Around this time last year, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Barcelona to dedicate the extraordinary Sagrada Familia Basilica. The Holy Father’s homily was equally extraordinary. He said at that time: “Beauty . . . reveals God because, like Him, a work of beauty is pure gratuity.” What a line for meditation: “A work of beauty is pure gratuity.”
Today, we celebrate the dedication of St. John Lateran, which is the mother church of the universal Church. Most of us can’t be in the Lateran Basilica today, but we join in the celebration because we’re in union with our Holy Father, whose cathedral it is. Many people would think it funny that we celebrate the dedication of a building centuries-old and thousands of miles away. They would also think it funny that so much time and money has been spent on Sagrada Familia.
But ours is an Incarnational faith, and so we see value in art and beauty. Beauty is certainly found in creation, but God takes especially great delight in what we create out of His creation. He enjoys the beauty of things that “Earth has given and human hands have made.”
Yes, the beauty of our churches and chapels is, indeed, gratuitous—that is, not necessary. But God’s love for us is gratuitous! His mercy is gratuitous! The fact that we even exist is gratuitous! So, the fact that beauty is unnecessary doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother with it. Instead, we, who are “temples of the Holy Spirit,” become more beautiful and more pleasing to God precisely by our gratuitous acts of charity.
Mother Teresa famously encouraged us to “do something beautiful for God.” Today, let’s do something gratuitous for God. It may not mean the building of a basilica, but it will certainly mean the building up of the temples of our own souls.