Commentary

Life is good, beautiful and true!

Originally Appeared in : 9814-7/5/18

A few weeks ago, I wrote in these pages an article entitled “Life is beautiful and worth living.” 

 

I wrote it after learning, in rapid succession, “of four suicides of high school or college age students connected in some way with my parishioners” at St. Matthew’s, Statesboro, and discovering that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that “the suicide rates for adolescent boys and girls have been steadily rising since 2007,” here in the richest country in the world.

 

But I wrote it before the spate of celebrity suicides (Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain…) had shaken us all. 

 

In any event, this article seemed to strike a chord with many of my readers, because it affirmed the beauty and worth of human life in the face of this “Culture of Death,” as Pope Saint John Paul II so aptly called it. Indeed, all willful destruction of human life — not only suicide, but also homicide, abortion and state sanctioned killing (war, capital punishment) —is a tragic denial of the intrinsic beauty, goodness, and truth of human life, which Catholics and many others have long understood to be a sacred gift from God, who created it, redeemed it and sanctifies it. 

 

In the brief time since I wrote that article, I have pondered the enigma of the willful destruction of human life in this world created by the God who is all good, all beautiful, and all true. And the world God created he declared “good”—and the crown of his creation, man and woman (humanity), he declared “very good” (Genesis 1). The universe was created good, beautiful and true. Despite the original sin of our first parents, there remains a basic goodness, beauty and truth in this fallen world and in our fallen nature, which God’s grace does not destroy but builds on, heals, and raises up. 

 

Yet many people have trouble perceiving the goodness, beauty and truth within and without themselves and all too often judge their own lives and the lives of their fellow mortals to be bad, ugly and false—and therefore not worth living. Some, perhaps, have not experienced much goodness from others, or have not been exposed to the awe-inspiring beauty of nature and of art, or have doubted or have been taught to doubt that there is any such thing as truth. Others may have experienced but have since forgotten their experiences of goodness, of beauty, and of truth.

 

It seems to me, as I celebrate the 42nd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood for the Diocese of Savannah, that I should redouble my efforts to promote the Gospel of Life by pointing out the moral goodness to which we are called and of which we are capable, by highlighting the beauty that surrounds us, and by teaching the truth with clarity and conviction.

 

One of the more troubling developments in the modern world has been the erosion of belief in objective truth. Over the last few centuries, despite the advance of science—which is all about discovering objective truths”—there has been a growing “subjectivism” in which “my individual truth” replaces the objective truth accessible to all. This subjectivism is destroying our koinonia, the shared community and communion that binds individuals together. We see this alienation from one another in the isolated individuals who no longer make up real neighborhoods and no longer like to congregate socially or religiously to the degree that was common until very recently. Not only has there been an erosion of people worshipping together on a regular basis, but most voluntary associations have seen a sharp decline, as Robert D. Putnam noted Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. The ascendency of the subjective is eating away at our political discourse and is muddling our debates over public policy. Objective truths, such as the genetically distinct humanity of the fetus or the existence of two and only two genders are actually denied on a daily basis by people who should know better and would, if they had not been blinded to objective truth.

 

The inability of some people to perceive the beauty of God’s creation strikes me as particularly sad. In his time, Saint Francis of Assisi expressed his keen appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation in his Canticle of the Sun, in which he praises God for “Brother Sun and Sister Moon” and all manner of the simple and wonderful gifts that God has given us in nature. Pope Francis has reminded us of the beauty of nature and our duty to protect it in his encyclical letter, “Laudato Si’”—the Italian refrain from Saint Francis’ Canticle. The Catholic Church has also fostered and supported the human arts, inspiring and commissioning some of the most beautiful works of human hands, from her cathedrals to Michelangelo’s sculptures and frescos, Raphael’s tapestries and paintings and Mozart’s Requiem. The artistic masterpieces in her possession are on display for the whole world to see. 

 

Truth and beauty are inseparable, as Keats famously noted: “Beauty is truth and truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.” Our tradition holds that moral goodness is also inseparable from aesthetic beauty and logical truth. We who proclaim Jesus Christ to be the truth that sets us free, as he is the way that leads to the Father and the life that never ends, must also follow his teachings and commandments, especially the double commandment to love God and our neighbor as ourselves that lies at the center of the Christian moral life. 

 

I hope that you will join me in teaching or reminding others of the goodness, beauty and truth of our lives and our world, which ultimately reflect God, who is the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, so that all may realize that life is sacred and well worth living. 

 

Father Douglas K. Clark is pastor St. Matthew Church in Statesboro.

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