Ave Maria’s Father Robert McTeigue, S.J., preached this homily today for the Feast of St. Anthony of Padua. The scripture readings are here. Please pray for Father as he works towards completing a collection of homilies and essays on preaching entitled, I Have Someone to Tell You: A Jesuit Heralds the Gospel.
May I ask you a question? What if someone came to you and said this: “Oh! I just did a terrible thing! I was in an art museum, and I noticed that the paintings were beautiful!” You would think that a rather strange statement, would you not? Suppose your troubled friend went on to say: “And after I noticed that the paintings were beautiful, I praised the artists who painted them!” You would know right away that your friend is obviously quite confused. Going to an art museum, enjoying the beauty of the paintings, and then praising the painters—well, in terms of a purpose of a museum—it just doesn’t get any better than that.
But what if your friend says this: “Oh! I went to the art museum, and I saw the beautiful paintings, and I stole them!” Then you would know that your poor friend is more than just confused. And what if your friend said: “I went to the art museum, slashed the beautiful paintings, and used the shredded paintings to shine my shoes.” Then you would know for sure that your confused friend is very sick.
Now, let me ask you another question. What does this little parable of mine have to do with today’s gospel reading?
The link might not seem obvious, but the link between the two is there. Let’s listen again to the words of Jesus. Our Blessed Lord said: “You have heard that it was said, You shall not commit adultery. But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna.”
Now, some people, upon reading these words of Jesus, come to the following conclusion: “Jesus does not want me to notice that any one is beautiful, because that will lead to lust and adultery in the heart if not in fact, and then to hellfire, and I don’t want to have to gouge my eye out because then everyone will know that I lusted, so I will just walk around with my hands over my eyes and pray that I don’t get hit by a bus.”
And that’s just wrong. And that’s why I told the parable that I began my homily with today. Jesus is not saying, “Do not notice that God made people beautiful.” Jesus is not saying, “Do not praise God as the artist Who made people beautiful.” Jesus is saying, “Do not make an idol or an instrument of people made beautiful by God.” You see, that’s what lust is—a combination of exalting the beautiful as an idol while debasing the beautiful as a mere instrument of pleasure. That’s like our friend in the parable who steals or destroys the beautiful paintings.
In this life, what we may rightly enjoy as true, good and beautiful are all meant to point to God the artisan—God Who is all truth, all goodness, all beauty. God has intended that we be drawn through the creature to the Creator. Sadly, fallen human nature, now assisted by a perverse culture and great technological power, is being seduced, sickened and destroyed with the idolatry and avarice which is lust. The electronic media give us endless opportunities to exalt and debase the beauty of the human person. Rather than human beauty being an occasion of joyful praise of our Creator, human beauty becomes a constant invitation to turn our hearts from God rather than towards God.
When we are surrounded by the rage and fury of lust, we cannot hear the voice of God, which may come to us, as the prophet Elijah discovered, as a tiny whispering sound. When we are surrounded by the rage and fury of lust, the lamp of our eyes will be darkened, and our souls will not be filled with light.
Pope Benedict XVI said that, “Purity of heart is what enables us to see.” And the Scriptures tell us that, “Only the pure of heart shall see God.” In the midst of the sick ambient popular culture, this soul-stealing culture, what shall we do?
First, let’s become saints by loving human beauty made perfect in the Incarnation of Jesus, a perfect human beauty which is divine is offered to us in the Blessed Sacrament.
Second, let’s protect our children—by teaching them properly and doing so daily—and by monitoring as much as possible all that enters their souls through their senses. That means that if you have minor children, you, and you alone, must decide what will enter your children’s souls by way of their senses. You must take control what they access in books, music, movies, television, internet and phones.
Finally, let’s work together as a Catholic community and Catholic university to celebrate, enjoy and reverence sacred art, which reveals both human dignity and glorifies our Creator. Our reverence for what God has made, and our love for God our maker, will allow us to cry out with the psalmist and say, “I long to see your face, O Lord!”
May God’s Holy Name be praised now and forever.