Diocesan News

‘Beauty can bring souls into communion with Jesus Christ,’ Bishop Conley tells NYU crowd

Editor's Note: The full text of the bishop's lecture is available here.

NEW YORK (SNR) - To a standing-room only crowd at New York University’s Catholic Center, Bishop James Conley explained that “knowing and loving Christ begins with seeing glimmers of divinity in the beautiful things of this world.”

“Beauty,” the bishop told a group of several hundred students, faculty, and religious leaders, “is particularly well-suited to respond to the challenges of our times.”   

The bishop presented “Ubi Amor, Ibi Oculus,” a lecture on beauty and the new evangelization, as a part of the “Art of the Beautiful Lecture Series,” a project of the Thomistic Institute at New York University. 

The lecture was attended by representatives from several New York area religious orders, including Brother Angelus Montgomery, CFR, a graduate of Pius X High School in Lincoln. 

“It was really cool to hear from my bishop in New York,” Brother Angelus told the Southern Nebraska Register.  “I think people appreciated hearing a bishop talking about how to evangelize through beauty.”

The Thomistic Institute is an educational project undertaken by the Eastern Province of the Order of Preachers, more commonly called the Dominican Order. The Institute sponsored “The Art of the Beautiful,” a lecture series featuring Catholic intellectual and cultural leaders from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Bishop Conley was invited to give the series’ concluding lecture.

The bishop’s lecture discussed the concept of “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a religious perspective which sociologists say has become more common among American young people. Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the bishop said “is the grand reduction of religious thought and practice to a set of sentimental and affirming principles, absent the presence of a transcendent, personal, and transformative God. It is a religious faith of mediocrity, of insularity, and of loneliness. It requires no greatness of soul. And it engenders no virtue, no charity, and no heroism.”

Bishop Conley said Christianity is different from Moralistic Therapeutic Deism because the Christian faith “is the faith of unmerited greatness—the faith of heroic virtue, unsurpassed hope, and unbounded charity.”

The bishop proposed that beauty helps to convert souls to Christianity.  He proposed three ways to use beauty for the sake of evangelization.  He said “the first is the restoration of the beautiful to the world of art, architecture, and culture.”  The bishop said that beautiful art and architecture help turn souls to Christ.  He said the Church should “recognize the spiritual crisis undergirding much of contemporary art, and then foster a renewal in creation of the beautiful.”

The bishop’s second suggestion was “the rekindling of the Christian imagination through literature.”  Bishop Conley proposed “forming Catholic book clubs and literary circles, comprised of ordinary, everyday Catholics, reading and reflecting on important ideas and beautiful stories.”

Finally, Bishop Conley suggested “recovering a sense of wonder in the liturgy.”  Bishop Conley told the crowd that “Fostering beauty in the liturgy fosters souls who encounter divine mysteries with an attitude of wonder.”

To conclude, Bishop Conley remarked that “Today, Pope Francis says that the pathway to Christ is the via pulchritudinis—the way of beauty.  Beauty responds to the flat-souled, reductive culture in which we live.  Pope Benedict wrote often that beauty is an arrow that wounds—by that, he meant that it penetrates hearts which reason or virtue might never touch.  If we are serious about transforming culture for Jesus Christ, beauty has a role to play.”

The bishop encouraged the group to “foster beauty, and then invite others to the experience, in order that they might experience the harrowing and transcendent beauty of the Most Blessed Trinity.”

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