I have been trying to write an article on Advent for a couple of weeks now but the muse kept evading me. That is until this morning when I was talking to a female colleague about her Christmas break. She said she was hoping to take three or four weeks this Christmas but she wanted one of them to be before Christmas because she has a young son and she appreciates that much of his excitement comes in the week before Christmas. I felt a pang of jealousy for that young boy and his mother. That will be a week full of beauty, wonder and awe and how holy and wholesome it will be.
Suddenly I realised what I want for Advent this year; a growing appreciation of beauty. I want a little of the beauty and excitement Christmas can bring.
Everyone searches for the good, the true and the beautiful. These desires are deeply human. We Christians have always stressed truth and goodness, but beauty is usually not as valued as truth, goodness and justice. Yet beauty has its own authority, an authority to which everyone responds. It inspires and does not threaten. As the poet Keats said, “Beauty is truth and truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.”
For Pope Francis, mission is not about winning an argument. It is not about convincing people with rational arguments for as he told the Brazilian Bishops after World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, “Only the beauty of God can attract. God’s way is through enticement, allure.” Francis uses the words “beauty” and “beautiful” 44 times in The Joy of the Gospel and he questions the evangelising power of Christians who look like “Lent without Easter”
[EG #6]. Or should we say Advent without Christmas?
This is especially important as we seek to proclaim the joy of the Gospel in a secular world. I don’t think it is the time for argument. There is something deadening and counter-productive about that. Instead we must present a “beautiful face”. We need to find ways of disclosing God’s beauty to our contemporaries, because beauty reveals, saves and inspires in a real, powerful but non-threatening way.
In order to become more beautiful and present a beautiful face we personally need to grow in awe and wonder or recapture something of the child’s experience of Christmas.
Beauty also figures prominently in Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology. Drawing on St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, the Pope reminds us that, “If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs.” [LS #11] Without the capacity for wonder we will never have a deeper understanding of life or be able to see the words of love written all through nature and life.
So this Advent I will think of children and the excitement they will feel in the last week before Christmas and I will pray for the gift of awe and wonder so that I too can see the beauty around me and perhaps radiate a little myself.
Fr Noel Connolly SSC is a Columban missionary priest. He is a member of the Columban Mission Institute in North Sydney and a lecturer in Missiology at both the Broken Bay Institute and the Catholic Institute of Sydney.