The first reading talks about the building of the house of God, which lasted many years - “by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Ar-ta-xerx'es king of Persia”. The work continued on from generation to generation. In today’s world, where we can erect buildings in a matter of weeks, we have a hard time imagining what a feat this must have been. More closely related to my frame of reference, I think of all the Catholic churches I have seen around the world - particularly in Europe - that took centuries to complete. They are typically beautifully designed and decorated. They have intricate stained-glass windows and stone carvings, life-like statues and paintings adorn the walls, the altars are grand, and we see gold all around us. We can’t help but look around in awe in these places of worship.
I have heard it argued that extravagant Catholic cathedrals represent a terrible waste of money. Think of all the people that could have been helped if the Catholic church didn’t dump so much money into superficial decorations, they say. I am sure that there are cases where it is more pressing to feed the hungry in the community than to decorate a church. However, I think it’s easy to underestimate the power and importance of beauty.
You have probably never thought of beauty as a tool for evangelism, but I actually met a woman who converted to Catholicism after visiting all the beautiful cathedrals in Europe! The physical beauty she saw there hearkened to some deeper spiritual goodness. And that is exactly the intended function of true beauty. It comes from God - the author of beauty - and directs us back to Him. It makes visible the invisible perfection of God and gives us a little taste of Heaven.
As I sit here before Christ in a gold monstrance, surrounded by candles and marble, there is a sense of wonder the envelopes me. Humans are drawn to beauty. In its true form, it announces to us the presence of something very important and invokes a sense of reverence. It helps us to forget about all that is going on outside of the church and to concentrate on what is before us. We can’t help but pay attention.
This is only the introduction to God’s goodness. It is a call to delve deeper, allowing God to reveal to us the “pearl of great price”.
Dear Jesus, help us to seek out true beauty and goodness in our lives and allow us to recognize the wonderful things around us that hearken to the perfection of their creator.