INE YEARS ago, in November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI traveled to Barcelona to dedicate the extraordinary Sagrada Familia Basilica. The Holy Father’s homily for the occasion 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.
A project of the great architect Antoni Gaudi, Sagrada Familia was granted the status of a minor basilica at the time of its dedication in 2010. The history of the basilica’s founding and development is fascinating, spanning at this point more than five generations. Its physical construction, which began in 1882, is scheduled to be completed in 2026.
Today, we celebrate the dedication of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the mother church of the universal Church. Most of us are not able to be in the Lateran Basilica today, but we join in the celebration because we are in union with our Holy Father, whose cathedral it is. Many people would think it funny that Catholics celebrate the dedication of a building centuries-old and (for many people) 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 unadulterated creation, but God also takes especially great delight in what we fashion out of His creation. He enjoys the beauty of things that the Earth has provided and that human hands have shaped.
The beauty of our churches and chapels is, indeed, gratuitous. But, of course, God’s love for us is gratuitous; His mercy is gratuitous; the fact that we even exist is gratuitous. That beauty is also gratuitous does not mean we ought not to bother with it. Instead, we should consider how the very gratuity of beauty, paradoxically, makes it so necessary.
OTHER TERESA of Calcutta famously encouraged us to “do something beautiful for God.” Today, let’s do something gratuitous for God. We, who are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor 6:19), become more beautiful and more pleasing to God precisely by our gratuitous acts of charity. Cultivating beauty in our lives may not mean the building of a basilica like Gaudi’s, but it could well begin with imitating God, Himself, “who gives generously and ungrudgingly to all” (James 1:5).