The senses are the “road to God”, who speaks to us through beauty, said Bill Donaghy, who holds a master's in systematic theology, at the recent Theology of the Body Congress held in Philadelphia.
God “is trying to break into our minds and hearts through beauty,” said Donaghy who, using the image of a leaf open to sunlight, said, “we need to be as receptive to God’s beauty as this leaf.”
Donaghy was addressing an audience on the role of beauty in the new evangelization at a conference about the more than 100 catecheses delivered by St. John Paul II on “Theology of the Body” early in his pontificate.
Part of John Paul II's thought is his sacramental vision of creation, through which we can see God, Donaghy explained. The senses “are a road to God,” he said, imploring the audience, “don’t shrink from the gift of the senses.”
Quoting Fr. Robert Barron, Donaghy called beauty the “arrowhead of the new evangelization” because, although it is not an end in itself, it catches the heart and points it towards the true and the good, adding that it is “the point with which the evangelist pierces the minds and hearts of those he evangelizes.”
When asked what Catholics should do to bring beauty into everyday life, Donaghy called for “'lectio divina' in the visual realm.”
“It means that you get good books. That your coffee table books are rich sacred art. That you give yourself opportunities to wander in the woods, that you read the book of creation more deliberately and you spend time before the 2,000 years of history of sacred art.”
“I think that our homes, our schools, our offices, should be places of beauty, too. There should be beautiful things all around us.”
All good works of art can lead us to God, Donaghy explained. “Create a treasure chest of sacred art, of photographs, of poems, of movie clips and songs,” he told the audience. “God is speaking to us through all of it.”
However, he warned that beauty can be abused. We must “reverence” it and not try to grasp it and bottle it for our own selfish desires.
“Don’t try to bottle beauty. Don’t try to capture it. If you do, it stagnates,” he warned. He contrasted Mary and Eve, noting how Mary was open and receptive to God’s grace, but Eve tried to grasp God’s nature for her own selfish desires.
As Mary was, so must we be, he urged.
“Beauty can be a terrible thing. God and the devil are fighting, and the battlefield is the human heart,” he admitted.
But if we are open and receptive to God, we can see beauty as we were meant to see it, he added.
“We listen, we’re attuned to the transcendent, to God, and beauty leads us to God. Keep your head and your heart open to God, and beauty will lead you to God.”