Friday, December 7, 2012

Beauty Restored

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception - December 8

Although the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was only promulgated in the 19th century, our story begins at the very beginning, in fact, in the Book of Genesis, where we hear the story of man’s origins and also the origin of sin. God had created the whole universe for the benefit of man that man may discover his primary vocation, to live his life entirely in the service of God. God placed order in his creation; He imbued it with his own personal qualities of goodness, truth and finally beauty. Thus, by contemplating the beauty of Creation, man may come to recognise the beauty of God. In the early fifth century, St Augustine of Hippo asked "Who made these beautiful changeable things, if not one who is beautiful and unchangeable?" To know God is to know beauty; to know beauty is to know God. Just as God is the source of all truth and goodness, God is also the source of all beauty. Thus, everything that is beautiful reflects God’s artistry. Indeed, God is Beauty itself.  St Hilary of Poitiers, wrote: “Surely the author of all created beauty must himself be the beauty in all beauty.”

But this wonderful story of creation, though perfect in all aspects as far as God was concerned, was damaged though not completely destroyed by the ugliness of sin – man choosing to rewrite the story of creation by removing God, the Creator, from the equation. Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the reality of original sin in this manner: “In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully "divinised" by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to "be like God", but "without God, before God, and not in accordance with God" (CCC #398). Ugliness entered the world through sin. It is aptly symbolised by Adam and Eve’s sudden realisation of their own nakedness, now seen as something bad and ugly which required masking. Thus, through the disobedience of our first parents, mankind became infected with the pandemic malaise of original sin. With original sin came the ugliness of every depravity, ignorance, and malice known to man. The beauty of Paradise was lost.

This earthly Paradise was never completely forgotten. But, it had been reduced to a mere dream, a flicker of hope that would sustain man’s search for the good, the true and beautiful. Man would attempt to rediscover it through works of his own creation. But the story of the Tower of Babel is lesson that man is only capable of imitating, and as long as he refused to submit to the authority of God, would continue disfiguring the works of his Creator. Thus his creativity would often be subjected to curse of narcissistic self-fulfilment. However, there were those who remain faithful to the dream. The holy men and women of ancient times were burdened by the raggedness of the sinful world. But they longed for a fresh start, for a new birth, for another Garden of beauty, freshness and promise. They realised that Man was incapable of conceiving such a reality. Only God could answer their longing. Beauty itself had to return to creation in order that the universe may be restored to its original harmony and man returned to his original state of grace. But for Beauty to enter into world disfigured by Sin, a garden preserved from the ravages of sin would have to be found, for Holiness and Sin were absolutely irreconcilable. God planted the new Garden in the womb of St. Ann. God made a new Eve, untouched by the sin of the world, to be the mother of the new Adam.

As much as secular humanism may continue to push and sell optimistic lies to the contrary, Christians recognise that we human beings cannot refresh the world. We cannot make the world clean and promising and new. In spite of our best innovations and inventions, we cannot restore the world to its original beauty. But God can. And this is the powerful message of hope contained in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, the Solemnity we commemorate in this morning’s celebration.  God can bring good out of evil. God can turn the cross, which was an instrument of inhuman torture, the symbol of mankind’s abject sinfulness —God can turn the cross of agony and death into the tree of life. God can turn the sin of Adam into the Happy Fault proclaimed at every Easter Vigil. God can give the world a new Eve, a new mother. And He did! He made the Blessed Virgin Mary.

By affirming the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, we too are restoring something fundamental that has been lost to modern man – the Truth concerning the sovereignty of God. It is not only Beauty which is restored, but also the True and the Good. By promulgating the dogma in a time when rationalism attacked the foundation of the faith, Blessed Pius IX raised the voice of the Church to defend and to glumly reaffirm the existence of the supernatural order. Against the lie posed by humanism that God does not exist or even if he did, He was indifferent to our struggles and problems, the Church proclaims this Truth – God is Real. He is very very Real and He has not forgotten us. We don’t need an image to appear on a window to tell us of this. We already have the real thing – the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the New Eve, the Beautiful Icon of the Church.

Coinciding with this feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary would be the unveiling of our sanctuary, with its beauty restored. Against the enemies of beauty who argue that beauty is useless and serves no utilitarian purpose, we must disagree and affirm together with Mary that we need beauty. Let me reiterate - to know God is to know beauty; to know beauty is to know God. Beauty attracts us, provokes adoration, and invites us to adorn ourselves with its lustre. If nothing else, we deeply feel the absence of beauty in a world disfigured by original sin. Without beauty, our faith loses its lustre – it’s very glory, its sacred aura. We must, therefore, recover the beauty of holiness, and re-experience the holiness of beauty or our religion will become nothing more than dry and dusty truth encrusted with overly-demanding morals. We recover the beauty of holiness through our love of our Blessed Mother, the love of God our Father, Jesus her Son, and the Holy Spirit who preserved her from original sin. And we express our love most perfectly when we adorn our lives with the beauty of divine holiness and the light of sacred glory, so that one day we may take our place among the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem. It is there that Beauty, now prefigured in Mary, will be perfectly restored!

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