Immorality isn’t just wrong. It’s ugly. Wickedness does not merely violate the natural law – the moral principle woven into the fabric of reality. It violates the beautiful.
Truth is the proper object of the mind; goodness is the proper object of the will and beauty the proper object of the heart, that deep mysterious center of our being. While truth heals our minds and goodness heals our wills, beauty harms us. It pierces, runs us through, and it is this piercing that heals us, for laced in all things beautiful is an eternal ache, a longing to unite ourselves with it. This is our endless longing for God, who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty. It awakens us to Heaven. And it’s the ugly – often masking itself with a counterfeit beauty – that performs the ontological opposite: appearing as a salve, ultimately, it poisons. It reminds us of hell.
Take the recent events in Belgium. Four topless women from FEMEN, a pro-abortion and homosexual rights group, attacked Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard who was attending a debate on – of all subjects – blasphemy and freedom at Brussels Free University, soaking him with water carried in bottles shaped in the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As they drenched him with water they screamed and cursed the priest and his Church and his God as he sat peacefully, nearly motionless, soaked in water, hands calmly folded, eyes closed in prayer. On their naked bodies were black-scribbled refrains such as “my body my rules”, “stop homophobia” and the disgracefully vile phrase “anus dei is coming”. The Archbishop’s stillness and silence spoke louder than the infantile, naked tirade of the FEMEN protesters. Such is the power of meekness, that deep strength which renounces returning injury for injury.
Is it right for those who believe that justice is being violated to protest? Certainly, and when called for, through powerful displays.
Is it just for such protests to harm, disgrace, or attempt to diminish the dignity of another person? Apparently so, for the members of FEMEN.
The actions of these four women aren’t unlike those who throw house paint on people donning furs in order to save animals or beat up abortion workers to end abortion and even those who bomb marathons for God knows what reason. We cannot employ evil means to bring about a good end. And we ought not. It is clear that these topless assailants believed what they were protesting is unjust: the subjugation of others’ rights and discrimination on the basis of sexual preferences. Because this is what the Catholic Church is doing by opposing abortion and homosexuality, right?
The amusing irony here is that Archbishop Andre-Joseph, and the Church to which he is servant, also believes that regardless of their gender, social status or sexual preferences, people – including homosexuals – must not be deprived of their civil rights nor their intrinsic dignity as human persons. This is, by the way, the official position of the Roman Catholic Church. What the Church opposes are not persons or preferences but acts which violate the natural and moral laws of the universe, doing violence to others and, most especially, to those who perform such acts. This is the central misinterpretation held by so much of the world today, including many Catholics, regarding the Church’s position on homosexuality and abortion. This is the most critical distinction Catholics, especially the laity, must articulate and translate to the culture, at the water-coolers and in the classrooms ad infinitum. Translating the truth into the language of the culture: this is a critical element of the New Evangelization.
This display is an image contrasting two opposing – and colliding – worldviews. It reveals the violent, base, and absurd ideologies of the Culture of Death and shows the beautiful, life-affirming, positive ideals of the Culture of Life. What happened to “tolerance”? Clearly tolerance is not to be extended to “intolerance”.
Now for the beautiful. After being publicly assaulted with abuses and insults and soaked with water – for minutes which seemed as hours as recounted witnesses – the humble priest (who has endured two disgraceful public attacks upon his person previously) ended his prayers, unfolded his hands and opened his eyes. Picking up the Blessed Virgin-shaped water bottle, he kissed it. The Archbishop venerated she who – in striking contrast to the ladies of FEMEN railing for “freedom” and the “right” to murder in their wombs – opened hers to God. Their cries of non serviam contrasted with the gentle kiss of a priest honoring a woman who, when approached by Heaven, replied not with indignation but with fiat – “may it be done unto me according to Thy word.”
The Venerable Fulton Sheen describes three marks of the demonic: perverse nudity, violence and division. He drew these from the account of the demoniac in St. Mark’s Gospel. Perverse nudity is the distortion of beauty. Violence is the misuse of the will. Division is the corruption of the mind. You see, evil cannot create; it can only distort and destroy. It is a privation having no creative power in itself. This too is true of the Culture of Death. It cannot generate, it cannot create, it cannot bring about newness and life, it can only distort the true, the good and the beautiful.
At the end of the day, immorality and it’s source – sin – is not glamorous, and it isn’t just ugly; it is sad. Of all the creatures visible and invisible in the cosmos, Satan is the most miserable and pitiable. Dante showed us this when he portrayed the fallen Lucifer, not cackling and grinning and reveling in the halls of Hell but sunken, arms crossed upon themselves. Evil is sad.
The principle at play here is a kind of paradoxical metaphysics: the destructive energy of evil is taken up and transformed, untwisted and restored to an even greater good. This is the supreme paradox of the Cross; the murder of God becomes the salvation of man.
Those who embark on a mission to destroy the Church at all times fail in destroying it. But they succeed in ruining everything else. G.K Chesterton says, “Men who begin to fight the Church for the sake of freedom and humanity end by flinging away freedom and humanity if only they may fight the Church.” The Culture of Death will not destroy the Church but they will end up breaking nearly everything else. It is the true the good and the beautiful that the Culture of Life and the Catholic Church seek to celebrate and defend. How? By imitating the Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, who imitated He who is Truth, Goodness and Beauty. We do this by blessing those who curse us, praying for those who insult us and returning a soaking with a kiss. In a postmodern culture that jettisons reason and dismisses goodness, we do well to remember Dostoyevsky: “Beauty will save the world.”
What will not save the world are letters. But they can and do amplify the voice of the people. Let us voice our stand against violence and show support for the moral courage demonstrated by Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard, and all religious who stand up for the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith.