Dostoyevsky famously said that “beauty will save the world.”
For so many years, the Catholic Church seemed to agree as it led Western Civilization’s pursuit of art, music, and literature. But in the last century or so, within the Church and within the world at large, there seems to have been a great depreciation of beauty— even a complete denial of beauty’s objective existence. We have been left with vapid liturgy, cliche poetry, music and movies created for shock value and mere entertainment, and lots and lots of ugly, useless things.
Thankfully, many people within the Church seem aware of this problem and the way that it pushes people away from God. John Paul II and Benedict XVI both fought for the cause of beauty within the Church. Thanks to them and so many others, it is becoming more and more commonplace to see offerings of Latin Masses, well-trained choirs, re-designed Church interiors, and a general interest in and appreciation for God made manifest through beauty.
But it is not enough that the beauty remain in the Church. There must be a revival of beauty in the world and that revival begins at home.
Of course, it is far easier to preach to congregations about being kind to their spouses and gentle with their children— far easier to preach about gossip and lies and Mass participation— than it is to preach about the types of artwork we hang in our houses. Maybe it’s not that it’s easier but that it’s more straightforward. The guidelines for goodness are often clearer to us than any guidelines for beauty. Moreover, beauty just doesn’t seem as urgent. We figure it’s far more important for families to eat and pray together than it is for them to listen to beautiful music. But even if the goodness is more urgent, the beauty still matters tremendously.
If we find it imperative that chapels be beautiful then homes must be beautiful too.
Now, I don’t mean that they must be ornate or expensive. Simple things can be exceedingly beautiful. And I’m not even talking just about the house itself. Christians should create homes that inspire. And as the Church learned the hard way, good intention is not enough to inspire. Ugliness, baseness, cheapness—they draw our hearts away from God.
Christian families need to be encouraged to think about the things they have— not just in terms of greed and materialism— but in terms of beauty. It is so easy to purchase based off of convenience, especially when we have children. We think, “this toy entertains” or “this food cooks the quickest” or “this game shuts them up” or “this music is catchy.” And it’s not like these things are “sins”; families, rightfully, often have to go into survival mode. That might mean microwavable macoroni for weeks, or a baby plopped in a garish bouncer, or kids sitting in front of some obnoxious show. We should absolutely go easy on ourselves, realizing that our homes will always be imperfect.
There is, however, a problem with going to the other extreme— and it’s a popular extreme for Christians to go to— the extreme of not even trying, of saying, “as long as none of it is age inappropriate (devoid of violence, bad words, and sexuality), otherwise it doesn’t really matter what we see or hear in our homes.
This simply isn’t true. We train our children and ourselves how to seek God. It matters what toy the toddler plays with— it actually matters what it’s made out of and what it looks like! It matters what music the toddler listens to. It matters what plates we eat off of. It matters whether we light candles and whether we put flowers in vases. It matters whether or not our children learn to appreciate beauty.
It is so easy to create a home that entertains—and there is nothing inherently wrong with entertainment. But humans are capable of so much more. We are capable of being moved by beauty. But it won’t happen if it doesn’t start in our homes.
Churches are always wondering how to reel in the “young people” and make them stay. I think many people have realized that beauty is the secret, missing ingredient. But how are the young people going to develop the patience, discipline, and refinement to be able to even recognize that beauty at Church if they don’t have beauty at home?