All, Culture/Life, Faith

“Bid our sad divisions cease”

Pope St. John Paul II was known to speak about advancing the “culture of life” over the “culture of death.”  There are many perspectives from which one can view these phrases.  The “culture of death” can refer to the acceptance of abortion, assisted suicide, and the death penalty.  Whether you agree or disagree with these practices as political and social issues, I hope most people would concur that it is tragic when death is imposed as the solution to a situation.

Besides physical death, however, there are other ways in which this culture of death is pervasive, namely, through the destruction of people’s dignity.  Human trafficking and pornography are just two examples.  In both of these cases, human beings are reduced to objects to be used for other people’s pleasure.

A more everyday example is in the increasing divisiveness we are witnessing in families and in the culture at large–the “us vs. them” mentality that has people demonizing and demeaning those who disagree with them, sometimes in very cruel and defamatory ways.  People so often fail to truly try to put themselves in the other person’s shoes or to try to understand the other person’s vantage point.

There is a way to disagree with someone, even about contentious topics like the ones mentioned above, without being disrespectful or assuming the worst in the other person.  Discussion is important and disagreements are inevitable, especially as some of the issues the culture is facing go to the very heart of even what it is means to be a man or a woman.  But it is also crucial to develop prudence, to know the time and the place in which it is best to speak one’s mind.  Moreover, it is sometimes better to remember the old adage, “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  One’s beliefs may very well be closer aligned with truth and virtue than those of the person with whom one is speaking but acting like a sanctimonious know-it-all will never influence anyone positively.  No one as an individual person, no matter how correct his beliefs, has a monopoly on goodness.  We all sin; we all make mistakes; we all have bad habits, and something we may easily forget, we can all learn from each other.

On the other hand, political correctness and attempting to sugar coat the realities of life are also a discredit to people. Common sense cannot be lost.

If we can speak with humility and love and try to understand the other person then maybe some of this awful divisiveness can be overcome, and a culture of life can begin to be built little by little.

One of the last verses of the Christian Advent hymn “O come, O come, Emmanuel” states, “O come, O King of Nations, bind in one the hearts of all mankind. Bid all our sad divisions cease and be yourself our King of Peace!”  These words, which will always be applicable to the human condition, seemed this year to be even more like a prayer fitting our day and age.

Let us pray and let us work to make 2017 a more peaceful, respectful, loving year, despite our differences.

candles

 

 

All, Art

The Gifts of Beauty and the Arts

NOTE: This is an edited version of an opinion piece that I wrote for Franciscan University of Steubenville’s student newspaper The Troubadour in March 2016.

This past February, Franciscan University was graced by the beautiful music of pianist and composer Eric Genuis.  His concert was one of the most inspirational events I had experienced in quite a  while.  Not only was his music exquisite, but he also shared so many profound thoughts about the importance of beauty and the arts in people’s lives.

In my final semester of college and as a life-long ballet dancer, it was a timely reminder of the value of something that has always been an integral part of my life.  Genuis exhorted the audience to fill their lives and their children’s lives with beauty.  “Beauty is the language of God,” he said, and the arts have the ability to encourage, uplift, and offer hope to people through an encounter with beauty.

Genuis gave multiple moving examples of this power, such as seemingly hardened prisoners for whom he performed, being deeply touched by the beautiful music.  He shared that one man stood up and exclaimed in the middle of the first piece that he had forgotten what hope felt like.

Genuis’ testimonies are concrete examples of how truly universal and unifying the arts can be.  The arts, both fine and performing, have the power to unite, in cordiality and friendship, people who might otherwise not have much in common.

An instance of this is the friendship of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  She is a petite, liberal, Jewish woman, and he was a burly, conservative, Catholic man.  They clearly did not share the same political or religious beliefs, yet Ginsburg, in her statement following Scalia’s death, said that they were “best buddies.”  A noted part of their friendship was a shared love of opera.  There was even an opera written about the two of them.

We live in a society that is increasingly polarized and divisive when it comes to morals, to politics, to some of the really important questions in life.  These are, obviously, consequential differences that need to be respectfully discussed and considered.

However, part of the power of the arts is that they are, arguably, a great equalizer, a way to set aside our differences if even for a little while.  They are a means to celebrate the joy of being alive.  All people, no matter their political or religious affiliation, can enjoy and be inspired by a ballet, a play, a concert, or a lovely portrait.  They can be reminded that there is more to life and to the world than materiality.  They can be reminded of their own capacity for creativity and for goodness or for evil.

In his “Letter to Artists,”  Pope St. John Paul II, makes the important distinction between creation or bringing something out of nothing, which only God can do, and craftsmanship or working with already existing material, which is what man does.  Nevertheless, he writes, “God therefore called man into existence, committing to him the craftsman’s task.  Through his ‘artistic creativity’ man appears more than ever ‘in the image of God,’ and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous ‘material’ of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him.”

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