—John Cardinal Newman
This quote of Cardinal Newman’s reveals the key for the interpretation of all reality. We are a mysterious harmony of flesh and spirit. We are not merely of this earth, but have, as it were, one foot in eternity. We are in fact, an embodied thirst for the infinite! This truth explains the ache we feel in the face of beauty, or creation, of music, love, and even suffering and death. It defines the pull in our hearts for immortality. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “Genuine beauty … gives man a healthy ‘shock’, it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away … from being content with the humdrum—it even makes him suffer, piercing him like a dart, but in so doing it ‘reawakens’ him, opening afresh the eyes of his heart and mind, giving him wings, carrying him aloft.” —Pope Benedict XVI
This poetical view, this vision that pierces through flesh and bone to reveal the spirit, this is the lens through which we are called to perceive the world! It is a specifically Catholic vision, a sacramental vision; it shows us that the things we can see, smell, taste, and touch are in a certain sense sacramental signs, visible realities housing invisible truths. In a certain sense, everything is a sacrament. Nature itself is a book that speaks of God. Shakespeare once wrote that we should “find tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything.”
The truth about God “breathes” through creation, for he made it, and most of all through the creation of man and woman, made for life-giving love in the image of the Trinity. The body is a sacrament that proclaims the Mystery of God! It speaks, and our spiritual life, which animates and is knit inextricably to our physical life, is crowned with the gifts of intellect and will. But our reason and so much of what it gathers from the senses is like a rocket that can propel us only so high. Like a trapeze artist letting go, faith grasps our hands from above when reason can barely touch the fingertips. This is the path of the human person: to harmonize both faith and reason. To look with human eyes, to scrutinize with our intellect, and using reason like a launchpad to leap into Love.
This is a journey, as Pope Francis alludes to in his work, Laudato Si: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.”
The temptation today, as it always has been, is to divorce the marriage of the invisible and the visible. To close the door to the Other World and simply grasp and gather to ourselves what we can for the here and now, because, as they say “You can’t take it with you.” But a sacramental vision would assert that, if it’s God you are seeing through it all, you CAN take it (or better, him) with you! As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen once wrote, “To materialists this world is opaque like a curtain; nothing can be seen through it. A mountain is just a mountain, a sunset just a sunset; but to poets, artists, and saints, the world is transparent like a window pane—it tells of something beyond… a mountain tells of the Power of God, the sunset of His Beauty, and the snowflake of His Purity.”
The poetical view is the wholistic view. It is harmony. It is not a reduction, a less than, but an illumination, a more than. We see more than what meets the eye! As Pope Benedict XVI said, “Parables interpret the simple world of everyday life in order to show how a transcendence… occurs in it…. Reality itself is a parable. Hence, it is only by way of parable that the nature of the world and of man himself is made known to us.”
Let us pray for those with only a singular view; and for all of us who feel that we cannot hold the tension of two, and so resort to violence to make a point. For violence is a clear sign that reason has been abandoned. May God give us his peace and make us sensitive to his quiet whispers through all creation.
“Whoever wants to become a Christian must first become a poet …”
—St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia
This article was first published on Bill Donaghy’s blog, The Heart of Things: Reflections on God, Life, and Everything in Between.