The Catholic Church has a long, deep, and abiding respect for the habits of the minds and for the pursuit of beauty.  One could say that the Church’s vocation is to show the world that faith and reason are inseparable friends and that beauty is a stepping stone to God.
The Catholic family is ‘the domestic church,’ where a love of learning is fostered and where beauty is lived from day to day. Children learn from exposure to learning and beauty. If their parents read, most likely, they will read. If beauty is a part of the home, they will choose beauty.  Children can bring joy to the family by reciting poetry, singing and dancing, playing musical instruments, or dramatizing mini-plays. In this way, habits of learning and of making things beautiful can become part of their lives. In this way, the family “shines in use.”

In consecrated life, the love of learning and the pursuit of beauty are carried on in a more public, extensive and universal way. Benedictine beauty, piety, and learning are their legendary attributes. The Dominican spirit is encapsulated in the motto, “To praise. To bless. To preach.”  Their studies are directed to the service of others proclaiming Truth in beauty. The Poor Clare nuns are committed to making something beautiful out of their poverty. Then there is the Franciscan charism, highly visible, for example, at Milwaukee’s Alverno College, conducted by the School Sisters of St. Francis. There, progressive learning is celebrated and made all the richer by the splendid epiphany of beauty, in music, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, and poetry. Franciscan warmth permeates the academic atmosphere in joy and optimism, in a love of nature, and in an intuitive mysticism that beckons, ‘come and see.’
Study and Learning

Study is a spiritual activity. The love of learning throughout one’s life is a way to God, for it prompts the realization that the mind is a uniquely human gift. Pope Paul VI was inspired by The Intellectual Life, a miniature classic written by the French Dominican priest Antonin Sertillanges. Since its revision in 1920, it has been reprinted and translated many times. Though it develops a spirituality of intellectual work for the serious writer, it guides those who desire to integrate their love of learning with a life of holiness. 

Study is the raw material for growth in interiority, in prayer, and other religious activities. Study, reading, memorizing and enjoying poetry enlighten the mind and quicken the soul. They are a power that enriches one’s service to others. “The mind governs everything; it begins, accomplishes, perseveres, finally achieves,” writes Sertillanges.

The love of learning consists not just in knowing how to learn and find resources. It takes an idea, works it out in the best way possible as yeast is kneaded into the dough, and then makes it available to others through teaching, writing, lecturing, or preaching. When preparing his speeches, the late Mario Cuomo followed this habit all his public life. They were sparkling pearls.

A person who loves learning is curious about the world. One’s broad interests nurture enthusiasm, energy, and openness to others that is universal, a word whose root is the Latin, unio versus alia, one turned to others.
Contemplating God’s Love

The wise person sees all things as gift. The parable of the talents implies our cooperation with God in bringing about a peaceful world by developing our own gifts. Thus, all things are sacred, for God lives within them. The wiser we become, the more we see that God is providentially at work laboring in all things. Study makes it possible to find God always and everywhere.

Even in suffering, it is possible to find God, hidden behind the pain!  The recent massacres in Paris press us onward to bring good out of evil, however daunting the challenge.
Leisure Needed for Beauty

The love of learning can lead to wonder, and the truly great people of the world are the guardians of beauty. To experience beauty, one needs leisure time, a time to relax, however brief or prolonged. While parents of young families may find leisure almost out of reach, some still find time for a weekly date night.

Leisure is self-authenticating, a value in itself. Leisure is characterized by certain universal similarities, bringing freedom from external constraint, joy and meaning to life. Sunday worship, taking a walk, gardening, attending or playing a ball game, enjoying a fine movie, reading a book, enjoying or memorizing poetry are qualitatively the same: they refresh and enrich a person for the return to routine of work.

Ceaseless work and overwork destroy the spirit’s inclination to beauty because, in practice, they tend to view men and women as machines. Acedia and ennui, states of listlessness and boredom respectively, dull the sense of wonder, a thought implicit in the psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Without periodic rest to restore the soul, acedia and ennui afflict one’s overall well-being that weaken the taste for God and spiritual activities. As if to confirm the need for leisure, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).

The Catholic Church and Beauty

The Catholic Church is the crucible of beauty. Its vocation is to show beauty to the world. The family and those in consecrated life are an integral part of this mandate to promote beauty wherever possible.  Catholic Christianity has exercised a powerful and formative influence on the daily lives of the faithful and those not of the Catholic faith.  “Anyone who has ever experienced the transforming power of great liturgy, great art, great music, will know this,” writes Benedict XVI.

Beauty is proper to the Church’s sacred arts because, with the sacramental signs, they represent the primary way in which the mystery of the Incarnation continues to be effective in the world. Catholic Christianity is a religion of beauty—beauty  of our dogmas, the presence of God’s majesty, the wonder Providence unveiling itself, the exalted vision of the human person as a replica of God, the majesty of the arts, wonderfully made. Habits of beauty in prayer and devotion jog our memories. Such actions like making the sign of the cross with or without holy water have religious meaning even without conscious reflection because they operate at a deeper level of the psyche.

Ugliness is darkness. Jesus, the light of the world, signals the presence of beauty. It is as if he were telling us: “Whoever sneers at beauty as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past . . . can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord I, 18). Learning is the wellspring of truth, and truth is a hymn to beauty.