Common Wisdom: Just One Thing

If there is one thing that most inspires us to love Christ and His Church, what would it be? What one thing makes us believers?

What is the one thing, when the chips are down, that holds us in the Church, that makes us cling to it, certain that, no matter what, we will never leave the Body of Christ, the Church? What, above all, fires our love of the Lord?

The answer, I suggest, is beauty—beauty on all levels. Like Christ himself, we are incarnate beings, blessed with material bodies, who learn of God’s world first through our senses. As incarnate creatures made in God’s image, we also know that there is more to the world than matter, more to us than body. Creation reflects God’s hand; it therefore has transcendent meaning, an end beyond itself. Reflecting the Creator from whom it comes, God’s creation is like him—beautiful. And as his creation is beautiful, it draws us to love first the created thing, and then the Creator himself.

If we look at things with eyes that see, we scarcely can escape the Presence behind things. It is this Presence at the heart of the world that gives us joy that these things exist—and that we exist to see them.

The maples on our snow-dusted ridge blow leafless against a glint of cold winter sky, stirring me to exult over the Presence, the Intelligence that causes these trees to blow. I am in love with these trees and this ridge.

Why do I love them? An expert recently told me that when, on the one hand, we see a single landscape in a wide panorama, our brain registers a slight euphoria. On the other hand, however, when we see one landscape in front of us and another in our peripheral vision, our brain registers slight anxiety.

In this case I am seeing a panorama, not a constricted landscape. Yet is that the only reason I love it? I think there is more at stake, for the feelings generated by the senses activate the imaginative intelligence to ponder the beauty of the images, and activate the rational intelligence to sort out their meaning. Imagination and intellect do the work of finding meaning in things to which the senses alert us. If we choose to believe, our imagination and intellect give us plenty of reasons to do so. If we choose, we will see the hand of God around us.

Who but God could have created my latest grandson, William, a substantial, jovial chunk of incarnate little man, infinitely beautiful, with his winsome dimples, his navy blue eyes and furry lashes, and his definite dark eyebrows?

Who but God could inspire the beauty that draws us to himself through good books, which always signify more than the author’s mind contained in the first place? The lilt of delight when the reader meets words that by their accuracy and beauty take him beyond himself to a greater love of the Word is one of the profound joys of life. When something of the sacred radiates from the page, we find ourselves, by virtue of our attraction to the beauty of the words, more in love with the Word who is Christ.

So, too, do we fall in love with the beauty of the Church, with all the images of Christ, his mother, and all the prophets, apostles, and saints who help carry the Cross throughout the history of the Church. Despite our great temptation to strip our churches of sacred images and altars and turn them into bare ruined choirs more akin to assembly halls than churches, we still find enough beauty in the Church to satisfy us. Somehow, despite the modern temptation to iconoclasm, there is still beauty in the Church to surpass the ugliness imposed by human error. There is still the beauty of image, of doctrine, of Scripture, of the Mass, of the tradition of Catholic culture.

At the heart of the Church’s beauty there reigns the Blessed Sacrament, the presence of Christ drawing us to himself. What makes him so beautiful? He is indescribable, and yet we sit quietly with him, knowing that in him everything about God’s love for man comes together in perfect order and resolution. Every piece of the puzzle fits together in Christ; in him every question we could possibly ask folds into a tranquility of order.

In the lovely Lady Chapel in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, the Blessed Sacrament glows in the monstrance. The Mother of God, beautiful, graceful, feminine, stands behind the altar, surrounded by flowers—flowers carved into the pews, flowers tiled into the floor. The Lady Chapel, so utterly ladylike and ordered, perfectly expresses its sacred purpose to provide a place where Our Lady leads us to worship her Son.


Mrs. Anne Husted Burleigh is a free-lance writer, mother, and grandmother who lives on a farm overlooking the Ohio River in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, near Cincinnati. She has written two books: John Adams, a Biography, and Journey up the River: a Midwesterner’s Spiritual Pilgrimage. She has contributed to many publications, including Crisis and Catholic Dossier, and now writes for Magnificat.

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