and there are consequences if we negate the gifts that God has given us.
A lesson of Our Lady of Guadalupe is a lesson about the necessity of beautiful and that it is beauty that God in Christ has imbued with his power to save the world…