The Final Word: Dr. Mary Catherine Levri
During this time of pandemic, it has been very important to me to persevere in my work as a sacred musician. Not only do our liturgies still need music, but it seems to me that during this time, in which much of our focus has been on bodily survival, the faithful need the presence of beauty in their lives even more than they usually do. To some, beauty might seem to be superfluous; unessential to the business of our daily lives, and perhaps even unessential to the life of faith. But I maintain that if we lose beauty, then we will lose our spiritual sight. In other words, we will cease to have reverence for the presence of God.
Beauty is a Catholic thing, whether we want to claim it or not. Our faith in the incarnate Lord and His presence in the Eucharistic species has resulted in a remarkable feast of artistic beauty that has spanned the life of Christianity. Like many Catholic things, however, beauty is perceived more and more to be a thing of the past. It is, at best, a fairy tale, and has no pertinent meaning for the world today. This attitude might be in large part due to the loss of spiritual sight, but it also might be in part due to a sense of fear. Beauty is a visitor – it happens upon you – and it seems an instinctual human reaction to shut the door on it and lock it tight. Why? Because beauty is also a mirror. To quote Simone Weil, beauty “sends us back to our own desire for goodness.” When we encounter this desire, we see that we have fallen short of it – everybody does. And it may seem best to just break the mirror before even taking the chance to look.
Thanks be to God, beauty is swifter than that. Beauty may be the most effective tool of the Holy Spirit for capturing souls, even long after they have stopped listening to words about doctrine, morality and spiritual responsibility. Beauty can change a life in an instant, and that is the genius at the heart of the Catholic Mass. At its very center, Jesus Christ is lifted up for all to gaze upon Him in the Host and in the Chalice. All of the beauty in the music, the prayers and the sanctuary surrounding Him attend to the beauty of His presence. No other gaze in the world can change a life so swiftly.
Every gaze upon a beautiful object – or a beautiful person
– prepares us to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord. It would behoove us, then, to train ourselves in beauty. The worst thing of all would be indifference to beauty, to not recognize its visit because we have numbed ourselves through mindless, self-eradicating indulgence, whether it be through screens or some other means. This scares me a little: Are we too far gone? Are there enough of our eyes and ears left to welcome beauty when it arrives?
It would be the adventure of a lifetime to opt for more than what is “normal,” to choose to be witnesses to beauty. This would mean choosing silence (even when it hurts). It would mean fixing our gaze on the person in front of us (even when it is tiresome). And it would mean opening ourselves to the risk of seeing ourselves, horrifying warts and all, in the searing (but transforming) mirror of beauty. Maybe it would mean joy, maybe it would mean martyrdom – maybe it would mean both. But it would ultimately mean joy, because beauty is not merely an idea; it is an incarnate sign of the presence of God.
Each and every one of us is a beautiful creature, made in the image and likeness of God, with a heart that cries out to be filled with His presence. He draws us with beauty so that He can satisfy us with Himself. Let us “stay awake” and train our sight so that we can welcome this precious Guest. For when beauty calls, we can be sure that the Lord is very close at hand.
Dr. Mary Catherine Levri is the director of music at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary & School of Theology for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. She received a Doctorate of Musical Arts in organ performance from the University of Notre Dame in 2017. In 2008, she received a Master’s of Theological Studies from the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and Family. At the seminary, Dr. Levri teaches a developed music curriculum and conducts two choirs in the “Music & Liturgy at the Athenaeum” series.
This article appeared in the February issue of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription. click here.