Abandoning Utilitarianism to Embrace Transcendent Beauty

We live in an age marked by utilitarianism. If an item, building, or artwork does not serve some use it is easily discarded. It is also an age of secular humanism in which the person is the center of the cosmos, not God. These two philosophical undercurrents have impacted us as Catholics whether we like it or not. There is nothing wrong with a properly ordered humanism, just as there isn’t anything inherently wrong with using items for their utility. I clearly need to use a knife to cut an onion. The problem with utilitarianism is that it has come to dominate Western culture from how we understand the human person to art to religion to architecture. We do not use people, but utilitarianism tells us this is acceptable since the goal of life is my personal happiness. Beauty is of little use in this system. Beauty within itself serves no real purpose. It cannot be formed and re-ordered to my personal end, so I discard it. This is evidenced by the architecture and art of our day. It is largely devoid of transcendence and keeps us firmly, if not stuck, here on earth.

We are not at home here in this Fallen earth. We are called to come to know God and grow in further communion with Him through His Church and through His creation, but our end is not here. Creation is a window to God. It is one of the ways he communicates His beauty, transcendence, humor, creativity, and power to us. The earth is not the fullness of revelation, however, that rests with Christ. We are made for communion with God. In fact, we are made in His image and likeness, so that we could bridge the gap between the material and the immaterial. We were meant to unite the gulf between the spirit and matter. Our vocation before the Fall was to bring creation into communion with God. Through the Fall we failed and Christ had to come to complete that vocation for us. If we look at the architecture and art of the last decades, do we see our call to transcendence or do we see a desire for comfort for the things of here and now? Are we uniting Heaven and earth as Our Lord has done?

Read the rest at Catholic Exchange.

Music, Beauty, and Childhood Dreams

Like me, do any of you have TOO many interests?  I have a hard time keeping them in check sometimes.  I want to read, write, play music, sing, act (this is a new one for me), paint, etc.  I am a lover of the arts, but it tends to get pushed back to an oven and burner on another continent.  I am not good at all of these things, but I enjoy them all the same.  There is something about creating that unites me, all of us really, to our Creator.  Art raises our minds to God.

Last night I was reminded of a childhood dream.  I have always enjoyed classical music, especially music performed by string instruments.  My dad raised us on Mozart and Bach.  In fact, music has brought me to tears on numerous occasions and I believe the most beautiful piece of music ever written is Mozart’s Requiem.  That aside, I wanted to pursue an instrument as a child.  I had asked to play the violin, but my parents said it would be too hard.  They did not realize that I was musically inclined, so I ended up playing the clarinet for 10 years.  I was even in the top band in the state!
The thing is, that I enjoyed the clarinet, but was not passionate about it.  Clarinet music has never “hailed my soul from my body” to quote Shakespeare.  Rather, it is always the violin.  The first piece of music that I remember being a transcendent experience was the first time I heard Pachabel’s Canon in D.  I was probably around 9.  We were driving in the car and my dad had it on in the cassette player.  Tears started to flow down my face while I sat in the backseat of the car.  It was an involuntary reaction in coming face-to-face with authentic beauty.
a very dear friend of mine is teaching himself the violin during his retirement years.  He played Twinkle Twinkle Little Star for us after dinner last night.  He then let me hold the violin and showed me a few simple notes.  I did not know whether to laugh or cry.  I was so happy just to be holding it.  He encouraged me to learn it now.  I am not too old.  He is 65, he said.  He is right about that, but my vocation right now would make it difficult to add it in, but perhaps in a couple of years I could learn.  I felt like a joy filled child moving the bow across the strings.  I was reminded of the music that lifted my soul to grand heights.
Perhaps this explains why I have a hard time with modern music during Mass.  I have heard Masses chanted and sung that brought my soul to Heaven’s Gate.  Songs like He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand leave me firmly planted in my seat.  It is a lot harder for me to remember that we are in the presence of the Heavenly Liturgy at Mass.
This weekend my husband and I are going to go see The Notre Dame University Chorale perform at the local cathedral.  I am so excited.  It is the first time I will have attended a concert sine 2009.  We have a babysitter, so it is a nice date night of dinner and music.  Perhaps my soul will once again soar in the presence of transcendent music.
Are there arts that you enjoy or that you may have forgotten about?  Do you encourage your kids in the arts?  My daughter already is demonstrating a love of music and dance.  The arts help us to appreciate God’s beauty and love more fully.  I hope you are having a very blessed Second Week of Christmas.
Here are some of my favorite pieces of music: