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May 7, 2011
The Beauty of Christ lifts us high
Following is the text of the homily given by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted at the Mass dedicating the new chapel for the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration in Tonopah, Ariz.
"'Come here, I will show you the bride… of the Lamb.' The angel… took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem… It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was…clear as crystal. It had a massive, high wall" (Rev 21:9f).
Dostoevsky said, "The world will be saved by beauty." Pope Benedict (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 126) explains how this could be true. He writes: "The beautiful and the good, ultimately the beautiful and God, coincide. Through the appearance of the beautiful we are wounded in our innermost being, and that wound grips us and takes us beyond ourselves; it stirs longing into flight and moves us toward the truly Beautiful, to the Good in itself." One way that beauty is expressed in Church architecture is through verticality. Just as "high mountains" and "high walls" in Sacred Scripture reveal to us the majesty of God, so verticality works in beautiful buildings such as this. Verticality suggests the Resurrection of Christ and also His Ascension into Heaven; it attracts us to the goodness and beauty of the Risen Lord.
The Lord Jesus rose from the dead on the First Day of the week, Easter Sunday; and, 40 days later, He ascended into heaven. When you entered this beautiful Chapel today, were your eyes not drawn upwards in awe? Were our hearts not lifted above this world's shadows? Did not our minds and hearts soar to the heights where Goodness and Truth and Beauty abide? What is beautiful transports us into the Presence of the God who loves us.
And yet, in a wondrous way, spending time in the presence of Beauty, which we do every time we participate in the Sacred Liturgy, keeps us firmly grounded in truth; and it strengthens our solidarity with those whom the Lord gives us to love. We find, in the beauty of God's presence, not greater distance from other people but only greater distance from sin. Gaining distance from sin, of course, makes us closer in love to every person made in the image of God.
We dedicate this beautiful chapel during the Easter season, as the Church throughout the world contemplates the Easter victory of our Risen Lord and prepares to celebrate His glorious Ascension. Pope Benedict writes the following about the Ascension of Christ (Jesus of Nazareth, II, 283), "The departing Jesus does not make His way to some distant star. He enters into communion of power and life with the living God." And so it is with the Sacred Liturgy and with the consecrated virginity of the Poor Clare nuns: these do not bring about greater distance from loved ones on earth (unless measured strictly on the materialistic level). Rather, these make for a more profound closeness and communion in love.
The Lord Jesus says at the Last Supper, the First Eucharist (John 14:28), "I go away, and I will come to you." With these words, He sums up the paradox contained in the mystery of His Cross, His Resurrection and His Ascension into heaven. Because He loves us so much, He draws us with Him into the Paschal Mystery. He makes us one with Him as He moves from the earthly sorrows of loneliness and separation into continuing presence in the love of the Blessed Trinity.
A spiritual verticality springs up in the beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. We are drawn more intimately into the joy of God's presence. We are bound more closely to the Risen Lord and thereby closer to all those persons whom He has given us to love.
In the Religious Life, such as the vocation of a Poor Clare Sister, Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, lifts His chosen one, His consecrated beloved, into the mystery of His Ascension. Just as Christ in His Ascension was no longer bound to one particular place in the world, as He had been bound before to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, but became and remains present to people of every time and place, so also His consecrated Beloved, each Poor Clare, is not bound to one husband or to one home, but belongs to the whole Church, the Bride of Christ, present in every land.
Is it any wonder that God says to us today (in our First Reading (Neh 8:10), "Do not be sad, and do not weep — for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength"?
In this world, as we know all too well, we are never far from suffering. But because of the Risen Christ, we are never alone in our suffering. He has gone to the Father, not to abandon us, not to leave us orphaned, but so that we can call on Him at any moment and He will come to us at once. Thus He said at the Last Supper (Jn 14:28), "I go away, and I will come to you." Every day, we live in the hope and the joy of this promise of the Bridegroom of the Church.
This is why the joy of the Risen Christ penetrates the mystery of human suffering for all made one with Him in Baptism. He lifts us into the mystery of His Cross and He touches it with glory. And this joy is not delusional, for it rests firmly on His words (Mt 18:20), "I am with you always, to the end of time."
Where is the Risen Lord closest to us now? He is with us in the Sacred Liturgy, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice that will be celebrated from this day forward in this beautiful Chapel from this day forward. The joyful presence of the Divine Bridegroom, of course, is not complete here on earth. That will only occur in eternal life. Nonetheless, His Real Presence is truly here; and it has the power to draw us upwards towards its definitive fulfillment in heaven.
It is the love of Christ that explains His presence with us in the Sacred Liturgy. And this same love is the reason for His zeal. In today's Gospel, we witnessed the zeal of Christ for His Father's house, the Temple. He drove money-changers out of the Temple and showed His righteous anger against those who were turning His Father's house into a marketplace. His actions fulfilled the prophecy of old: "Zeal for your house will consume me."
The Bridegroom of the Church has no less zeal for the beauty of His Church. And He has the same zeal for the Temple that is the human body. In other words, He has zeal for purifying and returning the beauty of grace to every human person. Pope Benedict says (Ibid. 22), "True zeal is the zeal of self-giving love, most fully revealed on the Cross." This is what holy zeal most truly looks like, when the Good Shepherd humbles Himself to become the Lamb of Sacrifice offered to redeem us from our sins. True zeal is the Lamb of God taking away the sins of the world. What wondrous love is this. There is nothing more beautiful than Christ, who is at one and the same time, the Lamb of sacrifice and the Bridegroom. May none of us ever hesitate to allow Him to cleanse the temple of our body of its sin and restore the beauty of God's image.
With grateful hearts, then, we dedicate this beautiful church, confident that the prayers offered here will lead us closer in love with Christ, the Bridegroom of His Church.
Diocese of Phoenix