Preaching, Music, and Acoustics | Deacon W. Patrick Cunningham | Homiletic & Pastoral Review
The work of the New Evangelization is identical to the work of evangelization in every age: to communicate to those who are unaware of the saving work of the Son of God those things that will bring them to accept the gift of faith, and come to new life through the sacraments entrusted to the Church. What is “new” is the environment and the means. The environment in which we operate most of the time is, at best, neutral to the work of the Church. At worst, it is actively hostile to the teachings of Christ in the Church. It is necessary, then, to use new methods and new communications media to help Jesus Christ and the Church become visible and attractive to modern humans.
Now the Catholic Church has many advantages in this mission, as she always has. These advantages are summarized in the “three Cs” which are creed, cult, and code/community. I prefer to speak of the three transcendentals that are embodied in the Church as they are in no other institution. They are Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The fullness of Truth is preached, and always has been, in the Catholic Church. The sacraments and the doctrines of the Church have helped and continue to help many to attain to saintly Goodness. And in the sacramental forms, prayers, architecture, and music, there is Beauty that is truly a making present on earth the Beauty of the Kingdom of God.
In the 21st century, however, the Church operates at a distinct disadvantage within the culture, and some of that problem is of our own making. Relativism, as communicated through the media, universities, and political institutions, is rampant in society. Many believe that there are many truths, not just One Truth. When we preach the Truth, particularly in sexual and family morals, we are teaching things that annoy, rather than attract. The media have, since the dawn of the new millennium, made it a daily objective to find people, particularly clergy, doing evil in the Church. The sexual abuse scandal and occasional financial irregularity casts doubt on the moral integrity of the leaders of the Church. Thus the millions who find Goodness in the Church, and who daily do good for others, including their persecutors, are ignored.
Beauty, however, has a way of disarming the critic and providing an instant experience of transcendence. As Dr. William Mahrt says, “beauty persuades by itself.”1That is, as traditional philosophy teaches us, in the very perception of the Beautiful, “the intellect is delighted,” and that delight is intrinsic and immediate. By contrast, the apprehension of Truth must come from reasoning, and the apprehension of Goodness by a positive act of the will, informed by the actions of the intellect. These processes can be corrupted because of the weakness of the intellect and will, engendered by Original Sin. Our apprehension of the Beautiful is immediate, and so, is harder (but not impossible) to corrupt.
Thus, if the Catholic Church is to appeal to modern humans, we must “lead with Beauty.”